Oasis SEW Ponders One of Life's Most Important Questions

By Andrew Stager Jan 27, 2016

Can beauty save the world?

Oasis Special Emphasis Week (SEW) tackled this audacious question found in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot. From January 19-22, a group of 100 students and faculty gathered to encounter beauty.
At times, we simply sat back -- literally, in sofas and armchairs borrowed from the rooms of YISS staff -- and soaked beauty up. Each morning we engaged with musicians who mused about the mysterious power of beauty and confronted us with its power directly through their rhythms, melodies, and verse.
We sat captivated in silence as Meridith Johnson, Ellie Stager, and Katie Harris belted out classic and original songs. We pondered the connection between American blues and Korean han as Zack Kim fused the two with his Stratocaster and vocals. We hummed, shouted, stomped, and crowed like roosters along with folk artist Seth Patrick Martin. Each musician seemed to convince us that whether beauty can 'save the world' or not, we wouldn't want a world without it.
With the aid of our presenters, we tackled our key question head on. Helped by coffee, tea, pastries, and our lounge atmosphere, we answered "yes," "no," and "maybe" to different dimensions of our question.
Student Council President Darshan S took us to Bollywood to explore the compelling nature of beautiful film scores, suggesting that while beauty may not be strictly necessary to tell a story, song and dance grip us in a place that cinematography wouldn't reach without it.
Dr. Anthony Lichi reminded us of both the power and poverty of beauty; its ability to move us, and its inability to automatically make us beautiful, and ethical, people.
Dr. Perry Hamalis took us on a virtual tour of the breathtaking Hagia Sophia to understand how, at least for the Byzantines of old, beauty had already saved the world when heaven and earth mingled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
High School faculty members Dr. JL Murdoch, Harrison Creech, and Lee Parsons engaged with students on how to cultivate an openness to beauty in a panel discussion that concluded our week of gatherings. The discussion, however, continues---in classrooms, hallways, and beyond the walls of YISS.
So, can beauty save the world?

Most of us had never considered the question, and many were unconvinced of its relevance when we began Special Emphasis Week on Tuesday. By Friday afternoon we probably had more questions than answers. And yet together our initial question had provoked new questions that led us, as beauty so often does, toward the place where truth and goodness bump up against mystery.

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