Jonathan Sozek
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Jon is an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Phi­los­o­phy and Reli­gion at Alber­tus Mag­nus Col­lege in New Haven, Con­necti­cut. In the sum­mers, he offers cours­es in the Summer@Brown pro­gram through Brown Uni­ver­si­ty’s School of Pro­fes­sion­al Stud­ies. He has taught at Fair­field Uni­ver­si­ty and Ford­ham University.

His research focus­es on the Catholic intel­lec­tu­al tra­di­tion, includ­ing Catholic social thought, the his­to­ry and prac­tice of activist move­ments (such as the Catholic Work­er), and inter­ac­tions with trends in mod­ern phi­los­o­phy, such as exis­ten­tial­ism, phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy and per­son­al­ism. He has a spe­cial inter­est in the work of Charles Tay­lor, the writ­ings of Thomas Mer­ton, and debates in polit­i­cal theology.

Jon holds a PhD in Reli­gious Stud­ies from Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, as well as degrees from Sarah Lawrence Col­lege, McGill Uni­ver­si­ty, and the Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Leu­ven in relat­ed fields. He is a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Reli­gion and the Inter­na­tion­al Thomas Mer­ton Soci­ety.

Videos

Courses

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.

Debat­ing Democracy

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).

Ethics

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.

Human Rights

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.

Mod­ern Philosophy

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).

New Tes­ta­ment

In this course we study the New Tes­ta­ment (NT), as well as oth­er con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous writ­ings con­cerned with the per­son and mes­sage of Jesus of Nazareth. Each of the evan­ge­lists — Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John — was shaped by, and gave expres­sion to, the dis­tinc­tive expe­ri­ence of his own Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty. By study­ing their texts in social and his­tor­i­cal con­text, we aim to recon­struct and appre­ci­ate the vari­ety of Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ence in this ear­ly peri­od of church his­to­ry. The course con­sists of three units. In Unit 1, we estab­lish some impor­tant back­ground knowl­edge. We study the com­po­si­tion and trans­mis­sion of the NT as a whole, con­sid­er the con­texts in which the NT texts were pro­duced — reli­gious, ide­o­log­i­cal, and polit­i­cal — and learn about the rela­tion­ships among the four gospel accounts. In Unit 2, the longest, we intro­duce and then read in full each of the four canon­i­cal gospels, as well as the Acts of the Apos­tles. In Unit 3, we intro­duce and read the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, and the Didache, three of the best-known non-canon­i­cal Chris­t­ian texts of this peri­od. Offered at Alber­tus Mag­nus Col­lege, Fall 2019.

Peace, Jus­tice, and Glob­al Issues

In this course, we crit­i­cal­ly engage the most influ­en­tial the­o­ries about glob­al issues devel­oped since the end of the Cold War, then assess one form of response to these issues. In Unit 1, we exam­ine and debate claims that we have reached “the end of his­to­ry” (Fukuya­ma), that our world is engaged in a “clash of civ­i­liza­tions” (Hunt­ing­ton), and that a glob­al “Empire” has replaced old-style nation­al impe­ri­alisms (Hardt & Negri). We also explore con­cep­tions of “bar­bar­i­ty” and “civ­i­liza­tion” devel­oped after the 9/11 attacks (Todor­ov), and assess the rise of pop­ulism in the US, the UK, and else­where (Müller). In Unit 2, we assess one form of response to these issues. We read foun­da­tion­al texts in the tra­di­tion of civ­il dis­obe­di­ence (Pla­to and Thore­au), assess argu­ments for non­vi­o­lent resis­tance (Gand­hi and King), and con­sid­er one con­crete exam­ple of such resis­tance (Hav­el). Offered at Alber­tus Mag­nus Col­lege, Fall 2017, Mod 1 (eight-week course).

