Are the social sciences properly scientific? Will we one day discover a social physics—perhaps a blend of psychology, economics, and algorithms—that allows us to predict and engineer our common life? No one has done more intellectual work to cast doubt on these techno-utopian claims than Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. In this seminar we will explore Taylor’s argument that the study of human behavior should be closer to history and literature than biology and statistics. Is the human mind no more than a wet computer, or does selfhood possess moral and artistic dimensions? Can we understand politics by calculating large-scale voter behavior, or must we study cultural traditions like the “ethic of authenticity”? Taylor’s paradigm shift promises to transform 21st century social theory much as Max Weber or Emile Durkheim shaped theirs. For Taylor, secular modernity is not only a story of disenchantment and fading values, but an opportunity for increased spiritual intensity—what he calls a “Catholic modernity.”s

This seminar is organized by the Nova Forum for Catholic Thought and will be held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. There will be two 2.5-hour sessions on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. On Wednesday and Friday, the morning session will be followed by a post-lunch excursion. Each session will be a seminar-style discussion of the text and the issues at hand. Students will be expected to carefully prepare the readings, submit study questions in advance, and participate actively in each session.


Application Information

This seminar is open to all undergraduate students (including 2024 graduates) interested in understanding the thought of one of the greatest Catholic thinkers of our century. The seminar will be of interest to a wide variety of students regardless of major. 

Applicants will be required to submit an online application form including:

  • A list of completed coursework.
  • At least one and as many as two letter(s) of recommendation from a professor at the school in which the student is currently enrolled.
  • A statement of interest no longer than 750 words, which includes an explanation of how this seminar might bear on the student’s current intellectual interests.
  • All application materials can be submitted via the online application. Incomplete applications will not be considered. Fifteen applicants will be admitted to this seminar.

Admitted students will receive lodging and meals for the duration of the seminar and a $350 travel stipend. 
Application materials are due February 25.

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