Category Archives: Great Conversation

This category discusses great works (text, art, theorem) along with their great questions and ideas.

Sense, Sentiment, and Civilization

"Inferno, Canto XVIII" by Boticelli (c. 1500)
“Inferno, Canto XVIII” by Botticelli (c. 1500) illustrates the circle of fraud in Hell

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

Identity: Is It “Do to Be” or “Be, then Do?”

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?”

Truth and Political Decay

Congretional Pugilists (1798)
Congressional Pugilists (1798)

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

Why Is Science a Part of Liberal Education?

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?

Musical Poetics

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

With God(s) on Our Side

The Council of Gods by Raphael (1517)
“The Council of Gods” by Raphael (1517)

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

Eloquence and Wisdom

Malala Yousafzai addresses the UK Department for International Development
Malala Yousafzai addresses the UK Department for International Development

We are, in the words of Kenneth Burke, sentenced to the sentence.  This curious, if concise, turn of phrase suggests that you and I, dear reader, are at this very moment linked through language. This link is tenuous. In an instant you can choose to stop reading (you will be missed) and my sentences cease.  Continue reading Eloquence and Wisdom

What Does It Mean to Be (Trans)Human?

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Many of our universities are currently stuck in an internal debate about online course offerings, attempting to determine whether the potential gains of Internet-based instruction outweigh the costs. On one side of the ledger, the online student is afforded new levels of individualized education that no longer restricts them to the institution-centric forms of physical, in-class environments. On the other side, many educators caution whether this technologically-mediated methodology undercuts the nature of the learning enterprise, treating students as disembodied entities rather than as physical men and women. The center of the proverbial storm is the body. Does physical presence matter—not just in the university environment—but as a touchstone to understand community more broadly? Or, put more succinctly, is physical embodiment a necessary feature of the 21st century person? Continue reading What Does It Mean to Be (Trans)Human?