Ques­tion of God in the Mod­ern World

In this course, we con­sid­er the place of the idea of God in mod­ern cul­ture and recent, polar­iz­ing debates about reli­gion and faith. We try to under­stand not only how “the ques­tion of God” has been under­stood in these con­texts, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, but how it has been lived; how dif­fer­ing respons­es to the God-ques­tion have shaped people’s moral and spir­i­tu­al ideals and col­ored their expe­ri­ence of the world and of oth­ers. A key ele­ment in the sto­ry we unfold is the idea of “moder­ni­ty”: a his­tor­i­cal peri­od begin­ning around the 16th cen­tu­ry and con­tin­u­ing, in one way or anoth­er, into our present. Our study of the ques­tion of God is struc­tured around this idea of moder­ni­ty: we con­sid­er how the idea of God was under­stood before the mod­ern peri­od (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the West­ern monothe­is­tic tra­di­tions, and espe­cial­ly Chris­tian­i­ty), how it was reshaped and con­test­ed dur­ing this peri­od, in the wake of sci­en­tif­ic and philo­soph­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions, and how in the move toward some­thing “after” moder­ni­ty many have found new ways to talk about God and devo­tion to God. The course is struc­tured around Karen Armstrong’s 2009 book The Case for God, though we will read selec­tions from oth­er recent authors (Charles Tay­lor, Richard Tar­nas, Richard Dawkins, Sal­lie McFague, and Eliz­a­beth John­son) and canon­i­cal texts (Pseu­do-Diony­sius, Meis­ter Eck­hart, Feuer­bach, Marx, Niet­zsche, Freud). Offered at Alber­tus Mag­nus Col­lege in Sum­mer 2016, Mod 5 (eight-week course).

Reli­gion and the Crit­i­cal Mind

What is reli­gion? What do we talk about when we talk about “reli­gion”? How has the idea of reli­gion been under­stood and devel­oped? We’ll trace a broad intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of the idea of reli­gion in the mod­ern peri­od, lead­ing from the work of E. B. Tylor and James Fraz­er at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry up to the work of Freud, Durkheim, Marx, Weber, James, and sev­er­al more recent the­o­rists. In near­ly every case, we read pri­ma­ry sources. In addi­tion to this intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry, we devote four ses­sions to “spe­cial top­ics” about the place of reli­gion in soci­ety today: (1) what it means to be “spir­i­tu­al but not reli­gious,” (2) whether the Unit­ed States has a “civ­il reli­gion,” (3) the rela­tion between reli­gion and sci­ence, and (4) reli­gion and vio­lence. Our pri­ma­ry text is Daniel Pals’ Nine The­o­ries of Reli­gion. Offered at Fair­field Uni­ver­si­ty, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018.

Reli­gions of Asia

In this course, we explore the major reli­gious and eth­i­cal tra­di­tions of Asia. The course con­sists of four units, each focus­ing on a dif­fer­ent geo­graph­i­cal region: India, Chi­na, Japan, and Korea. After study­ing the emer­gence of Hin­duism, Jain­ism and Bud­dhism in India (Unit 1), we see how Bud­dhism devel­oped in Chi­na along­side oth­er tra­di­tions, includ­ing Con­fu­cian­ism and Tao­ism (Unit 2). We then turn to Japan, focus­ing on Shin­to and Zen and Pure Land tra­di­tions of Bud­dhism (Unit 3). We con­clude with a look to Korea, where folk tra­di­tions have blend­ed with new vari­eties of Bud­dhism, Con­fu­cian­ism and, more recent­ly, Chris­tian­i­ty (Unit 4). We read both pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary texts. The course also includes an oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence var­i­ous styles of med­i­ta­tion prac­tice. Offered at Alber­tus Mag­nus Col­lege, Fall 2020.

Senior Human­i­ties Seminar

In this course we read a wide vari­ety of sources includ­ing sto­ries, essays, mem­oirs, spir­i­tu­al writ­ing, poems, and selec­tions from pop­u­lar works of non-fic­tion. The course is designed to pro­vide a forum for reflec­tion and con­ver­sa­tion about what it means to live life well as you con­clude your col­lege stud­ies. It con­sists of three units. In Unit 1, we explore “the life of the mind.” We dis­cuss the his­to­ry and pur­pose of lib­er­al edu­ca­tion, explore some fan­tas­ti­cal land­scapes in the sto­ries of Jorge Luis Borges, reflect on the prac­tice of writ­ing through a mem­oir by Stephen King, and gain clar­i­ty about the mean­ing of “con­tem­pla­tion” through the work of Trap­pist monk and pop­u­lar spir­i­tu­al writer Thomas Mer­ton. In Unit 2, we turn our atten­tion to prac­ti­cal life and ask more direct­ly what it means to “live well.” We read por­tions of a pop­u­lar book about how ancient sto­icism can inform our lives today, we explore the role of faith in mod­ern soci­eties, and we read works by bell hooks (on love), Joan Did­ion (on loss), and Maya Angelou (on per­sis­tence, through a book of poet­ry). In Unit 3, we move deep­er into engage­ment with oth­ers and ask what it means to “live togeth­er.” We read a por­tion of Annie Dillard’s Pil­grim at Tin­ker Creek about liv­ing “with” nature, a por­tion of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, sto­ries that grap­ple with the real­i­ty of vio­lence and dan­gers of cap­i­tal­ism, and a work by his­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der about the dan­gers fac­ing democ­ra­cies today. Offered at Alber­tus Mag­nus Col­lege, Fall 2019 and Spring 2020.

