Author and Macalester College English Professor James Dawes will speak on “Evil Men” in a 7 p.m. lecture Thursday, April 24, in the first-floor auditorium (Room 126) of the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

The lecture is free and open to the public; co-sponsors are the St. Thomas Center for Faculty Development and the departments of History, Theology, Philosophy, English and Justice and Peace Studies.

Professor James Dawes

Professor James Dawes

Dawes’ presentation will draw upon his experiences interviewing war criminals from Japan’s invasion of China during World War II. He will reflect on both the simplicity and complexity of the idea of evil at its most basic.

Dawes asks his audience to consider these questions:

  • “By representing atrocity, are we giving voice, and therefore respect, to the victims who have been silenced? Or are we sensationalizing the private stories of those who have already been violated?”
  • “When we take evil that is beyond understanding and put it into words, are we bringing healing clarity to the raw confusion of trauma? Or are we falsely packaging and simplifying something that ought never to be reduced, translating inexpressible evil into something common just for the sake of sharing a story?”

Dawes is founder and director of the Program in Human Rights and Humanitarianism and the author of three books published by Harvard University Press: the 2013 Evil Men; the 2007 That the World May Know: Bearing Witness to Atrocity; and the 2002 The Language of War: Literature and Culture in the United States From the Civil War Through World War II.

He has written many papers, reviews and articles, including “Understanding Evil,” which was published last summer in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Dawes, who has been teaching at Macalester since 2001, holds a bachelor’s from the University of Pennsylvania, a master of philosophy in Medieval and Renaissance literature from King’s College at the University of Cambridge, and a master’s and doctorate in English literature from Harvard University.