Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Sam RochaOctober 02, 2020
(Unsplash/Jilbert Ebrahimi)

It is common to hear rumors that the Catholic academy has gone missing. This is better understood as a generational anthem of nostalgic discontent, projecting willful and often cynical ignorance. This past summer, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent most of my time between two academic book projects for Routledge and Bloomsbury. In August, I read three recent books, published by M.I.T., Oxford and Princeton (all academic presses), during a short vacation.

These five books of my summer, while diverse, are united by a common biographical Catholicism, a trait all but one of the authors carries confessionally. These books are written for general and academic secular audiences and carry the peer-reviewed expertise of various fields of study, above all from philosophy. Nonetheless, each book carries real and even intimate signs of the church alive and at work. Together, they form a resounding counterfactual rebuke of the cottage industry reporting the doom of Catholic academia.

In The Syllabus as Curriculum, my latest book, I note that modern educational theories focus on the subject, the student and teacher, and often miss the object: the fruits of the teacher’s labor. In the syllabus, I claim, we encounter a powerful object that can take on different forms: a pedagogical or pastoral letter, a memorandum, an essay or an outline. One of the outcomes of this claim is a critique of the social sciences that have overrun educational research and a proposal for a revolution of the humanities.

The Catholic academy has a present and future, continuous to its rich past. After all, tradition is not the same thing as the past.

I also edited and translated the forthcoming Paulo Freire: A Biography, Walter Kohan’s philosophical study of Freire, originally published in Portuguese and soon translated into Spanish. Freire was a Brazilian philosopher and theologian with a foundational and lasting influence on traditions like liberation theology.We also find in Freire a deeply Catholic thinker, steeped in Roman Catholic theology and personalism.

Chad Engelland exuberantly proclaims the gospel of a complex intellectual tradition in Phenomenology, which he calls “an investigation into the experience of experience.” Engelland’s accessible introduction to phenomenology includes Catholic sources like Karol Wojtyla’s The Acting Person and Jean-Luc Marion’s The Erotic Phenomenon. Phenomenology, Engelland shows us, seeks a wondrous love that forces us to part from the disenchanted natural attitude without losing the interiority of our own experience and lifeworld.

Jason Blakely’s We Built Reality tells a story hiding in plain sight. This book is about the negative influence of the social sciences, which Blakely carefully contrasts from the natural sciences. Blakely shows how social science has become a common sense that is neither common nor sensible. In his convincing analysis, it is an ideology unchecked by reason, not entirely unlike the worst forms of religious fundamentalism. He ends with a provocative final question: “Where are the new humanists?”

In Lost in Thought, Zena Hitz begins in a testimonial register that seems headed into a personal account of the transformative power of ideas in the life that yearns for something more, something different, something greater. Soon, however, Hinz drops the direct testimonial voice and turns more directly to texts that she reads with an accessible rigor and passion. We witness fresh readings of classics like Aristophanes’s “The Clouds” and Augustine’s Confessions, culminating in a forceful critique of the university that is neither cynical nor romantic and calls for the primacy of the intellectual life over and above the intellectual or academic institution.

The Catholic academy has a present and future, continuous to its rich past. After all, tradition is not the same thing as the past. It is especially notable that Catholic academic expression ranges well beyond its rightful place in sacred writings; these books are to be found in the world of secular thought as sacred and secular Catholic letters have always been and always will be.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

A Reflection for the Nineteenth Tuesday in Ordinary Time, by Zac Davis
Zac DavisAugust 08, 2022
There is no formula to charity, companionship or Matthew 25.
Marty RogersAugust 08, 2022
Bishop Álvarez stands facing the camera.
Bishop Álvarez, facing the threat of incarceration, maintains a message of love and hope.
The homily should be part of an active relationship between preacher and parish. None of us, speaking or listening, should stop trying to improve the experience.
Terrance KleinAugust 08, 2022