Tuesday, September 7, 2021
A few days ago, after reporting the 2021 update to the Scholarly Impact Ranking of law faculties (here), I began a short series of posts on why scholarly work and scholarly impact are especially important to Catholic legal education, which I conclude today.
The first point, made here, was that a meaningfully Catholic law school must be an intellectually engaged law school, which is not possible without a faculty also engaged in the quintessential intellectual activity of scholarly research and writing.
My second point, made here, was that through scholarly excellence and law school scholarly prominence, we witness to society the vibrancy of intellectual discourse by persons of faith and counter the anti-intellectual stereotype often assigned to religiously-affiliated law schools.
My third point today is that, as Catholic Christians, we have been called to share the Gospel, both directly and indirectly. The central role of scholarly research in our academic vocation is affirmed by no less a Catholic authority than Saint John Paul II in the apostolic constitution for Catholic universities, Ex Code Ecclesiae: “The basic mission of a University is a continuous quest for truth through its research, and the preservation and communication of knowledge for the good of society.”
For some of us on law school faculties, that directive means writing on Catholic legal theory and applying Christian-grounded principles to the legal and social issues of the day. For all of us, it means conducting the search for the truth with integrity and dedication. The search for the truth is hard work — and for Catholic academics that hard work requires scholarly engagement.
Turning again to the words of Ex Corde, for a Catholic university
Included among its research activities, therefore, will be a study of serious contemporary problems in areas such as the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal and family life, the protection of nature, the search for peace and political stability, a more just sharing in the world's resources, and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community at a national and international level. University research will seek to discover the roots and causes of the serious problems of our time, paying special attention to their ethical and religious dimensions.
Through our work — through the excellent quality, regular production, and integrity of our work (comporting with the standards of our discipline) — we may have a significant influence on the development of the law and of the legal culture. As my Dean Rob Vischer has written (here), “a fundamental mission of law schools is to advance knowledge and thereby contribute to human flourishing.” For religiously-affiliated law schools, Vischer says, our mission includes “producing scholarship aimed at bringing a more just world into view.” And this scholarly mission can resonate with and be integrated into our teaching and collaborative work with students. To again quote Rob Vischer, we should not neglect “the formative potential of inviting students to be active participants in a law school's scholarly culture.”
On the call to challenge and inform the culture, Ex Corde speaks as well to the vital importance of scholarly work:
By its very nature, a University develops culture through its research, helps to transmit the local culture to each succeeding generation through its teaching, and assists cultural activities through its educational services. It is open to all human experience and is ready to dialogue with and learn from any culture. A Catholic University shares in this, offering the rich experience of the Church's own culture. In addition, a Catholic University, aware that human culture is open to Revelation and transcendence, is also a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture.
We cannot fully participate as academics in the search for the truth without also contributing to the scholarly literature, which reaches audiences both within and beyond the walls of our own institution and which is preserved in medium so that we can affect the scholarly discourse long after we have departed.
What a tremendous privilege — and a grave responsibility.