Div School talk considers religion and philosophy

By David Kaye

Many students and faculty, some outside the University community, crowded into Ida Noyes Hall last Saturday to attend the Lumen Christi Institute’s conference, “What Can Philosophers Learn from the Tradition?” Co-sponsored by the Divinity School, the Committee on Social Thought, and the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, the conference was designed to address what judgment to put upon modernity and Catholicism.

Thomas Levergood, director of the Lumen Christi Institute, was extremely pleased with the turnout of more than 300, noting a large number attending included U of C students and faculty, as well as scholars from campuses all over the Midwest and the rest of the nation for the one-day event.

“We had invited a number of philosophers to become part of an international Colloquium on philosophy and the Catholic intellectual tradition, and we flew in several of these persons to be with us as well,” Levergood said.

The main participants were three of the most well respected contemporary Catholic philosophers in the world: Alasdair MacIntyre of the University of Notre Dame, Charles Taylor of Northwestern, and Jean-Luc Marion of the University of Chicago and the University of Paris. The events began with a Catholic mass at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel said by His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., the Archbishop of Chicago, who had recently gotten back from the papal conclave and spoke about his experiences there.

Each address was followed by a question period with the lecturer. Speaking first on “Rediscovering Tradition from within Modernity,” MacIntyre traced his own philosophical development and how his return to Christianity came after Aristotelian-Thomist arguments persuaded him of the rational grounds for religious belief. Next, Taylor gave his address, titled “Modern Imaginaries and the Uses of Tradition,” in which he considered how certain structures of thought in modern culture limit and condition the uses that we can make of traditional, pre-modern categories of thought. After lunch, Marion presented his address, “The Edge of Tradition.” Marion raised the question of whether “tradition” is a good or meaningful philosophical concept at all.

The three professors were also featured in a panel discussion moderated by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics in the Divinity School.”

“I thought each developed a set of intriguing themes concerning religion, modernity, and the question of tradition,” Elshtain said in an interview. “What united the thinkers was their insistence that even those who wish to escape tradition cannot do so; there is even a tradition that holds we must escape tradition. So we are all within a tradition or a number of traditions.”

Although the audience was largely composed of graduate students, faculty colleagues, and outsiders, a few undergraduates were on hand. “I especially enjoyed the lecture given by Professor Marion,” said Cameron Soran, a first-year in the College. “He was able to outline the contributions that can be made by tradition as well as clearly defining the sometimes severe limitations that those contributions can be.”

Several attendees praised the conference itself. “The conference provided for a rich perspective on the meaning of tradition, philosophically and theologically,” said Francesco Giordano, a graduate student in Romance Languages and Literatures. “It was hard not to think about the monumental works of each philosopher, Marion’s Heideggerian, non-metaphysical/Thomistic approach in God Without Being, Taylor’s Sources of the Self, and MacIntyre’s After Virtue as they spoke.”

Fr. Bob Bueter, S.J., associate director of the Lumen Christi Institute, said that the idea and success of the conference should be attributed to Levergood. “It’s very difficult [to organize such a conference] if you’re not Thomas Levergood,” he said. “He should be commended.”

The Lumen Christi Institute, which regularly invites serious Catholic scholars to present their work to the University community, will host its last event of the academic year on May 18, sponsoring Peter Casarella from the Catholic University of America, on “The Sabbath Rest of Holy Saturday: Music, Creation, and Trinity in St. Bonaventure.”