Spir­i­tu­al But Not Religious

What does it mean to be spir­i­tu­al but not reli­gious? Where did this idea come from? In this course, we explore the his­to­ry and sig­nif­i­cance of being “SBNR” (spir­i­tu­al but not reli­gious). The course con­sists of two units. In Unit 1 we begin by explor­ing the deep sources of what is today called spir­i­tu­al­i­ty: in the writ­ings of Swe­den­borg, Mes­mer, and Emer­son. We then exam­ine some devel­op­ments of these sources: in the New Thought move­ment, Chris­t­ian Sci­ence, the Theo­soph­i­cal Soci­ety, the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of yoga by Swa­mi Vivekanan­da, and the work of William James. We end this unit by con­sid­er­ing fur­ther devel­op­ments in the ear­ly and mid-20th cen­tu­ry: pos­i­tive psy­chol­o­gy, the spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of the Beat poets, and spir­i­tu­al trends in the 1960s. In Unit 2, we turn to more recent mate­ri­als and explore their rela­tion­ship with these ear­li­er sources. We read selec­tions from A Course in Mir­a­cles and works by Mar­i­anne Williamson, Deep­ak Chopra, and Eck­hart Tolle; we study the “pros­per­i­ty gospel” move­ment and Rhon­da Byrne’s book The Secret; and we learn about con­tem­po­rary med­i­ta­tion prac­tices. In con­clu­sion, we con­sid­er some polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic crit­i­cisms of con­tem­po­rary spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and under­take some analy­sis of the SBNR phe­nom­e­non in light of all we have read. Offered at Alber­tus Mag­nus Col­lege, Spring 2020.

The­ol­o­gy of the Civ­il Rights Movement

In this course, we explore the role of reli­gion in the civ­il rights move­ment, both at the movement’s height in the 1950s and 1960s and in the con­tin­ued strug­gle for civ­il rights in the US today. The course con­sists of three units. In Unit 1, we focus on the work of Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. and two sig­nif­i­cant fel­low trav­el­ers of the civ­il rights move­ment, Howard Thur­man and Abra­ham Hes­chel. We also study key events in the his­to­ry of the move­ment in Mont­gomery, Birm­ing­ham, and Wash­ing­ton, DC. In Unit 2, we turn to the life and work of Mal­colm X, includ­ing his rela­tion­ship with the Nation of Islam and his pow­er­ful pub­lic address­es. In Unit 3, we con­sid­er the work of sev­er­al fig­ures who came to promi­nence after “Mar­tin and Mal­colm” — includ­ing James Cone, James Bald­win, and Ta-Nehisi Coates — and trace some con­nec­tions between the civ­il rights move­ment and Black Lives Mat­ter. Offered at Alber­tus Mag­nus Col­lege, Spring 2020 (full semes­ter) and also in Mod 4 (eight-week course).

Writ­ing the Col­lege Admis­sions Essay

Writ­ing an effec­tive col­lege admis­sions essay is all about good sto­ry-telling — where you your­self are the main char­ac­ter. In this course, we learn how to tell our per­son­al sto­ries and artic­u­late our own aims and iden­ti­ties in a way read­ers can appre­ci­ate. We focus on the nar­ra­tive struc­ture of a col­lege admis­sions essay — its set­ting, ten­sion, devel­op­ment, and res­o­lu­tion — and how to respond effec­tive­ly to the sup­ple­men­tal respons­es often required by top schools. Stu­dents will pro­duce a com­plete, pol­ished essay for the Com­mon Appli­ca­tion, as well as a series of respons­es to the sup­ple­men­tal prompts from a school of their choice. Offered in the Summer@Brown pro­gram at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, Sum­mers 2017–2019 (two-week course).

Talks

Per­son­al­ist Ped­a­gogy and Catholic High­er Edu­ca­tion.” (Full text)
Catholic Intel­lec­tu­al Tra­di­tion Con­fer­ence, Sacred Heart Uni­ver­si­ty, Fair­field, CT. Octo­ber 2020.

