This fall a group of Saint Joseph's faculty, administrators and students attended a fascinating and enlightening conference called "Joy in the Truth: the Catholic University in the New Millennium" at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The conference was impressive because of its sweeping thematic scope, its urgent presentation of Catholic higher education being in the midst of a life-or-death crisis, and its radically ambitious views that integration of all knowledge is the proper task, and also the key to survival, for Catholic higher education.
Hosted by Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture, the conference included scores of presentations, many whose perspective defined the purpose of Catholic higher education as engaging in a joyous search for holistic truth. However, a concomitant of this definition of purpose, expressed at the conference, was the realization that it is no easy matter to maintain the integrity of Catholic higher education in our increasingly materialistic and secular social and cultural environment.
This conference highlighted challenges facing Catholic (and, indeed, all) higher education today, including extreme materialism, relativism, instrumentalism and reductionism. Materialism is the tendency to view all knowledge, and all reality, as materially based and, perhaps, non-transcendent. Relativism is the belief that absolutes, including absolute truth, do not exist and that meaning is juxtapositional, relational and contextual in its entirety. Instrumentalism is an approach that seeks social, economic, or other rewards, instead of truth itself, as the proper end of education. Reductionism is the tendency to divide knowledge into increasingly discrete realms resistant to integration and coherent understanding.
Strong support was expressed for the goal of integrating academic disciplines at some level to promote teaching and learning about the unity between faith and reason. Philosophy and theology were highlighted as disciplines capable of playing a coordinative role vis-à-vis other academic fields. History, politics, literature and the sciences were all mentioned as avenues that should lead to an integrated understanding of the unity of faith and reason.
The issues raised at "Joy in the Truth" are significant. The search for transcendent meaning, moral grounding, right behavior, and an integral view of things takes place in varied educational settings. In any setting, the process of education, especially at the higher levels, may become skewed, fragmented and insufficiently concerned with truth.
by Jonathan Malmude, Assistant Professor of History