At the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year, as I am returning to in-person teaching, I experience the excitement and awe that precedes the moment I meet my students. It is a reminder that teaching and learning are highly dependent on the embodied community of learners I am privileged to serve. The framework that makes this community possible is that of the liberal arts. As we contemplate the need to reimagine the future along more hopeful lines in the wake of the pandemic, the liberal arts tradition might offer us a path through uncertainty.
At first glance, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ bestselling, National Book Award-winning book Between the World and Me (2015) may not seem like a particularly valuable addition to a liberal-arts-based course in a Core Curriculum program. Written as a letter to his teenage son, Samori, Coates’ memoir traces the harsh historical realities of racism in order to provide a framework for meaningful action for his son, who is on the verge of living as an adult black male in the twenty-first century United States. Throughout the book, one of Coates’ frequent objects of critique is formal education Continue reading The (Liberal Arts) Education of Ta-Nehisi Coates
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy: Inferno examine ideals of morality, friendship, and happiness in ways that still ring true. Aristotle’s model is centered around the concept of kosmos (order) and telos (end or purpose), with nothing in excess. Human passions and desires are to be tempered by reason; likewise, human rationality is made complete by proper desires and sentiments. Dante follows Aristotle’s ideas and brings them further, demonstrating that passion— or as he terms it, love—is a good thing so long as it is directed toward its appropriate object and in proper measure. In both the Ethics and the Divine Comedy, true fellowship is found among the virtuous, who order their passions and sentiments according to what is good. In order to develop a wise and gracious character—from which springs wise and gracious discourse—one must learn to love and value the good in its appropriate measure, and to approach every subject with a humble understanding of one’s own limitation. Continue reading Sense, Sentiment, and Civilization
Thank you President Krueger, for your generous welcome. And now I address you, regents, faculty, parents, and family here gathered, and especially the graduating class of 2019. We rejoice with you this day as things begin – a commencement is a beginning, an initiation, a start, an origin, the first step of things to come, things that commence from this point forward. We are all about origins, being a people who are not averse to the risks entailed in digging into the questions of origins – the origin of life in the medical sciences, the origin of the world in our theological formulations, the origins of the English language and the modern state, the origins of my personal psychology and my motivations to think the way I do, the origin of that wrinkle, that age spot, that ache in my aging bones. And today, that origin of a life outside of undergraduate education, the life that some call the real world, the life of vocation, the higher and honorable calling of being a wise and honorable and cultivated citizen, in your home, your family, your business, your church, your city and community, your state, your life that commences today, day one. Continue reading Honor, Star Wars, and You
One of our enduring questions at Concordia University Irvine (CUI) raises this profound issue of identity: “Who Do You Say That I Am?” Originally, Jesus asked his disciples that question (Matthew 16:15). In fact, CUI’s theology courses revolve around prompting students to give their own response to Jesus.
But it is also appropriate to ponder the query in regard to one’s own personal identity. So much of the world establishes identity on the basis of what a person does. In short, you have to do, to be. Continue reading Identity: Is It “Do to Be” or “Be, then Do?”
What a mess!
The current American political scene is likely to provoke this response from the thoughtful observer. Honesty, civility, and cooperation are almost unheard of. A sense of justice that does not entail revenge seems increasingly rare. Civic duty has given way to power grabs, political maneuvering to outright lies and even violence, and the common good to factional rights. A sense of fair play is all but lost.
But where, the thoughtful person might ask, have we gone wrong? Continue reading Truth and Political Decay
I am constantly reminded by my young son that we are curious beings. He has an endless fascination with exploring the world. I share that fascination of the natural world with him, which is one of the reasons that I chose to major in biology and chemistry. I chose a small liberal arts college because I wanted to know my professors. When I graduated, I left with much more than a good foundation in the sciences. I gained a deeper understanding of how a Christian can be a scientist. Continue reading Why Is Science a Part of Liberal Education?
In the traditional liberal arts curriculum, music was classed alongside the mathematical disciplines of astronomy, arithmetic, and geometry. This placement reflects the theoretical nature of musical inquiry in the classical and medieval world, in which theorists sought to explain musical phenomena through ratio, proportion, and cycle. However, a historical precedent for a rhetorical approach to music exists in the practice of musica poetica in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Germany. Influenced by the intellectual tradition of the Reformation, musica poetica sought to reconcile the practical concerns of music theory, composition, and performance with principles of classical rhetoric. Continue reading Musical Poetics
For most first-time readers of the Iliad, especially traditional college-age undergraduates, Homer’s epic poem is a sudden plunge into strangeness. To immerse oneself in the competitive violence at the heart of Ancient Greek honor culture; in the repetitive, gruesome descriptions of battle-field deaths; or in the appalling practice of taking wartime concubines (the trophy-like status of Briseis alone in the opening dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles tends to bring out the sober moralism in even my most apathetic students). To immerse oneself in all of this is to be given a crash-course in the notion that the past is not just a foreign country, but a brutal one, too. Continue reading With God(s) on Our Side
What do you believe? This is not a question that we ask each other too often. It is a question that we admittedly shy away from. It carries a weight of intimacy and judgment, interest and criticism. Or at least it does out there. At Concordia University Irvine, we’ve been asked that question since day one. What do you believe?
A Harvard graduate, speaking at his own graduation a few years ago, had a very accurate observation about the state of our society. Continue reading What Do You Believe?