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Religion, Higher Education, and the Public Sphere, Week One: Brad Gregory on the Secularization of Knowledge

This summer, we’re reading through a number of essays and excerpts of books related to the relationship between religion, higher education, and the public sphere. Take a look at the overview of our readings.

We enjoyed a great conversation last week to kick off this summer’s reading group. We discussed chapter 6 of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation, which is a broad survey of the secularization of knowledge since the late middle ages. Here some of the main points we discussed:

  • We questioned the degree to which late medieval Catholicism provided a unified “institutionalized worldview.” On the one hand, Gregory seems overly optimistic about the amount of consensus that existed in late medieval Christendom. On the other hand, it seems reasonable that shared Christian practices may have unified diverse intellectual viewpoints in a way that became impossible once those Christian practices were no longer held in common.
  • We found convincing Gregory’s claim that religious pluralism was a significant driver of secularization: when people disagree on religious matters, there’s an incentive to bracket those areas of disagreement from the other areas (e.g., science) where you pursue a common cause.
  • We were skeptical of the broad claims Gregory made for “the Reformation” as an agent driving history. Consider the following sentence: “By rejecting the authority of the Roman church, the Reformation eliminated any shared framework for the integration of knowledge.” What does it mean to make such overarching claims about the agency of a historical movement as broad as the Reformation? A movement that stands in for such a diverse range of human agents, human institutions (religious, political, both, neither), and other diverse historical forces? Are claims like “the Reformation rejected” and “the Reformation eliminated” helpful in condensing and clarifying such a broad movement, or do they obscure the history?
  • What would a synthetic, integrative approach to higher education—one that resists extreme specialization and fragmentation—look like at a place as large and specialized as the U of M? We thought it would start with having administrators who are concerned for the integration of knowledge, and would likely involve revising requirements for undergraduates so that they all are required to think synthetically across a variety of fields. One idea was for the first year of studies for all students to be focused on moral questions—introduce different ideas about what it means to be human and how knowledge should be used in the world.

Next week we’re continuing the historical section of our reading group by focusing on the changing place of morality within the modern university. We’ll read essays by Julie Reuben and George Marsden from The Hedgehog Review, as well as one exchange among these authors and philosopher Richard Rorty from the same issue.

Also consider reading Max Weber’s classic address, “Science as a Vocation,” which has been a touchstone for later discussions of the purposes of academic knowledge and its relation to morality. (“Science” here is a translation of the German Wissenschaft, which includes all academic knowledge, not just the natural sciences.)

Seeking Wisdom in the University: David Deavel on John Henry Newman and the Pursuit of Wisdom

aquino newman


This review is by David Deavel, Adjunct Professor of Catholic Studies, University of St. Thomas and a recent MacLaurinCSF speaker.

Frederick Aquino, An Integrative Habit of Mind: John Henry Newman on the Path to Wisdom

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) is a figure whose stature seems to grow with every passing year. Though he left the Anglican Church and became a Roman Catholic in 1845, his influence in Protestant circles continued and continues to grow. On theology—particularly the theology of the Church—he continues to be loved even by those who strongly disagree with him. Reformed theologian Carl Trueman has recently written, “One [of] my favorite theological writers is John Henry Newman—and he is my favorite precisely because he offers different answers to the most fundamental questions and thereby demands that I refine and sharpen my own thinking. If I read Newman and remain unchanged, I know something is not right.”

Amusingly enough, Newman never actually considered himself a theologian in the technical, professional sense, despite the marvelous contributions he made to the study of doctrinal development, the Arian crisis, and many other subjects. While he was always a Christian and a priest first and foremost, he put his intellectual energy into philosophical questions about the nature of belief, knowledge, and wisdom. To this end his two great works are the collection from his Anglican days known as Oxford University Sermons (1843) and from his Catholic days The Grammar of Assent (1870). But like the ancient philosophers, this pursuit was not simply about a theory, but about life. In his work there was no strict line between the practical and the theoretical because, for creatures, all true wisdom has to be grounded in concrete experience and issue in change to one’s experience and behavior. In other words, philosophy (literally “love of wisdom”) was not a specialized subject for people with advanced degrees, but instead a subject for everybody. Philosophy was about education—what he called “my line.” And his thoughts about that subject have been immortalized in the series of theoretical and practical lectures known as The Idea of a University (1852).

