Lumen Christi’s 2018 Summer Seminars, offered for the tenth consecutive year, afforded 67 doctoral students and junior faculty the opportunity to gather at prestigious academic institutions for discussion of important texts and topics from the Catholic intellectual tradition. Attracting first-rate applicants from an international pool, the seminars are unique learning experiences that prepare young scholars for life as Catholic academics who will bring the light of Christ into the contemporary university.
This summer Lumen Christi hosted four seminars. The first, taking place from June 10 to 13 and hosted in partnership with several organizations at the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic Research Economists Discussion Organization (CREDO), was the third annual iteration of “Economics and Catholic Social Thought: A Primer.” Led by a team of scholars comprising Martijn Cremers (Notre Dame), Andrew Yuengert (Catholic University), Mary Hirschfeld (Villanova), and Msgr. Martin Schlag (University of St. Thomas – MN), the seminar drew twenty doctoral students and faculty from fields such as finance, economics, history, political philosophy, and moral theology to the University of Notre Dame for three days of discussion. The Primer is designed to help participants better understand foundational principles of Catholic social teaching and to apply these principles to considerations involving topics common in economics, business, and finance. To that end the primary texts covered by the syllabus included social encyclicals such as Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (the 1891 encyclical on the conditions of workers, considered the font of Catholic social doctrine), secondary literature, and case studies.
The seminar drew participants from elite institutions such as MIT, New York University, Northwestern, and University of Florida. Schlag celebrated daily Mass for the group and Cremers hosted several meals at his home near campus.
Asked about their experiences at the seminar, one participant called it a “wonderful gift from God.” Another said, “I found the seminar instructive and enjoyable in every way.” A third reported, “The seminar was really outstanding. I thought the format, the topics chosen, the management of our time, and the cross-section of participants to be excellent.”
Participants also said they would put what they learned at the seminar to use in their own teaching. One attendee planned to incorporate aspects of the seminar into the managerial economics class he teaches for MBA students; another wanted to integrate Catholic social thought into his teaching in the University of Chicago’s core program; several said they would structure their courses on Catholic social teaching to reflect seminar conversations.
Two weeks later, from June 27 to July 3, Lumen Christi hosted “St. Thomas Aquinas on Free Choice,” a seminar led by Fr. Stephen Brock (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome), an expert on the thought of Thomas Aquinas and veteran leader of Aquinas seminars (this being his fourth for Lumen Christi). Held this year at the University of Chicago, the seminar gathered seventeen humanities PhD students for discussion of the Angelic Doctor’s writings on free choice and free will, comparing and contrasting them to modern philosophical accounts of those topics. The syllabus included ten 2.5-hour sessions and consisted mostly of selections from Aquinas’ corpus, but also included supplementary material by Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and Elizabeth Anscombe. Sessions were interspersed with daily morning Mass at nearby St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and by evening meals and socials.
The participants hailed from institutions like Princeton, Ohio State, Baylor, Saint Louis University, and University of Chicago. They spoke highly of the seminar’s influence on their thinking and research. One attendee, working toward his doctorate in philosophy, reported, “this seminar is certainly one of the highlights of my career to date.” Another, a student of systematic theology at University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College, said the seminar “was easily one of the highlights of my graduate studies.” A third said, “rarely have I enjoyed such intense and intelligent discussion of quite difficult philosophical topics.”
Perhaps Lumen Christi’s most celebrated seminar, “The Thought of John Henry Newman,” met July 7 to 14 for the sixth straight year in Oxford’s Merton College. Led by Fr. Ian Ker, an English priest and the world’s leading Newman authority, this seminar brought fifteen doctoral students and faculty to the setting of Newman’s early academic career for an immersive exploration of the life and thought of the man whom Pope Benedict XVI beatified in 2010 and who has been an inspiration for countless converts to Catholicism since his own Roman homecoming in 1845.
Student participants, gathered together from institutions such as Yale, University of Virginia, and the Catholic Institute of Paris and representing disciplines as diverse as English, healthcare ethics, philosophy, and medieval studies, enjoyed a week of Oxford-style sessions—in which a participant prepares a short paper summarizing an assigned text and then leads discussion after fielding feedback from Ker. They also visited Newman’s old rooms in Oriel College and his retreat and study at nearby Littlemore College, the site of his conversion. Daily Mass was celebrated at Merton’s beautiful chapel, built in the thirteenth century, and in Newman’s private chapel at Littlemore. Participants also had ample time to explore Oxford’s many sights and to take in England’s World Cup semifinals match from local pubs.
Students were amazed by Oxford’s storied beauty and the serene, retreat-like quiet of the seminar, which introduced them to the major works and themes of Newman’s long career as both an Anglican and Catholic thinker. Calling it “exceptional in every sense” and “a truly superior academic experience,” several reported that they would use what they had learned in undergraduate courses they teach at their home institutions. One student said, “coming from a secular university, these sorts of opportunities are vital for my development as a Catholic scholar, and I am extremely grateful to Lumen Christi for the opportunity.”
“Coming from a secular university, these sorts of opportunities are vital for my development as a Catholic scholar.”
Finally, from July 21 to 28, longtime seminar leader Russell Hittinger (University of Tulsa and co-chair of Lumen Christi’s Program in Catholic Social Thought) led his eighth consecutive seminar, this time alongside Fr. Michael Sherwin, OP (University of Fribourg) on the topic “Truth and Authority in Augustine’s City of God,” which Hittinger had last taught in 2014. The seminar treated fifteen humanities doctoral students and several faculty auditors to a fine-combed analysis of the theological and philosophical themes of Augustine’s most comprehensive work, De Civitate Dei, with an eye toward how truth and authority function in the bishop of Hippo’s arguments. Students from Cambridge, Notre Dame, Harvard, and Florida State gathered at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and then the University of California, Berkeley, for ten sessions.
One PhD student from Baylor studying historical theology said of the seminar that it “was Christian academic learning at its best— careful reading and argument amongst a community of friendship and shared living. This is a rare but necessary kind of educational enterprise.”
In 2019 Lumen Christi will expand its seminar programming to include an undergraduate, Hittinger-led seminar in California on Augustine; a seminar titled “Business and Catholic Social Thought: A Primer” at Notre Dame; a doctoral seminar in France on René Girard; and several more. The 2019 seminar offerings will be available early in the new year on Lumen Christi’s website.