Catholic Intellectual Tradition
In this course, we engage and debate the Catholic intellectual tradition from Augustine to the present. We focus especially on the relationships between faith and reason and between the Church and the world. The course consists of two units. In Unit 1, we read authors from early Christianity to the start of the modern period, including Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. In Unit 2, we turn to more recent materials. We explore the relationship between the Church and “the modern world” from the French Revolution to the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, then how this has been largely replaced by a spirit of “dialogue.” Focusing mainly on the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, we read works by Jacques Maritain, Dorothy Day, Shūsaku Endō, Elizabeth Johnson, and others. In conclusion, we study several works by Pope Francis and consider some recent debates in Catholic life, especially about economics and ecology. Offered at Fairfield University in Spring 2019 and Albertus Magnus College in Fall 2020.
Christianity and the Cosmos
In this course we explore the history of Christian and post-Christian thinking about the cosmos. The materials we study concern the origin and nature of the universe, the earth, and ourselves as human beings. We read both primary and secondary sources. In each session, we devote time to discussion and debate. The course consists of three units. In Unit 1, we explore and debate the relationship between religion and science. We read and learn about the classic contributions to this debate and, taking the Catholic tradition as an example, survey the broad sweep of thinking about religion and science from antiquity to the present. In Unit 2, we study two famous cases from the early modern period: of the controversies around the work of Copernicus and Galileo, and of the radical new picture of the universe yielded by the physical theories of Newton. In Unit 3, we learn about more recent debates. We explore the work of Darwin and controversies around the theory of evolution by natural selection, then consider three areas of debate in recent physics: Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, the idea of the “Big Bang” proposed by Belgian physicist Fr. Georges Lemaître, and quantum theory. Offered at Albertus Magnus College in Fall 2019.
Church in Controversy
Many Catholics have long believed themselves and their Church to be engaged in a controversy with what is called “the modern world”: the world of Descartes, Hume, and Kant; of Comte and Marx and Nietzsche. Yet in the works of many Catholics in the early twentieth century, a new view of this supposed conflict emerged: a new “openness” to dialogue with modernity, brought to full expression in the documents of Vatican II
(1962–65). As the controversy with modernity receded in prominence, however, many new controversies arose within the Church itself: controversies about war and peace, economic justice, contraception and life, sexuality and gender. Within the past two decades, these have been joined by another especially troubling crisis concerning the concealment of the sexual abuse of minors by priests. In this course we study these controversies, ranging from the late nineteenth century to today. The course consists of three parts. In the first, we consider the conflict between the Church and the modern world and read Nietzsche’s provocative work, The Antichrist
, where he unleashes a biting polemic against institutional Christianity. In the second, we study how philosophers and theologians in the first half of the twentieth century developed new avenues for dialogue with modernity and read some key documents of Vatican II
. We conclude this part by reading Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the period, Silence
(1966). In the third part of the course, we consider the series of controversies within the Church indicated above, concluding with a reading of the encyclical Laudato Si’
by Pope Francis. Offered at Fordham University in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017.
We often hear that democracy is under threat. What does that mean? In this course we explore and debate this question, considering both the major threats to democracy today and prospects for strengthening our democratic institutions. After steeping ourselves in some classic works of political theory, we explore specific threats to democracy, in each case asking how to address it both in theory and in practice. In the first week, we begin by considering what it means to thinking politically and explore some ways of defining democracy. We consider how John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau develop the idea of a social contract, we debate the American and French Revolutions through the works of Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke, we survey Alexis de Tocqueville’s account of the social effects of democracy in the early United States, and we read works by Frederick Douglass and Mother Jones to explore early, influential efforts to secure the rights of all citizens. In the second week, we move straight into the contemporary moment and consider four specific threats to democracy today: the curtailment of voting rights; extreme economic inequality, social media and disinformation; and the recent victories of radical populism in Europe, the UK
, and the US
. We conclude with a reading of Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
and assess its prescriptions for preserving our democratic freedoms. Offered in the Summer@Brown program at Brown University, Summers 2014–2018 (two-week course).
In this course, students are introduced to problems, traditions, figures, and texts in moral philosophy. The course emphasizes critical reading and thinking skills so that the successful student skillfully interprets philosophical texts and essays, analyzes and evaluates their claims, and formulates well-reasoned responses and positions. Themes include the problem of relativism, the relation between religion and ethics, eudaemonism (Aristotle), utilitarianism (Hume), deontology (Kant), and personalism (Wojtyła). Offered at Albertus Magnus College in Fall 2018, Mod 2 (eight-week course).
