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Roger Sworder’s life and work
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Roger Sworder
Roger  Sworder
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Biography of Roger Sworder

Dr. Roger Sworder (1946-2016) was for many years Head of the Department of Arts at La Trobe University Bendigo where he lectured in Philosophy, Religious Studies and Literature. His particular interests included the pre-Socratic philosophers and Plato, traditional theories of work and art, and Romanticism. He is the author of books on Homer, Parmenides, and Plato, and of the books Mining, Metallurgy and the Meaning of Life (1995), A Contrary History of the West (2011), and The Romantic Attack on Modern Science (2015).

Roger Sworder's article “The Desacralisation of Work” can be found in the anthology from World Wisdom, The Betrayal of Tradition: The Spiritual Crisis of Modernity , edited by Harry Oldmeadow.

Books/DVDs containing the work of Roger Sworder

Roger Sworder’s contributions to World Wisdom books:

Quotes on Roger Sworder

The following eulogy was read at the wake of Roger Sworder (1946-2016)
in Bendigo, Australia, November 2016
by his friend and colleague, Harry Oldmeadow.

There is something obscure which is complete
before heaven and earth arose;
tranquil, quiet, standing alone without change,
moving around without peril.
It could be the Mother of everything.
I don’t know its name, and call it Tao.
—Tao Te Ching, 25

What is this Tao? Well, as Lao Tzu also says, “he who knows does not say; he who says does not know”. Of course, Lao Tzu then went on to write a book on the subject! Roger loved these paradoxes which are so abundant in the Chinese mystics. In the full amplitude of the term, The Tao is an immutable and ultimate reality, both immanent and transcendent, something which, in different times and places, has been called by many names: Being, One, the Good, the Absolute, God, Brahman, the Tao, to refer only to those metaphysical and religious vocabularies with which Roger was most deeply familiar. For Roger, the contemplation of this Reality, and the consequent alchemical transmutation of the soul, was the highest and most noble form of the human vocation, one which has been so derided, corrupted or ignored in the modern world. The contemplation of the Divine — whether in the natural order, in the “human form divine”, in art, or in wordless meditation — was the Pole Star of his life. The ancient nexus of Truth, Beauty and Goodness comes to mind when thinking about Roger’s life and work. For the postmodern critics and anti-philosophers, these were merely “cultural productions” or “discursive constructs” to be dismantled and laid bare. Roger had nothing but contempt for these impudent desecrations. As to the postmodernists and their ilk, we need only recall the adage of Roger’s favourite poet, William Blake: “A fool sees not the same tree as a wise man”. No, for Roger, Truth, Beauty and Goodness, and the traditional forms in which these were manifested, were permanent verities to which we should, each in his/her own faltering way, try to conform our being.

I spoke a moment ago about the contemplation of the Divine as the human vocation. But of course, as Roger believed so passionately, we each have a particular vocation, a calling, a form of work best suited to our nature. Roger understood his vocation primarily as a teacher. And what he wanted to teach was not what was fashionable, in vogue in the halls of the Academy at this or that moment, but nothing less than those immutable truths and axioms which are subject neither to the vagaries of fashion nor to the vicissitudes of time, the Wisdom of the Ages, the perennial philosophy, the birthright of all humankind. What higher calling could there be? And, as most of you are well aware, Roger was an exceptional and inspirational teacher, whether as expositor, performer, provocateur or interlocutor. In his essay on Coleridge Roger remarks, “Like Plato, Wordsworth and Coleridge are fresh and natural, and find ways of saying the loftiest things in the simplest words”. Roger too had this gift. He was a man with a clear, penetrating mind, a creative Imagination, a generous heart and a beautiful soul, a man of noble character. Like all mortals he no doubt had his failings, but these were of a very minor order. On the death of Mohendas Gandhi George Orwell remarked that the Mahatma’s sins and misdemeanours, gathered together, made a very paltry pile. I daresay the same might be said of Roger.

Roger made a difference to so many people, deeply influenced so many lives, my own included. One of the figures who had a profound influence on Roger and whom he greatly admired was the art historian and scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy. On the occasion of Coomaraswamy’s death, one of his friends wrote the following words which I want to share with you. It seems to me that they apply as well to Roger as to Coomaraswamy, and they express, albeit inadequately, something of my own love and respect for Roger: “There was one person … to whose influence I am deeply grateful; I mean the philosopher and theologian, Ananda Coomaraswamy. Others have written the truth about life and religion and man’s work. Others have written good clear English. Others have had the gift of witty exposition. Others have understood the metaphysics of Christianity and others have understood the metaphysics of Hinduism and Buddhism.… Others have seen the relationships of the true and the good and the beautiful. Others have had apparently unlimited learning. Others have loved; others have been kind and generous. But I know of no one else in whom all these gifts and all these powers have been combined.… I believe that no other living writer has written the truth in matters of art and life and religion and piety with such wisdom and understanding.” Roger’s life, like Coomaraswamy’s, was a rare and precious gift to all those interested in the life of the Spirit, those who hear, however faintly, the Call of the Infinite.

It has been said that the death of a learned man is akin to a library burning down. In Roger’s case we may well say that not only has the library burnt down, but the museum, the art gallery and the music conservatorium as well. This afternoon we heard the celestial music of Johann Sebastian Bach. For those of us who quite properly feel sad and sorrowful at Roger’s departure, let me conclude by recalling the words of Bach, spoken on his deathbed to his wife: “Don’t cry for me, for I go where music is born.”

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