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An Introduction to William Cavanaugh

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


William Cavanaugh, our guest next Thursday, is a familiar face to many of you. For many years, he was a professor of theology here at St. Thomas and has spoken for MacLaurin before.

Lecture Details

Cavanaugh’s lecture for us will be a fascinating addition to our year-long series on the theme of freedom and the free society. Free market ideology generally assumes that what people want is transparent to them. In his lecture, Cavanaugh will question that assumption and show that underlying it is a distorted view of the way people really are. He’ll examine some empirical research and show that Augustine’s theological anthropology anticipated this research by many centuries. He will then argues that aspects of Augustine’s theology are needed to adequately account for human desire and human freedom.

While he’s here, Cavanaugh will be participating in a fascinating multi-day event at St. Thomas entitled “The Church in the Modern World: Teaching and Understanding Gaudium et Spes after 50 Years.” He’s also widely known for his books and essays, which explore in compelling ways the intersections of theology, economics, and politics:

He’s also written many articles and given many talks that are available online:

Can’t wait for the lecture? Check out our archive of talks on theology and Biblical studies:

Lecture Details

Patrick Deneen & Michael Hanby on Christianity and Freedom in America

This year’s annual theme at MacLaurinCSF is “Freedom and the Free Society.” This month’s issue of First Things illustrates well why this theme is so timely, and important for Christians to consider carefully.

At the center of this month’s issue is an essay by Michael Hanby on “The Civic Project of American Christianity.” Hanby makes an argument similar to Patrick Deneen’s articles on liberal democracy for First Things and The American Conservative—a topic that Deneen worked out in greater detail when he gave our Holmer Lecture last fall:

Both scholars question whether traditional Catholicism (I would broaden this to traditional Christianity) is compatible with the core principles of liberalism. (Note: when they use the term “liberalism,” Deneen and Hanby are referring to the classical liberal political philosophy identified with Locke and Hobbes that emphasizes individual freedom, not to the “liberal” politics of the Democratic party.)

Hanby and Deneen are part of a “radical Catholic” critique of liberalism that calls into question the union of Catholicism with the liberal principles inherent in America’s political order. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, nearly all American Catholics came to embrace this “civic project” of marrying Christianity to liberal democracy. (The wedding day for American Protestantism occurred much earlier, around the time of the nation’s founding.)

Hanby argues that many of the social issues confronting traditional Christians in the twenty-first century are the logical outworking of liberalism’s underlying philosophical principles—including its views of the human being and human freedom—rather than a later betrayal of those principles by “progressives” or anyone else. The outcomes of these liberal principles include a denial of any natural ordering to sexuality and marriage (which might limit the individual’s pursuit of self-fulfillment) as well as the state’s violation of religious liberty when religion conflicts with individual self-determination. The liberal view of human freedom requires a particular relationship between the state and the individual:

Insofar as liberal freedom is atomistic and precludes the claim of others on the property that is my person, the state tasked with securing this liberty will exist to protect me from God’s commandments, the demands of other persons, so-called intermediary institutions, and, ultimately, even nature itself. The liberal state then becomes the mediator of all human relations, charged with creating in reality the denatured individuals heretofore existing only at the theoretical foundations of liberalism.

Our current situation, then, isn’t a “wrong turn” in the liberal political project, but rather its very fulfillment. Hanby doesn’t think that the proper response is a return to America’s founding principles, because this civic project already presupposed certain assumptions about being, humanity, and the good that departed in significant ways from traditional Christian ontology and anthropology. The game was decided before it played out, and was stacked heavily against traditional Christianity.

Hanby and Deneen are thus positioned alongside John Milbank and others in the Radical Orthodoxy movement who propose a more thorough rethinking of the assumptions of modernity itself. Theirs is an effort to recover resources from an older Christian past to chart a post-modern (in the sense of “after modern”) Christianity that offers a genuine alternative to modernity rather than a baptized version of it. Rod Dreher’s response to Hanby in the issue falls into much the same camp, describing what he’s come to call the “Benedict Option” (named after Alasdair MacIntyre’s concluding line in After Virtue): a Christian strategic withdrawal from mainstream culture for the sake of preserving the traditional Christian heritage through the coming “Dark Age.”