Frederick Aquino, a long-time student of Newman and professor of theology and philosophy at Abilene Christian University, has been probing Newman’s understanding of how and under what conditions we gain knowledge and understanding (what the professional philosophers label epistemology) and how university education can facilitate those gains. His very good short book, An Integrative Habit of Mind, mirrors Newman’s technique of treating theoretical and practical aspects of the path to wisdom side by side, with an eye to showing what Newman can offer the professional philosophers and those involved in educational theory. If they can abide the academic prose, undergraduates and lay readers will gain much from Aquino’s treatments, particularly his third chapter focusing on suggestions for thinking about education as a formation of persons.

Aquino’s contention is that forming and keeping an “integrative habit of mind” is necessary for anyone who seeks wisdom. What is this habit? Aquino describes it as the ability “to grasp how various pieces of data and areas of inquiry fit together in light of one another, thereby acquiring a more comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand” and also to figure out “how this kind of understanding applies to a given situation.” In other words, wisdom involves having the big picture, a good sense of the details and how they relate to each other, but also how to apply that knowledge to given situations. Wisdom requires deep theory and prudent practice.

Aquino’s first main chapter, “Broadening Horizons,” indicates another requirement: the ability to engage others from “radically different points of view” in such a way that, even if one does not finally adopt their views, one can gain from them an even better understanding of the issues at hand. Engagement of others doesn’t mean approaching their thought as if one doesn’t have any convictions of one’s own, either. When paleo-Calvinist Carl Trueman reads the Catholic Newman, he is engaging in precisely the sort of practice that makes for wisdom. But unlike Descartes, who claimed to have doubted everything in order to build a foundation for true knowledge, Trueman no doubt doesn’t simply leave his Reformed convictions behind.

Aquino, following Newman, advocates the development of the virtues needed for true engagement—“interest in truth, intellectual honesty, concern for evidence, capacity to listen and to follow counterarguments, the ability to see how things hang together”—but firmly maintains that focusing on those virtues doesn’t “bypass” the very real questions of “authority and autonomy” that lie at the heart of most serious intellectual arguments. Instead, this focus helps one to behave well in situations where one does disagree. And it acknowledges that authority and autonomy are not, as some Enlightenment thinkers had it, implacable enemies. Humans begin with the acceptance of authorities whom they trust—this is neither unreasonable nor bad. It is only by a patient development of one’s own thinking and a probing of what we have been taught that we can come to the point where an autonomous informed judgment is possible. This development is not only a learning of rules or principles, but also an apprenticeship in how to think, whom to trust (and when), and how to persevere in being open-minded enough to gain from others while not being so open-minded that one can never make a critical judgment.

This emphasis on the what and the how of learning is continued in the second chapter, “A Matter of Proper Fit.” While this chapter is the most technical and academic in tone (thinkers are always “cognitive agents” or even “cognizers”—ack!), it is in many ways the most intellectually rewarding. Modern philosophers of knowledge tend to divide into camps of “externalists” and “internalists.” Roughly speaking, the externalists count it as knowledge if you get to the right answer while the internalists make the proper process of getting to the right answer the criterion for knowledge. One side focuses on what, the other side on how. Aquino doesn’t propose that Newman can solve all of the philosophical debates, but he thinks Newman offers hints of a mediating position. To be wise, sometimes it is important to focus only on the answer, while sometimes one has to go back to thinking about how to get there. In bumper sticker terms, it’s not the destination or the journey, dude. It’s both. A batter who focuses too much on anticipating the coming pitch will not be able to hit the outside fastball when it arrives—too much conscious thought is detrimental to his hitting. But if he misses enough of them, he’ll have to spend time in practice thinking through how to detect the signs of fastballs, sliders, and curves. Developing the “proper fit” between conscious knowledge and practice is the name of the game.

Christian readers will understand this chapter as very applicable to the life of faith, and no wonder, since Newman’s Grammar of Assent was written in order to defend unreflective simple reasoning of Christians against cultured despisers who think that believing in something one doesn’t fully understand or can’t explain on paper is simple superstition. But Newman also encouraged religious believers with the capacity and duty for it to explore their worldviews even though it could be dangerous and uncomfortable. Simple believers sometimes need to ask tough questions about how they came to their beliefs, while Christian intellectuals must sometimes tame their own capacity for criticism and complexification in order to believe that they might understand.

