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
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.
This book, the eminent political theorist Michael Walzer writes in its acknowledgments, “has been many years in the making.” He dates its beginnings to a seminar in 1990, but gives the reader reason to think that the book has deeper roots in his life. The opening line of the acknowledgments tells us that he “first studied the Hebrew Bible with Rabbi Hoyim Goren, a superb teacher, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in the late 1940s”—that is, when Walzer (born in 1935) was twelve or thirteen, presumably preparing for his bar mitzvah.
For a decade now, I have spent two days every fall discussing the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 with students in a great-books seminar. We spend about an hour and a half picking through the text in Robert Alter’s wonderful translation. I ask my students what the language suggests each character is thinking and feeling in a given moment.
With this book, James Keenan takes his place alongside several of his Jesuit brothers who have cast light on the development of Catholic moral theology in the past century: Josef Fuchs (Keenan’s teacher in Rome), Richard McCormick (the author for many years of the “Notes on Moral Theology” in Theological Studies), and John Mahoney (author of the magnificent The Making of Moral Theology).
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