Both Hanby and Deneen identify George Weigel as one of the leading traditional Catholic proponents of the civic project that finds compatibility between traditional Catholicism and liberal democracy. It’s especially interesting, then, how much Weigel, in his response, agrees with Hanby’s assessment of the present divide between traditional Christian and modern views of human freedom. Weigel differs most significantly with Hanby over how much is salvageable for Christians in the present situation: Weigel remains more sanguine than Hanby and Dreher that Christians can make progress within the existing order on life issues and religious liberty.

Though it’s not a formal response to Hanby, George Marsden’s essay on “A More Inclusive Pluralism” (paywall) in the same issue also takes a more optimistic view. He sees the possibility for a genuine pluralism in the existing liberal order that can include Christianity and other religious perspectives.

There’s much to think about in all of this. As a historian, I question the extent to which human history can ever be described as something like a logical outworking of certain philosophical principles, as important as those ideas might be. I also question whether as Christians we’re ever morally allowed the option of strategically removing ourselves from the cultures and institutions we’re placed in. To me, James Davison Hunter’s model of “faithful presence” within such post-Christian cultures and institutions seems to follow better the pattern of Christ.

I recommend that you read the current issue for yourself—you can read it at our study center if you don’t have a subscription. For more discussions like these, join us at the next meeting of our Readers of First Things Group: the group will meet next on March 11 to discuss the forthcoming March issue of the journal.

An Introduction to Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior, "Promiscuous Reading"

NOTE: Due to bad weather on the east coast, Karen Swallow Prior’s February 26 lecture has been cancelled. We’re working with her to reschedule for the fall—stay tuned!

Karen Swallow Prior is a remarkable English professor, the kind of professor that you wish you had as a student (if you weren’t blessed with one yourself, as I was). She loves books, and she loves drawing you into them to see what they offer—what beauty, truth, and goodness they give.

Consider these words, from the beginning of Booked, her memoir of her life with books:

My relationship with books was much more than professional; it was—is—personal. Deeply personal. Books have formed the soul of me.
I know that spiritual formation is of God, but I also know—mainly because I learned it from books—that there are other kinds of formation, too, everyday gifts, and that God uses the things of this earth to teach us and shape us, and to help us find truth.

We’re excited to host Karen Swallow Prior on Thursday, February 26, Karen Swallow Prior’s visit has been cancelled due to inclement weather on the east coast. When she comes in September, she’ll talk more about her life of wide reading and what that reading has to do with wise living. For now, we’ve collected a range of her work. Take a few minutes to learn more about this delightful, wise Christian writer.


What does wide reading have to do with wise living? In the book that she’ll draw from for her lecture for us, Karen Swallow Prior investigates the relationship between these two. From the publisher:

A life of books. A life of soul. Professor Karen Swallow Prior poignantly and humorously weaves the two, until you can’t tell one life from the other. Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

  • For a preview of the book (and her lecture!), watch this five-minute YouTube video:

Fierce Convictions

Karen Swallow Prior’s most recent book is Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More. You can read a preview of the book on Google Books or Amazon.

Essays for The Atlantic

Prior has written extensively for The Atlantic, as well. Her articles cover a wide range of topics, and they do so in ways that are admirably thoughtful and provocative.


There are a range of interviews with and talks by Prior available on YouTube. We recommend starting with this series on Hannah More and animals, part of the Humane Society’s Faith Voices on Animal Protection series.

  • Hannah More & Animals video series:

Join us on February 26!

Karen Swallow Prior will talk for us on Thursday, February 26 at 7 p.m. She’ll be speaking in Hanson Hall 1-108 (on the UMN west bank campus—where Jamie Smith spoke for us last year).

We hope you can join us! If you’d like, please help us publicize the event by joining the Facebook event and sharing it with your friends.


Dan Sulmasy on holiness for healthcare professionals

Dan Sulmasy and his books

Dr. Dan Sulmasy, from the University of Chicago, will join us this Friday at noon for a lecture on “The Spirituality of Practice: Lessons from Fred” (free lunch included!). For those of you who are medical professionals or students in the healthcare professions, hear these words of encouragement from the conclusion to Sulmasy’s excellent book The Healer’s Calling:

Holiness is not about being perfect. It is about the courage to acknowledge imperfection. It is about the courage to act in the face of imperfection. It is about the courage to be less than super-human and yet more than the irredeemable, dismal, rational maximizer of self-interest that some philosophers and some economists say represents the reality of all that human beings can ever be.