Faith and Critical Reason
The course consists of two parts. In the first, we practice thinking theologically by grappling with nine words that express fundamental dimensions of human life and living: creation, God, revelation, evil, sin, community, conversion, faith, and love. We approach each of these through the discussion of texts by theologians, philosophers, scholars of religion, and authors in other fields. Our aim is to connect these words with our experience, clarify our thinking about them, and learn new ways of understanding them from the authors we read and from each other. In the second part of the course, we explore the relation between faith and reason and how members of faith traditions reason about their faith. We discuss three main themes: “Science,” “Religions,” and “Secularity.” In “Science,” we engage debates around faith and science, especially the theory of evolution. In “Religions,” we assess the very idea of a “religion” or “world religion,” then survey the histories and teachings of several traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) by studying Huston Smith’s classic text, The World’s Religions
. Finally, in “Secularity,” we explore what it means to live in a “secular” world, focusing on debates about secularism, the idea of a civil religion, and what it might mean to be “spiritual but not religious.” Offered at Fordham University in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017.
What are human rights? Where do they come from and who has them? Who or what are the most common violators of human rights? In this course we address these questions and explore four main themes: (1) the very idea of human rights and its historical precedents in philosophical and religious traditions; (2) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and debates surrounding it; (3) several specific rights affirmed in the Declaration; and (4) ways in which these rights are promoted and enforced by civil society organizations and in international law. Students engage with academic texts, news articles, videos, and primary source documents (e.g., the Universal Declaration, UN
Documents, reports from human rights organizations). They also regularly present questions for discussion, twice deliver an in-class presentation, and produce a final essay. The course is designed for ELL
students and includes many opportunities for students to strengthen their written and oral expression. Offered in the Summer@Brown program at Brown University, Summer 2019 (two-week course).
Invitation to Insight I
In this course, we explore some of the biggest questions about our world and ourselves. The course consists of three units. In Unit 1, “Cosmos,” we study the nature of the universe and of our own planet. We also learn how we human beings have come to know what we know about the natural world. In Unit 2, “Life,” we continue to explore the natural world, but now specifically in relation to living things. We learn about the origins of life and the evolution of species. In Unit 3, “Humanity,” we consider our earliest origins as a species, then take a more philosophical approach to explore ideas about human nature, human relationships, the moral life, and our obligations to others. In all these ways, students lay a solid foundation for continued work in the College’s Insight Program. Offered at Albertus Magnus College, Fall 2019 and Fall 2020.
Invitation to Insight II
The second semester of “Invitation to Insight” focuses on the historical experience of the human species. Our narrative leads from the emergence of cities in the ancient Near East to current debates about the place of truth in public discourse. We supplement a “big history” approach with readings from a variety of classical texts. The course consists of three units. In Unit 1, we move from the ancient world up through the fourteenth century. We read narratives of creation from the Jewish and Babylonian canons and learn about some of the traditions that took shape in this period, including Buddhism, Western philosophy, Christianity, and Islam. We conclude by studying the “consolidation” of cross-cultural networks in this period and learning about one of the defining works of the European Middle Ages, Dante’s Divine Comedy
. In Unit 2, we focus on the period from Columbus’s arrival in the Americas to the height of European imperialism in the nineteenth century. We learn about the Protestant Reformation, the emergence of the new natural sciences, the North Atlantic slave trade, the Enlightenment, the founding of new democratic republics in the US
and France, and the industrial revolution. In Unit 3, we study developments from World War II
to the present, including the Holocaust, existentialist philosophy, human rights discourse and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., postmodernism, and the challenge of “post-truth.” Offered at Albertus Magnus College, Spring 2020 and Spring 2021.
This course explores the impact that the development of the modern world, including the scientific revolution, the building of nation states, and the exploration of the natural world, has had on shaping our understanding of ourselves and our capacity to know and appreciate the world(s) in which we live. By drawing on the work of prominent modern philosophers, we will endeavor to understand and critically evaluate the modern understanding of the self and its place in the world. Readings include selections from Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Offered at Albertus Magnus College in Fall 2015, Mod 2 (eight-week course).