Youth, Faith, and Voca­tion: On Pope Francis’s New Post-Syn­odal Exhortation.”
Talk at Saints Isidore and Maria Parish, Glas­ton­bury, CT. April 2019.

The ‘Three Advents’ of Christ: A Sea­son­al Med­i­ta­tion.” (Hand­out)
Talk at Saints Isidore and Maria Parish, Glas­ton­bury, CT. Decem­ber 2018.

Two New Saints: Pope St. Paul VI and St. Oscar Romero.”
Talk at Saints Isidore and Maria Parish, Glas­ton­bury, CT. Novem­ber 2018.

Pope Fran­cis and the Call to Holi­ness: Gaudete et Exsul­tate.” (Video)
Talk at Saints Isidore and Maria Parish, Glas­ton­bury, CT. June 2018.

Thomas Mer­ton on Jus­tice and Mer­cy.” (Full text)
Meet­ing of the Inter­na­tion­al Thomas Mer­ton Soci­ety, St. Bonaven­ture Uni­ver­si­ty, St. Bonaven­ture, NY. June 2017.

The Mem­o­ries of Paul Ricoeur.” (Audio)
Work­ing Group on Mem­o­ry Stud­ies in Mod­ern Europe, Yale Uni­ver­si­ty, New Haven, CT. April 2017.

Peter Mau­rin and Per­son­al­ism.” (Video)
Fri­day Night Meet­ing at the Catholic Work­er, Mary­house, New York, NY. Feb­ru­ary 2017.

Please see my CV for a full list of talks and presentations.

Writing

MONOGRAPHS

The Pol­i­tics of Per­son­al­ism” (Full text)
PhD Dis­ser­ta­tion, Reli­gious Stud­ies. Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, 2016, 274pp.  Abstract

This study exam­ines the his­to­ry and con­struc­tive prospects of a move­ment in mod­ern thought and prac­tice known as “per­son­al­ism.” Con­cern­ing its his­to­ry, I argue that per­son­al­ism does amount to a broad yet dis­tinct move­ment, extend­ing from the late-eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry to the present, though it emerged most influ­en­tial­ly in Europe around 1930 in con­nec­tion with phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy and exis­ten­tial­ism. Con­struc­tive­ly, I argue that cer­tain ideas and forms of prac­tice asso­ci­at­ed with per­son­al­ism can inform the effort to build what I call an “ethos of respect for per­sons” in lib­er­al demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal cul­ture. This ethos, I claim, can in turn be of use in over­com­ing the moti­va­tion gap often appar­ent in this cul­ture by encour­ag­ing per­son­al engage­ment and com­mit­ment. The study con­sists of two parts. In part one, I begin by sit­u­at­ing its aims in rela­tion to recent work in polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy. Draw­ing on the work of Charles Lar­more and William Con­nol­ly, I devel­op the notion of an “ethos of respect for per­sons” (chap­ter one). Then, I offer a his­to­ry of per­son­al­ism and intro­duce what I call “the per­son­al­ist idea” as a term of art to des­ig­nate a fam­i­ly resem­blance appar­ent across per­son­al­is­m’s many forms. Here I draw on the work of William Miller, Roger Scru­ton, and Richard Kear­ney (chap­ter two). In part two, I exam­ine how the per­son­al­ist idea was devel­oped in three con­texts in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. I begin by exam­in­ing the work of Emmanuel Mounier between 1930 and 1950 in France, who was the main rep­re­sen­ta­tive of per­son­al­ism as a polit­i­cal move­ment (chap­ter three). Then I trace how Mounier’s ideas informed the work of Peter Mau­rin and Dorothy Day, founders of the Catholic Work­er move­ment in the Unit­ed States (chap­ter four), and of Paul Ricoeur and Charles Tay­lor, who are shown to exhib­it a cer­tain cre­ative fideli­ty to his work (chap­ter five). In con­clu­sion, I state the find­ings of the study and con­sid­er the rela­tion between per­son­al­ism and the recent work of Pope Francis.

Sec­u­lar­iza­tion and Polit­i­cal Myth: The Schmitt-Blu­men­berg Debate” (Full text)
MA The­sis, Phi­los­o­phy. Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Leu­ven, 2010, 113pp.   Abstract

Ana­lyzes a debate between Carl Schmitt (1888–1985) and Hans Blu­men­berg (1920–1996) over what it means for polit­i­cal con­cepts to be “sec­u­lar­ized.” Includes a work­ing trans­la­tion from the Ger­man of Schmitt’s and Blumenberg’s pub­lished correspondence.

