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The development of modern Western culture is often described as a steady process of “secularization,” in which a distinctively Christian vision of reality inexorably recedes, leaving in its wake a “disenchanted” but presumptively real world best described by the natural sciences, or an exclusively naturalistic philosophy, with no place for God or the transcendent. Drawing on the recent work of Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor (A Secular Age, 2007) and others, this course examines recent challenges to this “master narrative” of a secularized modernity. How did this narrative come to achieve the status of unquestioned truth? How might we tell the story of modernity in a way that does not foreclose the reality of God and transcendence, but is also more than nostalgia for an imagined past? Recent debates over the coherence of “secularization” narratives provide the occasion for rediscovering the richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition as a vantage point from which to engage and critique modern culture.
The heart of any culture, as well as its continuity, can be found in its educational tradition, the distillation for the next generation of its highest ideals and most important truths. For the West this began with the Greeks, who set in place, some five centuries before Christ, the main aspects of a tradition that lasted, with significant developments, up until very recent times. This course will trace that tradition, using both primary and secondary source material, and will include: its origins in fifth-century BC Greece; its universalization during the Hellenistic period; its encounter with Christianity in the Patristic era; its Christian instantiation under the Carolingian Empire; the great Medieval educational synthesis and the rise of the University; the development of Renaissance humanism and the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits; Newman’s classic expression of the tradition in The Idea of a University; and the great challenge to that tradition and change that has taken place during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The ambitious lyric poetry of late 16th-17th century England is known as "metaphysical" poetry because of its breadth and ambition. This poetry is able to link anything to anything else, and everything to God. The metaphysical poets wrote about love: friendship, marriage, sex, and the soul's love of God. They often did this all in the same poem. They also wrote at a time of religious crisis in England as the Reformation unsettled everything. They wrote about that too and often in the same poems. This course will read selected poems of Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, Marvell and others with an eye to how their poetry weaves themes of love and faith together in a time of religious and spiritual crisis.
This course takes an interdisciplinary look at a central figure in Catholicism—Mary, Mother of God. Drawing on philosophy, theology, poetry, music, and the visual arts, the course examines three key moments in Mary’s life as mother: the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Stabat Mater. These culturally and historically diverse depictions of Mary set the stage for an investigation into the meaning of her role, within Catholicism as a whole and within the lives of individual Christians.