It is the call to this kind of holiness that I want to urge upon healthcare professionals today. To be a wounded healer is to be this kind of doctor or nurse. Holy, not by virtue of any saccharine practices or hypocritical pretensions of perfection. But holy by virtue of honesty. Holy by virtue of courage. Here. Now. In the stuff of it.

Those of us who work in healthcare institutions and call ourselves Christians are capable of such holiness. We doubtless have trouble seeing it around us, or even seeing the potential in ourselves. But we are called to holiness. We have only first to recognize that we ourselves are wounded. To quote the gospel of Luke, the physician-evangelist, “Physician, heal yourself” (Luke 4:23). For until we recognize that we are in need of healing ourselves and recognize in the weakness of our patients a weakness not unlike our own, we will never be very good healers.

Lectures – Spring 2015

Dan Sulmasy, David Miller, and Karen Swallow Prior

I’m excited to announce our spring semester visiting scholars.

Our Visiting Scholars Lecture series brings academics from a wide range of disciplines to campus for talks and forums that we believe will interest Christian students and faculty, as well as the wider Twin Cities community. All our events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted. Stay tuned for more lectures—we’ll announce the second half of our spring lineup soon!


  • January 23, noon: Dan Sulmasy (University of Chicago) on spirituality and medicine


  • February 26, 7 pm: Karen Swallow Prior (Liberty) on reading widely and living wisely


  • March 10, 8:45 am – 1:00 pm: Katherine Leary Alsdorf (Redeemer Presbyterian, NYC), Pastors’ Seminar: Toward the Integration of Faith & Work
  • March 12, 4 pm: William Cavanaugh (DePaul), “What Do I Want? Augustine and Milton Friedman on Freedom of Choice”
  • March 26, noon: Gloria Halverson (Christian Medical & Dental Association), “Human Trafficking and Medicine”
  • March 30, 4 pm: David Deavel (St. Thomas), “The Tao of Jack: C.S. Lewis on the Foundation of Freedom”


  • April 1: David Miller (Princeton), “Faith and Work: Opposing Forces or Complementary Resources?”
  • April 18: John Walton (Wheaton) & Keith B. Miller (Kansas State), Conference on Science & Faith, Constance Evangelical Free Church
  • April 23, 7 pm: William Hurlbut, Second Annual Anderson Lecture in Science & Religion, “Freedom, Biotechnology, and the Human Future”

Please join us, and invite your friends. We’re looking forward to the conversations.

Reading Groups – Spring 2015

Spring 2015 reading group covers


We’re hosting some exciting reading groups this spring, and we’d love to have you join us.

Our reading groups are open to everyone—students, faculty, and community members (with a few exceptions—noted below). If you’re interesting in participating, you can register via the registration form at the bottom of this page.



1. Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh

  • Facilitator: Joel Lawrence, PhD (senior pastor at Central Baptist Church; author of Bonhoeffer: A Guide for the Perplexed)
  • Day/Time: Mondays, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
  • Dates: 3/2, 3/16, 3/30, 4/13, 4/27
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

(From Amazon) “In the decades since his execution by the Nazis in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor, theologian, and anti-Hitler conspirator, has become one of the most widely read and inspiring Christian thinkers of our time. Now, drawing on extensive new research, Strange Glory offers a definitive account, by turns majestic and intimate, of this modern icon.”

  • Genre: biography
  • Subject: church history/German history
  • Required reading: 80 pages/meeting
  • Keywords: politics, resistance, church history, WWII, Germany, Third Reich, political theology



2. Theology and Economics

  • Facilitators: Jay Coggins (Prof. of Applied Econ, UMN) and Andrew Lucius (PhD candidate in Political Science, UMN)
  • Day/Time: Mondays, 7:30 – 9 p.m.
  • Dates: 2/2, 2/16, 3/2, 3/16, 3/30, 4/13, 4/27
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

In this group, we will explore the relationship between Christianity and the modern economy. Starting with William T. Cavanaugh’s Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, we will explore how Christians should think about the nexus of institutions, norms, and practices that undergird global capitalism. Drawing on what piqued the interest of the group during this discussion, we will then choose another work that explores an area in greater depth, repeating the process until we run out of dates. If you’re interested in a diverse, free-wheeling discussion on this topic, please join us!

