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shaping a digital world

New Fall Reading Group on Faith, Culture, and Technology

We’re excited to announce a new fall reading group that is getting started next week. Led by computer science PhD student Michael Tetzlaff, the group will be reading and discussing Shaping a Digital World by Derek Schuurman.

The study group will meet in Keller Hall and is cosponsored by MacLaurinCSF and Graduate Christian Fellowship. Their first meeting will be next Tuesday, October 6 at 1:30pm in Keller 4-131. Feel free to bring your lunch.

Here’s the description of the book from

Digital technology has become a ubiquitous feature of modern life. Our increasingly fast-paced world seems more and more remote from the world narrated in Scripture. But despite its pervasiveness, there remains a dearth of theological reflection about computer technology and what it means to live as a faithful Christian in a digitally-saturated society. In this thoughtful and timely book, Derek Schuurman provides a brief theology of technology, rooted in the Reformed tradition and oriented around the grand themes of creation, fall, redemption and new creation. He combines a concise, accessible style with penetrating cultural and theological analysis. Building on the work of Jacques Ellul, Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, and drawing from a wide range of Reformed thinkers, Schuurman situates computer technology within the big picture of the biblical story. Technology is not neutral, but neither is there an exclusively “Christian” form of technological production and use. Instead, Schuurman guides us to see the digital world as part of God’s good creation, fallen yet redeemable according to the law of God. Responsibly used, technology can become an integral part of God’s shalom for the earth.

2015 Oscar Best Picture Nominees

Birdman, Boyhood, Budapest: What do this year’s Oscar Best Picture nominees tell us about American culture?

This fall’s talk on what the Oscar nominees tell us about ourselves is coming up quickly. If you want to catch up on your nominees or you’re thinking about watching one or two of the films, here are links to the trailers:

Our speaker Drew Trotter said that his talk will feature Birdman and Boyhood most prominently.

American Sniper, The Theory of Everything, and Selma will be discussed quite a bit, too.

And, even though all the nominees will at least be mentioned, the final three won’t be focused on to the same degree, though you’re welcome to bring them up in the Q & A:

Drew also chats regularly with Faith Radio’s Neil Stavem. You can listen to their past conversations here.

Which Best Picture nominees have you seen this year? What did you think of them? What sorts of topics and themes come to mind when you think about the films you’ve seen recently?

Phy Ed & Purgatory

Phy Ed and Purgatory: Dante’s Visions of Vice & Virtue

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Kathryn Mogk, a graduate student in the English department here at the U and one of our incoming Colin MacLaurin Fellows. Kathryn will be leading a reading group on Dante this fall—one of 10 reading groups on offer—and we’re pleased to offer this introduction to the great Florentine poet, which I hope will help entice you to join Kathryn and the others reading Dante. Register for Kathryn’s group and see what else we’re offering.

At the corner of the basketball court I stepped out of my lunge, checked my shoelaces one more time, and got ready to run. “Pride,” I whispered as my feet struck the pavement, taking up the rhythm of a jog I thought I could maintain. “Lord, pride.”

It takes about twenty laps around a high school basketball court to make a mile. My meager goal was to just do fifteen without stopping to rest. But even for the reduced count, lap after lap of the same concrete and chain-link fence was mind-numbingly boring. That’s why I decided to pray while I ran—at the very least it would distract me from the inevitable stitch in my side. Fifteen laps: seven sins, seven virtues, one Gloria. I got the idea from Dante’s Purgatory.

“Pride.” Dante was so right to place it at the bottom of the mountain of purgatory, as the first of the seven terraces that the soul must pass through on its ascent to the heavens. He was so right to imagine pride as a slab of stone bending you down, almost breaking your back, so that you shuffle forward under the load rather than running to God. But in his vision, the same punishing weight forces proud souls into the posture of the humility they need to learn; it turns their eyes to the ground, where they find carved images of Trajan putting aside his imperial majesty to answer the plea of a widow and Mary murmuring, “I am the handmaiden of the Lord.” In hell, for those who have rejected God, punishment is just pain. But in purgatory, for those willing to repent, even the natural consequences of their sin can be turned into instruments of redemption—reminders of perfection.