Wherever one starts, however, the goal is the same: a connected view of the world, or what some call a worldview. The third chapter is full of hints about how to achieve this connected view and what those involved in university education need to do to encourage its development. Aquino has suggestions about curricular and institutional issues to be sure, but his main focus is on the personal side of education, on educators forming a real “community of inquirers” who not only model how to work in their particular disciplines, but also how to listen and ask questions of others who are treating the same subject from a different discipline. (Here it may have been useful for Aquino to consider Newman’s notion of the “circle of knowledge” that grounds the need for interdisciplinary work in The Idea of the University.) While a syllabus full of good readings and assignments is important, true teachers realize their “embodiment” of a connected view is most important to students. Aquino quotes Newman about how ideas come to life more in “personal documents” than in “dead abstracts and tables.”

For a number of reasons, the modern university is not always the place for finding wisdom. Connected views of things have been damned too long as “metanarratives” that are oppressive. The nature of specialized research has also encouraged scholars to focus ever more narrowly on subjects such that the forest cannot be seen for the trees. Finally, the mass entrance of students into university education has forced changes on to the traditional university structure. But given its resources, the university still has a potential for leading students and faculty to understanding and breadth. Those who see and desire this potential would benefit greatly both from the wisdom of Newman and from Frederick Aquino’s valuable mining of it in this book. If they study Newman and are not changed, they should know, however, that something is not right.

Religion, Higher Education, and the Public Sphere

This summer at MacLaurinCSF, a few of us are reading some of the key works in the broad area of religion, higher education, and the public sphere.

We’ll post brief reports from our discussions as we read; weigh in in the comments with reflections or responses of your own: What place does religion have in higher education? Only as an object of study? Perhaps sequestered in confessional institutions? Present but private at the public university?

Week One

The Secularization of Higher Education

  • Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation, chapter 6

For further reading:

  • Jon Roberts and James Turner, The Sacred and the Secular University
  • George Marsden, The Soul of the American University

Week 2

Morality and the Secular University

For further reading:

  • Julie Reuben, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality

Week 3

What is the Secular?

  • Stanley Hauerwas, The State of the University
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, ch. 1

For further reading:

Week 4

Religion and the Public Sphere

  • John Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”
  • Jürgen Habermas, “Religion in the Public Sphere”; “A ‘post-secular’ society: what does it mean?”
  • Eric Gregory, Politics and the Order of Love

Week 5

Contemporary Proposals

  • Hauerwas, The State of the University, chs. 1 & 11
  • Gavin D’Costa, Theology in the Public Square
  • James R. Stoner, Stanley Hauerwas, Paul Griffiths, David Bentley Hart, “Theology as Knowledge: A Symposium,” First Things

Week 6

Contemporary Proposals

  • Readings TBD

Recommended Reading on Faith and Economics – William Cavanaugh

William Cavanaugh - What Do I Want? Augustine and Milton Friedman on Freedom of Choice

On March 10, Dr. William Cavanaugh, a theologian and a Professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul, visited campus to deliver a fascinating lecture on the relationship between desire, freedom, and economics. Entitled “What Do We Want? Augustine and Milton Friedman on Freedom of Choice,” Cavanaugh’s talk contrasted Augustine’s theological anthropology—his Christian vision of the human person—with the assumptions about humanity that informed Friedman’s economic theories.

Cavanaugh’s talk is available on YouTube and Soundcloud. If you’re interested in learning more, Cavanaugh recommends the following books:

Cavanaugh adds:

One way or another, all of these books question the idea that economics is a hard science, and see it rather as a kind of theology.

William Cavanaugh's recommended books on theology and economics

(Also check out our recent blog series on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a—yes, it happens from time to time—best-selling book about economics, which explores the relationship between capital accumulation and economic inequality.)

I’d be interested to know what you think about Cavanaugh’s talk and, more broadly, the relationship between theology and social sciences like economics—leave a comment below. A couple of our summer 2015 reading groups will be exploring related topics—particularly the Theology and Economics group and the group reading Christian Smith’s Moral, Believing Animals—if you’re interested and able, we’d love to have you join us.