  • Genre: nonfiction
  • Subject: theology & economics
  • Required reading: TBD
  • Keywords: economics, theology, markets, capitalism, value, inequality, ethics, wealth, sustainability, desire



3. First Things Reader’s Group

  • Facilitators: David Hoffner, MA and Paul Calvin, MA
  • Dates/Time: Second Wednesday of each month, 8:30 p.m., starting Sept. 10
  • Location: Blue Door, Longfellow (3448 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis, 55406)

This group meets each month to discuss articles in the newest issue of First Things. If you’re not a First Things subscriber, feel free to stop by the MacLaurinCSF Study Center to read the latest issue in the comfort of our living room. (We’ll even make you a free coffee!)

At the group’s January meeting, they’ll be discussing—appropriately enough—the January issue. Several of the articles from that issue are available for free on the First Things website.

  • Genre: essay
  • Subject: faith & culture/faith & public life
  • Require reading: one or two essays per meeting
  • Keywords: First Things, public life, culture, politics



4. Toward a Christian Environmental Stewardship

  • Facilitator: Derek Rosenberger (PhD candidate in Entomology, UMN)
  • Dates/Time: TBD
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

This groups meets in conjunction with the Au Sable Grad Fellows Program, and is open to U of M faculty and students (and non-U of M participants by approval). Please contact us if  you are a graduate student (MA, PhD, or Postdoc) in an area of natural sciences and are interested in learning more about the Au Sable Grad Fellowship.

  • Genre: essay
  • Subject: environmental stewardship
  • Require reading: ~20 pages/meeting
  • Keywords: environment, stewardship, natural resources, creation care, Au Sable, science



5. Politics After the Fall

  • Instructor: Bob Osburn (Director, Wilberforce Academy)
  • Cosponsor: Wilberforce Academy
  • Day/Time: Tuesdays, 6:45 – 9 p.m.
  • Dates: 1/27, 2/3, 2/10, 2/17, 2/24, 3/3, 3/31, 4/7, 4/14, 4/21, 4/28, 5/5, 5/12
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

Can we transcend partisanship and bitterness in politics?
Is maximizing our personal freedom the essence of political life?
How does Christian faith shape our vision for public life?

Come investigate how Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, G. K. Chesterton, Abraham Kuyper, C.S. Lewis, Os Guinness, and others have crafted a vision of public life that is realistic enough to contain moral evil and yet lofty enough to propel us toward a Kingdom vision for peace and justice. This course on a Christian vision for public affairs is co-sponsored by Wilberforce Academy and MacLaurinCSF.

Registration is limited to eight students; minimum registration is four students. International students and visiting scholars are especially encouraged to apply, because the course is uniquely designed for those from other societies, though it will be accessible to American students as well. Registration for this seminar-style course is free, but students will need to buy or borrow the required texts. If you want more information about how to earn independent study credit at the University of Minnesota or any other course information, please contact Dr. Robert Osburn, the course instructor, for further information: 651-402-2600 or

  • Genre: course
  • Subject: politics & theology
  • Required reading: TBD
  • Keywords: politics, theology, public affairs, modernity



6. Cities & Human Flourishing

  • Facilitator: Sara Joy Proppe, MA (Founder of the Proximity Project)
  • Cosponsor: The Proximity Project
  • Day/Time: Every other Thursday, 7 – 8:15 p.m.
  • Dates: 2/5, 2/19, 3/7, 3/19, 4/2, 4/16
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

Cities are organic yet planned; chaotic yet structured; beautiful yet broken. What makes for a good city? Is there such a definition? This group will read through key parts of Jane Jacobs’s classic work The Death and Life of Great American Cities to explore how city design relates to human community and flourishing. We will also compare and contrast Jacobs work with other great urbanist thinkers, such as Robert Moses and Lewis Mumford.

  • Genre: nonfiction
  • Subject: urban design
  • Required reading: ~50 pages/meeting
  • Keywords: cities, urban planning, urbanism, human flourishing, design, built environment, human scale



7. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll

  • Facilitator: Dave McEachron, MA
  • Day/Time: Wednesdays, 7 – 8:30 p.m.
  • Dates: 2/11, 2/18, 2/25, 3/4
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

(From Amazon) Viewing the Civil War as a major turning point in American religious thought, Mark A. Noll examines writings about slavery and race from Americans both white and black, northern and southern, and includes commentary from Protestants and Catholics in Europe and Canada. Though the Christians on all sides agreed that the Bible was authoritative, their interpretations of slavery in Scripture led to a full-blown theological crisis.