One lap complete. “Please, humility.” I had to start here. It’s the gateway into all purgation, or cleansing, of sin. You cannot be forgiven without humility, because you can’t even repent, because you can’t even admit or realize that you need. That’s why Dante places the terrace of pride first: you can’t get to any of the others without going through this one. If you tried to train yourself in the virtues of temperance or fortitude without first receiving humility, you’d only be weighing yourself down further with your own self-righteousness.

I turned the corner and whispered, “Envy.” Yes, I envied. Bitterness rose in my throat and I choked it down. Dante pictured the envious with their eyelids sewn shut with wire, blinded by their own hatred, unable to see their neighbors as they really are. It’s an image branded in my brain since the first time I read Purgatory. All Dante’s grotesque inventions have that unforgettable quality. The external symbol shows me sin’s true ugliness and absurdity.

And what was the opposite of envy? “Make me grateful, Lord,” I prayed. I called each of my roommates to mind with a quick word of thanksgiving for their talents, the carefree fun they seemed to have, their easy confidence with people. Why should I envy their strengths? Those very qualities made my roommates better able to serve others, better able to help me in my awkwardness and shyness. Dante pictured the souls on the terrace of envy leaning on one another, leading one another, all reduced to a mutual dependence. Their need for each other teaches them gratitude and love.

“Wrath.” Here, I thought, I could get off easy; anger was my least besetting sin. After all, in Dante’s Purgatory, you only stay on the terraces where you need to be purified; if you’re free from a sin, you walk straight through. But I couldn’t spend two laps in self-congratulation. As Dante passes by those who suffer, he pities them and promises to pray for them once he returns to earth. Their intercessions for each other create an endless link between the dead and the living, binding all the church’s saints and sinners together in one eternal communion. So as I ran I prayed for those who do struggle with wrath, known and unknown, as I hope that others pray for me.

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” Wrathful or not, we all can strive harder to promote peace. I love how Dante incorporates into each terrace both the whip and the rein—negative examples to restrain us from sin and positive examples to speed us forward with greater love. Even though, as Dante arrives at each new terrace, he learns that it is named after one of the seven deadly sins, he leaves each level with one of the beatitudes ringing in his ears, offering blessing for a quality that pleases God.

My pace was lagging—the dreaded stitch in my side was burning—but as I rounded the corner I pushed myself faster. “Sloth!” This is the turning point of purgatory. The first three of the seven sins involve love twisted into hate, the desire for one’s own good perverted into desire for other people’s harm. The last three are forms of love for things that are good in themselves, but the love is carried too far, the desire swollen out of proportion. In the middle you find sloth, which doesn’t love much at all. I know it so very well. Weariness of doing good, indifference as my actions don’t seem to matter, lukewarmness as the love of God grows cold—faugh! I spit them out of my mouth!

“Zeal!” On this terrace Dante sets the slothful sprinting. They don’t stop for rest, for nightfall, for the wonder of a living man walking among the dead—even the spirit who tells Dante about the terrace shouts his words over his shoulder as he flies. Love is the whip that drives them. It’s the perfect response to the punishment at the gates of hell, where those who never committed themselves on earth are forced to chase a meaningless standard pointlessly back and forth, going nowhere for no particular reason. Those whom God purges of sloth fix their eyes on Jesus, to run, run, run the race and receive the eternal prize.

“Avarice.” I might have thought myself free of this vice if it wasn’t for what Dante had taught me in the fourth circle of hell. There, hoarders and spenders, misers and prodigals accuse each other in endless confrontation. Their opposite errors helped me understand that it’s not how much money you have or even what you do with it that determines greed. Perhaps the strictness of my budget—my hesitations in the grocery aisle to determine which cheese was a few cents cheaper by ounce—kept me lying on the ground, unable to see the stars of God’s boundless provision, like the souls Dante describes on this terrace.

“Generous, Lord,” I panted, thinking of the homeless men I’d walked straight by, “open up my hands.” I vowed to put some ones and fives in my wallet to be ready for the next time I saw them on the streetcorner. On this terrace of purgatory Dante and Virgil meet Statius, a late Roman poet who, according to Dante, came to Christianity by reading Virgil’s poetry as a prophecy of Christ. Although Virgil did not himself know about Jesus and cannot enter heaven, he nonetheless prepared the way for others’ salvation. I take this to mean, among other things, that our smallest and most apparently insignificant acts of generosity can have ramifications beyond our most daring dreams, consequences we will never suspect until we meet again beyond the veil of death. Who could pass up the smallest chance to give, even one meal or one friendly human smile, if he knew it could prepare the joyful recognition and mutual honor that Dante describes in the poets’ meeting?