Recommended Reading on Biotechnology and Bioethics – William Hurlbut

wh 2015-04-09 email


In April, Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University gave our second annual V. Elving Anderson Lecture in Science and Religion. Hurlbut’s lecture, “Biotechnology, Freedom, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” is now available to watch on YouTube and listen to on Soundcloud.

Dr. Hurlbut suggested the following four books as the best resources if you’re interested in further exploring the issues he raised in his lecture:

If you’d like to read more from Dr. Hurlbut, in addition to his contributions to the Beyond Therapy volume, he is the co-editor of Altruism & Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy & Religion in Dialogue, to which he contributed several chapters, and the essay “Science, Religion and the Human Spirit” in the Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science.


William Hurlbut's book recommendations on biotechnology and bioethics

Recommended Reading on C.S. Lewis – Dave Deavel

David Deavel: The Tao of Jack - C.S. Lewis on the Foundation of Freedom

In March, St. Thomas professor Dave Deavel gave an excellent talk, “The Tao of Jack: C.S. Lewis on the Foundation of Freedom.”

Dave agreed to offer his own recommended reading on Lewis and the Inklings, which complements the previous posts in our series of recommended books on the Inklings—Joseph Pearce on J.R.R. Tolkien and Phil Rolnick’s earlier list on C.S. Lewis.

Here are Deavel’s recommendations:

2014-15 Wrap-up: Recordings of this year’s lectures

2014-15 event posters


As we wrap up another exciting academic year of lectures and programs, I wanted to share our video and audio recordings of those events for those who weren’t able to attend or who would like to watch and listen again.

Throughout the year, we focused on the theme of freedom and the free society, and many of these talks connect with that theme, from Gloria Halverson’s sobering talk on human trafficking and the ways healthcare professionals can combat it, to Patrick Deneen’s Holmer Lecture on liberalism and what comes after it, to Dave Deavel’s talk on the C.S. Lewis and the Tao.

We’ll announce next year’s theme soon; in the meantime, I hope you enjoy and learn from these recordings. The SoundCloud files are audio-only and downloadable.

What were the highlights of this year’s MacLaurinCSF programs for you? We’d love your feedback—leave a comment below!

Volunteer Opportunity: Spring Work Days

Our study center here on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota is the home and the heart of our work. It’s where we on staff have our offices, it holds our lending library (the library’s free and open to everyone, in case you’re looking for a good book), and it’s where we host everything from the meetings of our MacLaurin Fellows to our Mars Hill Dinners and events like our talks on the Inklings.

Our study center, like any home, requires all kinds of basic maintenance. So we’re hosting two upcoming work days here at the study center for us to take care of some of this work—our spring cleaning.

The work days are Saturday, April 25 and Saturday, May 9Both work days will take place from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., and lunch will be provided to all volunteers who let Cheri know in advance that they’re coming.

These work days are opportunities to contribute to our ministry in incredibly important, concrete ways. Our study center is the foundation for all the rest of our work. If you’d like to volunteer some of your time and your skills to our work by helping us with projects like

  • painting (indoors & out)
  • yard work
  • cleaning
  • misc. repairs

then please contact Cheri as soon as possible. And if you can’t make it but would still like to volunteer, please check out other volunteer opportunities and fill out our volunteer form. Thank you!

Science, Scripture, & Creation: An Introduction to John Walton & Keith B. Miller

Banner image for "Integration of Science & Faith," a conference on Saturday, April 18 at Constant Free Church

On Saturday, April 18, we’re please to be cosponsoring a half-day conference on the integration of science and faith with Constance Free Church in Andover, MN.

The conference speakers are Wheaton’s John Walton, a professor of Old Testament, and Kansas State’s Keith B. Miller, a professor of geology. Our aim in selecting these speakers was to provide you with the opportunity to engage—on the question of origins specifically and science & faith more broadly—with Christian scholars of the highest caliber within both the Biblical and scientific communities.

We hope you can join us on Saturday for what’s going to be a rich discussion of the relationship between science and faith, particularly with respect to origins. Learn more about our speakers below, and watch this blog for a bibliography of their recommended books on science and faith.