  • Genre: nonfiction
  • Subject: American religious history
  • Required reading: ~40 pages/week
  • Keywords: Civil War, theology, slavery, race, Bible, biblical authority



8. Graduate Student Reading Group: The Weight of Glory and Other Essays by C. S. Lewis

  • Facilitators, Dates/Time, and Location all TBD



9. Home and Lila by Marilynne Robinson

  • Facilitators: Cheri Burkum & Bethany Hansen
  • Day/Time: Tuesdays, 8 – 9:30 p.m.
  • Dates: 2/3, 2/10, 2/17, 2/24, 3/3, 3/10, 3/17, 3/24
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

Description forthcoming

  • Genre: fiction
  • Subject: novel
  • Required reading: TBD
  • Keywords: American fiction, religious fiction, Iowa



10. The Healer’s Calling by Dan Sulmasy

  • Facilitator, Day/Time, Dates all TBD
  • Location: MacLaurinCSF Study Center

(From Amazon) With extraordinary grace and passion, Franciscan friar and physician Daniel Sulmasy speaks to the spiritual longing of healers. He points to where God may be found in health care; how faithful clinicians might persevere in the midst of the suffering and uncertainty that is part of daily practice; how and when a doctor or nurse might pray; and how genuine Christian joy can still be found in the healing arts.

  • Genre: nonfiction
  • Subject: medicine
  • Required reading: TBD
  • Keywords: TBD


Again, if you’re interested in participating in any of these groups, register using the form below. Hope you can join us!

The Staff’s Favorite Books of 2014

The staff's favorite books of 2014
We do a lot of reading here at MacLaurinCSF. And since we’re in the middle of December, it’s the season for year-end book lists.

We thought we’d join in the list-making fun and give you a better sense of the books that have been most fully present in our minds this year. So here are our favorite books of the year:

Andrew Hansen, Program Director

Bryan Bademan, Executive Director

Cheri Burkum, Study Center Manager

Matt Kaul, Communications Director

Media from David Skeel: “True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World”

David Skeel, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, joined us in early November for two talks.

The first was about the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision and its implications for legal understandings of religious liberty and corporate personhood.

The second was drawn from his new book True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World. In True Paradox, Skeel draws from and is influenced by great Christian apologists like C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and others. His own approach to apologetics emphasizes how Christianity, far from failing to account for the increasing complexity of our modern world, actually offers the best understanding of that complexity. He’s particularly interested in our search for justice and our love of beauty, and he outlines reasons for believing that Christianity offers an incredibly compelling explanation of these common human experiences.

Skeel’s talk—which you can download by clicking through to the Soundcloud page on the player below—is a great introduction to his book. We’ll make the video available soon, and we’ll also share audio and video from his Hobby Lobby lecture. For now, though, we hope you enjoy this excellent talk!

Audio and Video for Patrick Deneen, “After Liberalism: Imagining a Humane Post-Liberal Future” (19th Annual Holmer Lecture)


If you weren’t able to make it to this year’s Holmer Lecture, given by Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen, you missed an excellent talk on liberalism (in the broad sense) and its discontents. And if you were able to make it, you probably left wishing you could either revisit some of the points Deneen made, or share the lecture with friends.

Either way, we’re happy to share these audio and video recordings of the lecture with you. The audio recording is downloadable as an mp3. Feel free to distribute both widely! And don’t miss Deneen’s recommended books on Christianity and politics.

Recommended Books on the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien


If you’d like to pursue some of the themes and ideas that Joseph Pearce explored in his excellent lecture on “Freedom and Slavery in The Lord of the Rings, or you just can’t get enough of Tolkien, here are the books Joseph was kind enough to suggest (his comments on some of the books follow the entries).

Supplement these books with Phil Rolnick’s recommended books on C.S. Lewis. As always, the links take you to Amazon Smile, where, if you’ve selected “MacLaurin Institute” as your charity of choice, we’ll get 0.5% of your purchase!

This book contains his seminal essay “On Fairy Stories,” his allegorical short story, “Leaf by Niggle,” and his superb poem “Mythopoeia.” Each of these examines Tolkien’s philosophy of myth, which is awash with his understanding of the sacramentality of beauty.

An invaluable resource.

Everyone should read The Silmarillion.

As regards Chesterton’s priceless influence on Tolkien, the chapter on “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy is indispensable.