I came to the corner again and pushed myself through. “Gluttony.” Not a sin usually in my examination of conscience. Halfway around my track, it hit me: in his division of sins, what Dante means by gluttony is the perversion of desire, not just for food, but for pleasure. Facebook. Buzzfeed. Netflix. How many times had I glutted myself with the mental equivalent of ice cream straight out of the container? How often, when I was lonely or anxious, had I turned to earthly distractions instead of heavenly consolation?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” In this terrace of purgatory, the blessed souls, though they require no physical food, spiritually fast by yearning for the fruit of the tree of life. Though they have no bodies, the force of their desire changes the appearance of the shades, hunger withering the flesh until you can read OMO—that is, “man”—in their sunken eyes and emaciated faces. The discussion of how the shade relates to the body is a reminder that all Dante’s vivid descriptions of punishments and purgations really matter as representations of spiritual states. Here on earth, eating normally, healthy in body, I can be ravenous with hunger for righteousness, consumed and transformed by insatiable desire for God.

“Lust.” In Dante’s purgatory this is the last and most terrifying trial—a wall of flame before which Dante stops short in terror. When he plunges in, he feels as though bathing in molten glass would be a relief from the pain. The same trial, Dante says, awaits everyone. Fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, all meet in the same fire, with no one sinner able to look down upon another. There are so many ways that love—not just sexual love, but friendship and affection too—can go wrong: possessiveness, the desire to control, dependence, idolatry, complacency. It is so easy to use one another. Here, at the top of the mountain, what is highest and noblest in human nature faces the most insidious and deadly of temptations, a vice so subtly intertwined with love itself that it can only be purged by fire.

*Beatrice Addressing Dante from the Car* 1824-7 by William Blake (1757-1827)

*Beatrice Addressing Dante from the Car* 1824-7 by William Blake (1757-1827)

I was almost done. “Chastity,” I panted, smiling at the old-fashioned, much-maligned word. Released from lust, we are free to love rightly. The blessed spirits of Dante’s purgatory dart and dance within the flames, and when they meet they greet one another with a swift kiss of peace. Dante’s reunion with his beloved Beatrice on the other side of the fire promises that earthly love can be purified, redeemed, and made an agent of salvific power. Once we can kiss and fly instead of trying to cling, once we can see the human beloved as an image of the divine without making him or her an idol, love becomes the way to God. And even in the very midst of the fire, even when our desires are still disordered and dangerous, we love; there is nowhere, indeed, without love, except the furthest pit of hell.

At the corner of the court I lengthened my stride, almost singing, “Glory.” Any examination of conscience or effort toward moral improvement can become an exercise in legalism. That’s why all Christian thought about virtue ought to begin and end in grace. Once I would have thought purgatory the antithesis of such grace—grim, oppressive, mechanistic, driven by fear, based upon the idea of earning salvation. It is so in many medieval texts; but not Dante. Despite the pain that they endure, the souls in Dante’s purgatory rejoice. The mountain resounds with singing. For the souls in purgatory, though located between hell and heaven, are not in a middle state of uncertainty or doubt. They already possess the salvation for which they suffer and strive. Even as they endure the process of sanctification, they are already justified by grace through faith, and that assurance gives them invincible joy in the midst of their suffering and longing for heaven.

I have no idea whether we will actually endure purgation after death. I am absolutely certain it won’t look like an enormous seven-tiered mountain in the antipodes. But as false as it is literally, Dante’s description is allegorically and spiritually true. My life, as a Christian in the process of sanctification, is a journey up the world’s tallest and steepest mountain, afflicted by suffering imposed by my own sins, encouraged by the examples of the saints, supported by brothers and sisters sharing the same journey. Despite the distance of time and place, the unfamiliar allusions, the elaborate allegorical method, this 700-year-old poem speaks directly to my condition.

Across the centuries Dante shows me to myself, with such intimacy and accuracy that I can use his images to pray about the shames and struggles of my own heart. Some might think such a devotional use of literature inappropriate, but if it can be justified with any literary work, it is this one. The Divine Comedy is great poetry; it is serious theology and philosophy; but let us never forget that Dante also meant it to prompt us to prayer. Since he includes in each purgatorial encounter the soul’s request and his promise to publish their names so that those on earth can pray for them, I have no doubt that he prayed as he wrote and expected his readers to pray as they read. Let us therefore, whether we believe it can do him any good or not, say a prayer now in honor of the man who saw and wrote so well the Christian journey that we share.

