Kenneth GARCIA. Academic Freedom and the Telos of the Catholic University. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. pp. 216. $71.73 hardcover. ISBN 978-1-137-03191-4.
Cyril ORJI. The Catholic University and the Search for Truth. Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2013. pp. 265. $25.16 pb. ISBN 978-1-59982-277-8. Reviewed by Tim MULDOON, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
The past few years have yielded no dearth of thought-provoking works on the nature of Catholic higher education in the United States. The two under consideration here are both recommended for those interested in exploring a theological and philosophical vision of the university in the contemporary age. The shadow of Bernard Lonergan, SJ, looms large over both of them, as well as a third book not reviewed here but also recommended, namely John Haughey’s Where is Knowing Going? (Georgetown, 2009).
Kenneth Garcia, of the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame, has authored a very thoughtful approach to the question of what constitutes academic freedom at a Catholic university. His thesis is that a Catholic approach lies between two extremes. On the one hand, there is the post-Enlightenment approach established by the model of the University of Berlin (a chapter on which is the best I’ve seen anywhere), which apotheosizes the radical autonomy of the scholar, responsible to his or her own questions within the confines of an academic discipline. On the other hand, there is what he describes as the heteronomous influence of a church, interfering in a scholar’s research to the detriment of both the church and the university. Garcia proposes a theonomous approach, an approach that echoes Lonergan’s call for self-transcendence as the foundation of authentic knowing. For Garcia, the theonomous approach means that knowing within discrete disciplines is self-limiting, and that freedom of inquiry means allowing questions to propel thinkers beyond disciplinary methodologies to the realm of the infinite. “There is an inner teleology,” he writes, “driving us toward ever-greater understanding, toward completeness of understanding within an ultimate horizon” (x). That dynamism means that academic freedom in the fullest sense can exist only where openness to Godward directions of questioning takes us.
Garcia walks readers through the current deadlock in current debates about academic freedom, especially after the important Land O’Lakes statement of 1967. He then turns to the history of development within university education from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment and into the modern United States. He cites gratefully Michael Buckley’s description of God as “the Direction toward Which Wonder Progresses” in a chapter of that title, and concludes with a chapter on implications for faculty development and the curriculum at Catholic colleges and universities. His is a very broad vision, one which a prominent commentator has suggested is simply far too lofty to apply to the current situation of Catholic higher education. This is “blue sky” thinking, to be sure, but given the neuralgias of contemporary education—not the least of which has to do with whether Catholic colleges and universities are worth the price tag—this exploration is worthy of serious consideration by those charged with setting Catholic institutions’ compass points.
Cyril Orji’s study draws more explicitly from the work of Bernard Lonergan, devoting the entirety of Part Two to his work as a way forward in current debates about the nature and purpose of the Catholic intellectual tradition (CIT). This is a very thoughtful book that would have been much stronger had an editor at an early stage of writing helped Orji clarify his primary audience. Part One seems to be targeted toward students interested in learning about CIT, covering the challenges to Catholic universities in the twenty-first century. Part Two, though, is new work—and very insightful work at that, so I would have appreciated a more thorough treatment of that material in its own book.
Anselm Academic is primarily a college textbook publisher, so it appears to me that Orji is trying to move students of CIT to consider Lonergan as a resource. The book would probably work to introduce upperclass undergraduates or graduate students to Lonergan’s work, and as such is very valuable. But there is a part of me that thinks the greater value (perhaps in a subsequent book?) would be to show in greater depth the importance of Lonergan for thinking about the mission of Catholic universities as places where questions are pursued with freedom precisely because they do not a priori negate the possibility that they lead us toward God.
For Orji, the great value of Lonergan’s contribution to the Catholic university enterprise is his quest for intellectual authenticity. In a chapter that draws from the work of Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences, he shows the Catholic university is a place where people cultivate their unique talents. He goes on to show how the application of Lonergan’s thought as a foundation of university mission might enhance the intellectual authenticity of the enterprise as a whole, especially in the face of detours which devalue the good of contemporary academic work (commercialization, in particular, comes to mind). What he has in mind, he writes in the concluding chapter, is a robust self-assessment by Catholic institutions of the quality of intellectual life on campus. Catholic identity, and the CIT in general, are about a way of looking at the world, at history, at people, and seeing the task of authentic intellectual life as the process of self-transcendence.
I found myself very moved by the direction of Orji’s insights, and wonder only whether it was in part because of my prior understanding of Lonergan’s work. A major reason why I was drawn to read it was because of its description, as seeking to apply Lonergan’s insights about insight and theological method to the question of what Catholic universities ought to be about. My guess is that those unfamiliar with Lonergan will similarly benefit, particularly students of (Catholic) higher education. If nothing else, the book invites readers to consider CIT as the center of the university enterprise, in contrast to the oft-perceived litmus tests around contentious moral issues on our campuses. Like Garcia, Orji is interested in very broad thinking, and so his book offers few practical suggestions. But I am persuaded that both of these authors seek to broaden the conversation about the CIT precisely because in many cases it has devolved into intellectual cul-de-sacs, from which we must emerge if we are to find a new and creative direction for our universities, faithful to our vocation as educators committed to truths about the world to which Jesus has pointed us.