"Worldly Devotion: Histories of Distraction and the Arts of Attention"

The 2019 George P. Lacay Endowed Lecture featuring Caleb Smith.

About the Lecture:
“The degree of attention we pay,” one minister preached in 1850, “depends upon our own disposition to attend. This shows us that the matter, after all, is very largely one of discipline.” Distraction, the wandering of the mind, is an ancient problem, but it took a new form in the nineteenth century, with the rise of industrial capitalism, mass media, and secular institutions of social control. Distraction came to be understood as a symptom of history—of modernity itself. In response, writers around the Atlantic world sought to repair the psychic damage by designing new disciplines of sustained attentiveness. This talk examines attention as one of the spiritual exercises of a secular age, from Thoreau’s Walden to some contemporary defenses of the humanities."

About Caleb Smith:
Caleb Smith is professor of English and American Studies at Yale University, and the author of The Oracle and the Curse (2013) and The Prison and the American Imagination (2009). His edition of Austin Reed’s 1858 prison memoir, The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict, the earliest known prison memoir by an African American writer, appeared from Random House in 2016.

Thursday, April 4 at 6:00pm

Mortara Center, Conference Room 3600 N Street NW

Event Type

Academic Events, Special Events


Students, Faculty/Staff, Alumni, Public


Georgetown College, Georgetown Law, African American Studies, American Studies Program, English, Government, History, Program on Justice and Peace, Provost, Office of the, Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service, Prisons and Justice Initiative




Department of English

Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Patricia Guzman

Event Contact Email


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