John Walton

John Walton is professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College. His research focuses on the relationship between the Old Testament and surrounding ancient Near Eastern cultures and literature. Walton says that in his teaching and research, he has been “driven by the desire to offer people a greater familiarity with God’s Word and a greater confidence in understanding God’s revelation of himself in its pages.”

Walton’s most recent book is The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate. Read a preview of the book on Google Books, or order through Amazon Smile.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve is Walton’s sequel to his earlier book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, which you can also preview on Google Books or purchase through Amazon Smile.

Between these two books, Walton coauthored, with D. Brent Stanley, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority, which focuses on the relationship between history, theology, and Biblical studies—it provides some theoretical context for those who are interested in how Walton arrives at his conclusions in his other Lost World books, and gives an overview of how the Bible’s historicity (its status as a collection of historical documents, written by individuals in particular times and places) relates to its divine inspiration and status as the word of God. Read a preview of The Lost World of Scripture on Google Books, or purchase it on Amazon Smile.

Perhaps the best place to read more from Walton is at his BioLogos page, where you can find articles by Walton, videos of his talks, and resources for individuals or groups interested in reading his books.

Keith B. Miller

Keith B. Miller is professor of geology at Kansas State University; you can learn more about his geological research on his homepage. He’s active in public science education, and provides extensive resources on his website Pursuing Science & Faith in Kansas related to this topic. His book Perspectives on an Evolving Creation can be previewed on Google Books or purchased on Amazon Smile.

As it does with Walton, the BioLogos Foundation offers many blog posts by and resources related to Miller’s work, including a four-part series on death & pain in the created order and a six-part series on the Cambrian explosion, transitional life forms, and the tree of life.

Integrating Science & Faith

If you join us on Saturday, April 18, here’s what you can expect:

  • two talks from John Walton: one on cosmic origins; the other on human origins
  • a talk from Keith B. Miller on “The Meaning of Fossils and the Discover of Earth History”
  • a total of 1.5 hours of question-and-answer time with Walton and Miller
  • a friendly atmosphere where you can explore a range of ideas on how science and faith intersect, and a safe environment where you can ask challenging questions.

Everybody’s welcome; you don’t need to occupy any particular position in the debates about origins in order to attend and benefit from the conference. And it’s geared toward a general audience, so it’ll be accessible to everyone.

We hope you can join us! Learn more or register online at Constance Free’s event page—and feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

Bringing a Language Back from the Dead: The New Davenant Language Institute

The Davenant Latin Institute banner image


Editor’s Note: Our friends at the Davenant Trust have recently launched an excited new program for students who are interested in learning Latin. Read on for more on this fascinating program—it’s an online program, so it’s available to anyone, and the instructors are excellent.

  • If you’re studying Reformation or early modern theology, and want to read beyond the handful of texts currently available in English . . .
  • If you’re about to undertake graduate studies requiring you to read and translate scholastic theology . . .
  • If you want to really understand the literary world of the Reformers, including their marginalia, abbreviations, and even handwriting . . .

Enroll in our Advanced Early Modern Latin Reading Course!

  • If you don’t know the first thing about Latin but want to get started . . .
  • If you’re trying to pass a Latin competency exam for your seminary or grad school . . .
  • If you’d like to enroll in our Advanced course but are pretty rusty . . .

Enroll in our Introductory Latin Course (Summer Intensive or Year-long version)!

Using state-of-the-art online teaching technology and employing experienced Latin teachers and Reformation scholars, the Davenant Latin Institute is the best option for graduate-level Latin education.

The Davenant Latin Institute offers students of theology an excellent programme of introductory and advanced-level instruction in the Latin tongue. With a view to optimum utility, this programme is systematically constructed to provide students of the Reformation and early-modern philosophy and history with an indispensable scholarly proficiency.

~ W. J. Torrance Kirby, Prof. of Ecclesiastical History and Director of the Centre for Research on Religion, McGill University

Tuition is just $1,000 for the Summer Intensive (Jun. 22–Aug. 14) and $750 per semester for the Introductory and Advanced courses(Aug. 24–May 13).

To enroll (deadlines: June 5 for the Summer Intensive; July 24 for the year-long courses) or for more details, check out our website.

Sponsored by the Davenant Trust, in partnership with the Greystone Institute.