Dr. Sarah Ruden Delivers Ducharme Veritas Lecture Students Learn to Translate the Lessons of St. Augustine to Modern Life


Photo of Sarah Ruden
Photo courtesy of Sarah Ruden

Dr. Sarah Ruden taught students how St. Augustine’s life serves as an example for navigating contemporary life during her presentation at the Fall 2015 Ducharme Veritas Lecture on Sep. 23 in Knott Auditorium.

Ruden, in a lecture titled, “Augustine as a Guide through the Perils of Modernity: The Confessions on How To Think, Read, Write and Live,” observed the different problems Augustine described in Confessions and paralleled them to modern complications. Ruden particularly emphasized the process of forming a relationship with God and maintaining one’s faith.

Dr. Joshua Hochschild, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, invited Ruden to speak to students as part of the Ducharme Lecture series, which began in 2014. The event is named in honor of Dr. Robert Ducharme, Professor Emeritus of English at the university.

Ruden spoke about her translation of St. Augustine’s Confessions. One of the goals of her speech was to focus on Augustine as a person. She examined his personality and the time period in which he lived.

“I try to translate authors who may not have the best reputation in public regards,” Ruden said. “Augustine has a reputation that has been heavily influenced by Freud and that sexual issues were the main driver in his thoughts, which is plainly not true.”   

 Ruden considers herself to be a poet, translator and essayist.

She has an extensive background in education. She holds a Ph.D. in classical philology from Harvard University and an M.A. in writing seminars from Johns Hopkins University. She has taught Latin, English and writing at Harvard, Yale and Brown.

“I am interested in late Latin, and the Confessions of Augustine had a late Latin style, which was quite playful and interesting,” Ruden said. “I have also been working on sacred literature more and more, and I felt that translating this work was something I had to do.”

When Dr. Ruden translates Latin texts, she does not examine the factual aspects of a subject alone; she wants to know her historical subjects in a more personal way.

“The way I translate is more like getting to know an author personally. Trying to get a real sense of Augustine’s personality and emotions. Trying to envision how he would be socially,” Ruden said. “When I look at a subject like this, it helps me to clarify their ideas and ways of thinking.”

Dr. Ruden also believes that translating the Confessions strengthened her faith.

“He is absolutely foundational,” Ruden said. “He came to the church at a critical time and ensured its survival as a major institution. He is extremely important and I think it is my duty to portray him in a more accurate light.”

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