Open­ness and Ortho­doxy: Charles Taylor’s Ther­a­peu­tic Ambi­tions in A Sec­u­lar Age (Full text)
BA The­sis, Phi­los­o­phy. Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Leu­ven, 2009, 37pp.   Abstract

Presents a close read­ing of A Sec­u­lar Age in it entire­ty to show how it may be read as a self-con­tained ther­a­peu­tic project in Wittgenstein’s sense designed, in two stages, (1) to lib­er­ate the read­er from the stan­dard sto­ry of sec­u­lar­iza­tion and offer ‘the imma­nent frame’ as a new ‘best account’ of our lived expe­ri­ence, then (2) to offer a redescrip­tion of the imma­nent frame to lead the read­er into an ‘open space’ where the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a rela­tion to ‘spir­i­tu­al sources’ may again appear as a ‘live option’.

After Ratio­nal­ism: Tay­lor and Rorty on Epis­te­mol­o­gy, Moral­i­ty, and Reli­gion” (Full text)
MA The­sis, Reli­gious Stud­ies. McGill Uni­ver­si­ty, 2006, 122pp.  Abstract

This paper exam­ines and com­pares the dif­fer­ent ways in which Charles Tay­lor and Richard Rorty cri­tique the rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al­ism and foun­da­tion­al­ism char­ac­ter­is­tic of modem epis­te­mol­o­gy (Chap­ter One), then con­sid­ers how their cri­tiques affect their respec­tive under­stand­ings of moral­i­ty (Chap­ter Two) and of the role of reli­gious belief in mod­ern sec­u­lar soci­eties (Chap­ter Three). Rorty’s and Tay­lor’s epis­te­mo­log­i­cal debate is pre­sent­ed as an exam­ple of the dif­fer­ences between, on the one hand, ‘anti-onto­log­i­cal’ or prag­mat­ic post-foun­da­tion­al philoso­phies (such as Rorty’s) and, on the oth­er, ‘weak onto­log­i­cal’, con­tact real­ist alter­na­tives (such as Tay­lor’s). The paper con­cludes with a defense of Tay­lor’s posi­tion over Rorty’s, and, in doing so, makes a case for the rejec­tion of strict­ly nat­u­ral­ist accounts of the moral and reli­gious life in favor of a (weak onto­log­i­cal) pic­ture of the human per­son as nec­es­sar­i­ly ori­ent­ed in rela­tion to tran­scen­dent goods of oth­er trans-human realities.

ESSAYS

Vio­lence divine and rev­o­lu­tion­ary: Wal­ter Benjamin’s ‘Cri­tique of Vio­lence’” (Full text)
Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, April 2012, 19pp.

The orig­i­nal posi­tion: A ‘stark fic­tion’ in Rawls’s the­o­ry of jus­tice” (Full text)
Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, Decem­ber 2011, 25pp.

Dae­mon­ic free­dom: On the miss­ing sub­lime in Schiller’s Aes­thet­ic Let­ters(Full text)
Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, May 2011, 23pp.

The sick and the imper­fect: Augus­tine and Hegel on the Fall” (Full text)
Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, May 2011, 16pp.

Nature and Spir­it in Emerson’s Nature (Full text)
Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, Decem­ber 2010, 20pp.

Arendt and Kant on pol­i­tics” (Full text)
Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Leu­ven, Jan­u­ary 2010, 14pp.

The ‘philo­soph­i­cal pas­sages’ in Plato’s Repub­lic (Full text)
Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Leu­ven, May 2009, 12pp.

Saint Paul on the Res­ur­rec­tion of the Body” (Full text)
St. Bernard’s School of The­ol­o­gy and Min­istry, June 2007, 12pp.

The Heal­ing of the Par­a­lyt­ic: An Exe­ge­sis” (Full text)
St. Bernard’s School of The­ol­o­gy and Min­istry, June 2007, 14pp.

ARTICLES

Osama bin Laden’s Glob­al Islamism and Wah­habi Islam” (Full text)
McGill Jour­nal of Mid­dle East Stud­ies, Vol. VIII, 2006, pp. 33–54.

Contact

Please direct phys­i­cal mail to

Alber­tus Mag­nus College
700 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511

I can also be reached by email.