Celebrating 20 years of the Holmer Lecture

Twenty Years of Holmer Lectures

This fall, Dr. Karen Swallow Prior will deliver our twentieth annual Paul Holmer Memorial Lecture. We’re grateful to be able to carry on this lecture series—a true testament to the vision of MacLaurin’s founder, William Monsma.

We don’t have the titles or exact dates for every lecture, but here’s a list of who has given the lecture each year, along with as much other information as I’ve been able to find about the lecture:



  • George Marsden
  • “The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship: What Difference Do Christian Perspectives Make?”




  • Bruce Reichenbach
  • “Divine Sway: The Concept of Play in Hindu and Christian Thought”




  • Gilbert Meilander
  • “Begetting Children—Designing Descendants”
  • Delivered November 7, 2003





  • Stanley Hauerwas
  • “Theological Knowledge and the Knowledge of the University”
  • Delivered November 9, 2007


  • David Gushee
  • “Evangelicals and Human Rights: Problems and Prospects for the 21st Century”
  • audio recording
  • Delivered October 3, 2008


  • J. Budziszewski
  • “Kicking Against the Goad: Why Natural Law is Real, Good, and Usually Detested”
  • Delivered October 10, 2009


  • James K.A. Smith
  • “We Are What We Worship: On Sacred and Secular Liturgies”
  • Delivered November 19, 2010






Chris Macosko, “William Monsma: A Remembrance”

Editor’s note: We are honored to publish a remembrance of our founder, William Monsma, who died on June 15.

Dr. Chris Macosko, professor of chemical engineering & materials science here at the U of M, and a long-time friend of William’s, delivered this remembrance at William’s memorial service on July 10 at Hope Church. You can read other tributes to William here.

Thank you, Mary Beth and family, for inviting me to speak at this celebration of William’s life. He and I met shortly after he had founded the MacLaurin Institute at the University of Minnesota. He had been in campus ministry with Intervarsity but felt called to focus on faculty and to make the Christian worldview known in the academy. I was a young professor struggling with reconciling my relatively new-found faith in Jesus and my scientific training. To find a campus minister with a doctorate in theoretical physics and a master’s in divinity along with postdoctoral work in the history of science plus college teaching experience was an amazing gift to me. It was a time when Carl Sagan filled our TVs with “the Cosmos is all there is, all there was and all there ever will be.” William helped me to see God’s hand in his marvelous creation, only He is all there is, ever was, and ever will be. We had long talks about science and the scriptures. We wrote and received a Templeton Foundation grant for a freshman seminar at the University of Minnesota called “Origins: By Chance or by Design?” I learned as much from William and the writings that he directed me to as the students did. William graciously introduced me to other Christian faculty and invited me to join the MacLaurin board.

After this Kathleen and I joined Hope Church and our families became friends. Our daughter, Brynne, took Homework and Hoops kids to Camp Ojibway, where William’s son Jonathan was a counselor. His daughter Anne and our son Jed were in Hope’s youth group and musical. We even took family trips together to the Boundary Waters. I can still remember crawling into my sleeping bag in our tent the second evening and hearing William saying calmly, “Oh no, I knew it would happen. That tube of athletes’ foot medicine does look too much like my toothpaste tube.” An absent minded professor after my own heart!

When Jed was struggling between continuing on to a PhD in chemistry or going to seminary, he sought counsel from William. When Kathleen was a new pastor, she sought William’s advice in preparing her sermons. He was generous with his time, always ready to answer the phone—even on Saturday night! “He knows so much!” she would exclaim as she put down the phone.

More recently we were planning a sabbatical stay in Israel. Although they were already struggling with Parkinson’s, Mary Beth and William invited us over for dinner. They shared with us about the powerful course that they had taken at University College Jerusalem, “The History and Geography of Ancient Israel.” It had been the fulfillment of a lifetime dream for William, and when we took the course at his suggestion we understood why.


William Monsma visiting Patmos

William at Patmos


I love the picture that the family chose for the bulletin [above]. William is looking out over the sea from the chapel beside the cave on Patmos Island where John wrote his Revelation. I imagine William is talking with John now about the Word to the 5 churches and all of his questions are no longer questions.

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