What is Ideology? A Conversation

May 2 5:30–7:30pm
University Club of Chicago
76 E Monroe St
Chicago, IL 60603
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Mark ShiffmanSaint Patrick’s Seminary and University

James Matthew WilsonUniversity of Saint Thomas, Houston

5:30 Cocktail and Hors d’Oeuvres  |   6:30 Opening Remarks   |   6:45 Dialogue and Q&A   |   7:30 End  




Co-presented by Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute. Public Discourse is an online journal dedicated to renewing the culture through thoughtful reflections on education, family, and religion. Supported by Wiseblood Books
Discounted student tickets are available. Please contact Marial Corona at for more information on this or any other matter.


“Ideology” is a word in near-ubiquitous use: it is deployed to describe everything from religious identity (‘radical Islamic ideology’) and political principle (‘the contest between woke and MAGA ideology’) to gastronomic preferences (‘the ideology of meat in US culture’).

Does a word used so widely and vaguely still possess concrete meaning? In his new book, What is Ideology?, political theorist Mark Shiffman has studied the history of the concept and identified it as a distinctly modern phenomenon. Shiffman argues that ideological thinking attempts to subject all reality to a narrow and reductive schema in order to produce a redemptive social-political order and engineer a new type of human being. Moreover, he  explains how  our own imprecise use of the term makes us even more susceptible to ideological control.

To point towards an escape from ideological thinking, Shiffman engages a diverse array of thinkers, from Thomas Hobbes and Karl Marx, to John Adams and Antonio Gramsci, to Ralph Ellison and Hannah Arendt. 

On the evening of May 2nd, Mark Shiffman will discuss these topics with the esteemed poet and cultural critic James Matthew Wilson. They will trace the history of the term ideology, discuss its deforming effects on political life and the soul, and suggest how “non-ideological thinking” can be restored by drawing on resources from the classical and Christian traditions of philosophy, theology, art, and literature. 

Mark Shiffman is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute for Philosophy, Technology, and Politics at Saint Patrick’s Seminary and University of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He is the translator of Aristotle’s De Anima (Hackett, 2010). His scholarly studies span the fields of ancient philosophy, political theory, and the Catholic tradition, and his writings have appeared in CommunioCommonwealFirst ThingsPublic Discourse, and New Polity and on Front Porch Republic

James Matthew Wilson is Cullen Foundation Chair in English Literature and the Founding Director of the Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing, at the University of Saint Thomas, Houston.  An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on all manner of subjects secular and divine, and especially on those where we see the two in their intrinsic relation, as truth, goodness, beauty, and being disclose themselves in art and culture, in the political and intellectual life, in our quest for self knowledge and the contemplation of God.