MANCHESTER - Religion scholar Rob Oden will consider how advances in the ancient Middle East have influenced the West in a talk at First Congregational Church in Manchester on April 3.

His talk, "Religion and Identity in the Middle East," is part of the Vermont Humanities Council's First Wednesdays lecture series and takes place at 7 p.m.

Oden will consider how constructs from the ancient Middle East inform Westerners' identity, the Middle East's transition to Islam, and what Islam shares with and how it departs from Judaism and Christianity.

Oden is a retired president of Carleton College. He also served previously as the president of Kenyon College and the headmaster of the Hotchkiss School. He holds a Master of Theology degree and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from Harvard University, and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Kenyon.

From 1975 to 1989, Oden was a Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College, where he received Dartmouth's first Distinguished Teaching Award.

To enhance this talk, the Mark Skinner Library will also be lending books as part of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, a program of the National Endowment for the Humanities project, Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys, conducted in cooperation with the American Library Association.

Through this award VHC will enhance programming at libraries hosting VHC's monthly First Wednesdays talks that relate to Muslim religion and culture in 2013 and 2014.

Libraries will choose thematically appropriate materials from the Bookshelf and make those materials available to patrons prior to and following the First Wednesdays talk.

The Bookshelf will continue to circulate throughout the state, informing and providing context for relevant First Wednesdays lectures.

At the conclusion of the program period, the Bookshelf will be housed in the Vermont State Library for use by individual libraries and patrons throughout the state.

Support for this bookshelf program was provided by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Additional support for the arts and media components was provided by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

The Vermont Humanities Council's First Wednesdays series is held on the first Wednesday of every month from October through May.

Talks in Manchester are held at First Congregational Church (unless otherwise noted) and are hosted by Mark Skinner Library. All First Wednesdays talks are free and open to the public.

The 2012-2013 First Wednesdays series in Manchester concludes with "What Women Want" with author Polly Young-Eisendrath on May 1.

For more information, contact Mark Skinner Library at 802.362.2607 or the Vermont Humanities Council at 802.262.2626 or info@vermonthumanities.org, or visit www.vermonthumanities.org.