Christopher Snyder on Tolkien and Virtue Ethics

Episode 55

In this episode, I am joined by Christopher Snyder, professor of history and director of British Studies at Mississippi State University, to discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction and virtue ethics. We discuss Tolkien’s background, training, academic work and influences, how to think about his fiction and its enduring value, and what role virtue plays in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Drawing on arguments from his latest book, Hobbit Virtues, Chris and I discuss the role of imagination in the moral life and why Tolkien isn’t just or even primarily for children.

Christopher Snyder, became the first dean of the Shackouls Honors College at Mississippi State University in 2011. He is Professor of History and Director of British Studies at MSU, an affiliated faculty member in the Department of English, and was a History Research Fellow at the University of Oxford from 2014 to 2019. His MA and PhD in Medieval History are from Emory University, and in addition to Emory he has taught at the College of William and Mary and at Marymount University, where he served for nine years as Chair of the Department of History and Politics and five years as Director of the Honors Program. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a Distinguished Alumnus of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University, where he majored in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Dr. Snyder has authored ten books and numerous articles in the fields of archaeology, history, literary criticism, ethics, and medieval studies. His most recent book is Hobbit Virtues: Rediscovering Virtue Ethics through J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (New York and London: Pegasus/ Simon & Schuster, 2020). Dr. Snyder has also lectured frequently at the Smithsonian Institution and has appeared on the History Channel, The Learning Channel, the National Geographic Channel, and BBC television and radio. He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and sits on the editorial boards of several academic journals and internet projects in medieval and Arthurian studies.

Jennifer Frey is an associate professor of philosophy and Peter and Bonnie McCausland Faculty Fellow at the University of South Carolina. She is also a fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and the Word on Fire Institute. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at USC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department. She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with a Classics minor) at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. She has published widely on action, virtue, practical reason, and meta-ethics, and has recently co-edited an interdisciplinary volume, Self-Transcendence and Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Theology, and PsychologyHer writing has also been featured in Breaking Ground, First ThingsFare ForwardImageLaw and LibertyThe Point, and USA Today. She lives in Columbia, SC, with her husband, six children, and chickens. You can follow her on Twitter @jennfrey.

Sacred and Profane Love is a podcast in which philosophers, theologians, and literary critics discuss some of their favorite works of literature, and how these works have shaped their own ideas about love, happiness, and meaning in human life. Host Jennifer A. Frey is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina. The podcast is generously supported by The Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and produced by Catholics for Hire.

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