Dr. Cowles discusses Browning’s methods

Leah Haselden, Staff Writer

Dr. David Cowles, an English professor at Francis Marion University, recently traveled to Claremont, Cali. to read a paper he wrote on Robert Browning’s “The Ring and the Book.”

“In his greatest work, ‘The Ring and the Book,’ Robert Browning asserts ideas we think of as exclusively postmodern,” Cowles said. “We think, judge, even perceive only through the conceptual systems available to us—especially language. Language allows us to make sense of the world but also limits the way we can.”

“We humans are limited in our understanding. That means that in a sense everything we believe is at least partly false—a lie. Recognizing the limitations our languages and other interpretive systems place on us, Browning asks how it is possible to have faith or confidence in any belief, of any kind, but especially religious beliefs.”

This is only one idea that Cowles takes from Browning and spins into something that he hopes will make people really think. Cowles said that it is necessary for people to find the weakness in their own ways “if we are to grow and to perceive more as God does.”

“In ‘The Ring and the Book,’ the truly evil murderer is the one who sticks doggedly to his belief system,” Cowles said. “In a contemporary example, both Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush believe they possess essentially perfect interpretive systems. Each has complete faith in what he believes, and each is willing to kill (through other people) in defense of his perspective. Each thinks God approves of him and condemns others to hell. If we dropped the two of them into a room and told them to work out their differences, we would end up placing bets on which would kill the other first. So how do you get a perspective on your perspective if you can’t get outside it to judge it?”

He said that attending these conferences helps him become a better teacher.  They keep him writing things, and they keep him current with not only his field of study, but also others.

“I come back invigorated from all of the things I learned,” Cowles said.

The conference started on March 31 and went through April 3. Many scholars from all over the submitted their papers or articles, but only a few were chosen to present. Cowles was one of only about 120 presenters.

He said that being among all of those people who “knew their stuff was like somebody grading your paper while you sat there and watched.”