Bernard G. Prusak
Bernard G. Prusak is associate professor of philosophy and director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
By this author
On the whole, what a wonderful visit it was! But what will Pope Francis leave us other than fine speeches, his spectacular example, and fond memories? Otherwise put, lest the question sound ungrateful, what will the legacy of his visit be?
There are, clearly, a number of possible answers to this question. The possibility that interests me here, however, is suggested by a recent “Declaration of Commitment” drafted and circulated by the Ignatian Solidarity Network. “Leaders of Catholic Higher Education Globally”—by my count, 175 college and university presidents as of this last week of September—have pledged:
- to work together regionally and globally, through all the means available to and appropriate for our colleges and universities as institutions of higher learning, to study, promote, and act on the ideals and vision of integral ecology laid out by Pope Francis [in Laudato Si’].
- More specifically, we commit ourselves as leaders in Catholic Higher Education globally to integrate care for the planet, integral human development, and concern for the poor within our research projects, our educational curricula and public programming, our institutional infrastructures, policies and practices, and our political and social involvements as colleges and universities.
It is an extraordinary commitment, which has rightly gotten attention in the press. My question is: What will it look like in practice, and how will it be done? More specifically, what bearing will this commitment have on “educational curricula” at Catholic colleges?
It should go without saying that a columnist for the New York Times enjoys an extraordinary power. What an opportunity to shape, if not opinions, at least the frame of a discussion! It should also go without saying that people without power often adulate those with it. Ross Douthat has power, and he’s gotten his share of adulation. He’s also gotten attention, including in Commonweal, and has brought Commonweal to the attention of the Times’ multitudinous readers, including in his Sunday column entitled “Springtime for Liberal Christianity.” In this case it probably goes without saying that the magazine’s editors and supporters owe him a measure of thanks.
Perhaps then it is a touch churlish to be frustrated with him. But “Springtime for Liberal Christianity”—the title makes me think of both Mel Brooks and Alexander Dubcek: hard to square—is a frustrating piece of journalism.
My wife and I don't watch much TV—I marvel that people have the time!—but we plunked down on Friday, after a long back-to-school week, to watch 20/20's "Pope Francis and the People." And we've been thinking and talking about it since.
The University of Scranton recently made national news by deciding to eliminate coverage for abortion from the health-insurance plans available to its employees. In order to comply with Pennsylvania law, the University’s plans had previously covered abortion in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the mother’s life. Now that the university is self-insured, however, its insurance plans must comply only with federal law, which does not mandate any coverage for abortions.
It’s no news that “core wars” have become rife at Catholic colleges and universities. As Gonzaga’s Academic Vice President Patricia Killen recently remarked in a paper given at King’s, the core curriculum has become “that project to which multiple and often conflicting desires, passions, hopes, fears, long-standing animosities, and deep commitments, both individual and organizational, cling like iron filings to a magnet.” (Core curriculum = an institution’s general education requirements, which all students must satisfy in some form or another.) The review of the core at Notre Dame, however, has become national news, thanks it seems to alumni rumbling and murmuring, expressed among other places on Twitter.
As I noted in a post a month ago, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., President of the University of Notre Dame, was the keynote speaker at the conference “The Idea of a Catholic College,” hosted by King’s College in September. Father Jenkins’ paper, “The Challenge and Promise of Catholic Higher Education for Our Time,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Catholic Higher Education, along with a number of other papers presented at the conference. In the meantime, a video of his talk is now available through the King’s YouTube channel. (Go to 7:50 to bypass the introductions. The q & a begins at minute 54 or so.)
The editors extended to me an invitation to blog at dotCommonweal a good year ago; I can only thank them for their patience!
Foremost among the things that have occupied my time and attention was organizing a conference at King’s on “The Idea of a Catholic College,” 9/19-9/20. Select proceedings will appear in February in the Journal of Catholic Higher Education; my hope is to make a video of the keynote address, by Father John Jenkins of the University of Notre Dame, publicly available within the next few weeks. (If so, I’ll post again with a link.) By the way, “Commonweal’s own” Dennis O’Brien was among the presenters.
One month later, we’ve only begun working through the conference’s lessons -- for our core curriculum, professional programs, and student life -- though see here some more expeditious reflections posted by Jason King, from Saint Vincent College, on the blog Catholic Moral Theology. In any event, the national conversation goes on, most recently in an article by Beth McMurtrie, “Catholic Colleges Greet an Unchurched Generation,” in the October 17 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Unfortunately, the article is password-protected.)
The article focuses principally on initiatives at Marquette and generally strikes a quite optimistic tone. While we’re told that the “pipeline that once fed Catholic colleges is shrinking: Catholic secondary-school enrollments have dropped 42 percent since 1970,” and that more and more students and faculty alike profess no religious affiliation, the article’s interest is in what schools are doing to connect “their religious mission to topics of broad interest, like developing a meaningful philosophy of life or pursuing social justice.” So we learn that, while the “nones” feel little affiliation with Catholicism, “‘they can relate to the values’” -- presumably solidarity, preferential protection of the poor, concern for the common good, and so forth.
The philosopher Jeff McMahan opens his extraordinary 2009 book, Killing in War, with a reflection on Ludwig Wittgenstein, “generally regarded as the greatest philosopher, and certainly the greatest philosophical iconoclast, of the twentieth century.” This great philosophical iconoclast did not question whether it was right to enlist as a soldier in World War I.
Philosophers who have written about the films of Terrence Malick typically note three biographical facts. First: Malick studied under the philosopher Stanley Cavell at Harvard, from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1965. Harvard’s philosophy department then was intensely “analytic” in orientation—to simplify, it was focused on logic and language—but Cavell’s interests included, as his faculty website states, “the intersection of the analytical tradition (especially the work of [J.
“Can we talk about abortion?” Dennis O’Brien, Peter Steinfels, and Cathleen Kaveny asked in a noteworthy exchange in Commonweal (September, 23, 2011). Let me jump into the conversation and insist: Yes, we can. But in my opinion we can’t talk about it in the way most Catholic ethicists now do—at least not if we want to address the problem of abortion as it really is. If we want to do that, we need to expand the terms in which the Catholic case against abortion gets made.
- 1 of 3
- next ›