Monday, November 23, 2015
Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture Fall Conference Recap—and a Model for Catholic Universities
The annual fall conference of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture was this past weekend, and, as Rick and I previewed last week, featured a blockbuster lineup of presentations. Nowhere in the Catholic world, I’d submit, is there a more robust annual academic event of such intellectual breadth and depth, and the Center’s Director, Carter Snead, and his staff should be commended for their hard work that results in such success.
Particular highlights for me were the opening address by Remi Brague on freedom and creation, a paper by Alasdair MacIntyre on justifications for coercion, Jonathan Lear (long one of my intellectual heroes) on Aristotle and Freud, Elizabeth Lev and John Haldane on modern art, a debate between Father Martin Rhonheimer and Thomas Pink on the interpretation of Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae, and a panel on vowed religious life and freedom with two good friends, Sister Maria Evangelista Fernandez, OSB and Brother Bryan Kerns, OSA. Rick, Father Thomas Joseph White, OP, and I participated in a panel on religious freedom—its natural law basis (White), the conditions for it in civil society (Garnett), and problems in defining what counts as a religious institution for purposes of legal exemptions (Moreland). Of course, there are also the joys of sharing meals and time together with hundreds of scholars and students from around the world.
And there is a larger point to be made about this moment at Notre Dame and in Catholic higher education generally. As I mentioned last week, I am spending this academic year on leave at Notre Dame as the Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow at the Center for Ethics for Ethics and Culture (and my wife, Anna Bonta Moreland, is the Myser Fellow in the Center this year). The Center for Ethics and Culture is a model for Catholic intellectual engagement with undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty at Notre Dame that other universities would be wise to explore and emulate. The Center’s Sorin Fellows program integrates undergraduates into the work of the Center and places them in contact with faculty (as an example, Anna and I hosted a dinner with four Sorin Fellows at our home last month). A Mission Hiring initiative identifies graduate fellows and faculty who can make vital contributions to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
There is a well-worn tendency to despair about the future of Catholic higher education, even at those schools such as Notre Dame where the commitment to Catholic identity seems to me exceptionally strong. Since I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame and then through graduate school at Boston College and in faculty and administrative roles at Villanova, I have seen more than 20 years of debate over curriculum, faculty hiring, and student life at Catholic universities. Those who would despair should light a candle rather than curse the darkness by creating and supporting initiatives such as the Center for Ethics and Culture—if such initiatives continue, then the future of Catholic universities in the United States is bright indeed.