To some, modernity is just the way things are now--and we should be grateful--for Western man has finally progressed from the superstitious, irrational, freedom-suppressing and ruler-serving medieval age of scholasticism, priestcraft, and feudalism to the full human flourishing and equality of secular, technologically advanced liberal democracy. To others, modernity is to be lamented, for it is nothing but the corpse of a glorious Christendom where the truth and love of God once reigned. Severely wounded in the Enlightenment by the sword of dehellenization and the poison of nominalism, and strangled to death by atheism and secularization in the twentieth century, godless secularism now reigns supreme. But are such categorical evaluations adequate to the complex reality of modernity? Charles Taylor tells us: "We have undergone a change in our condition, involving both an alteration of the structures we live within, and our way of imaging these structures. This is something we all share, regardless of our differences in outlook." No doubt, there has been a change in our condition in modernity, but what exactly is the nature of this change? In this seminar, we will try to answer this question together by studying selections from four of the most influential and profound philosophers of modernity: Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, D.C. Schindler, and René Girard.

Is The Waste Land the world's greatest poem? That is how the intelligentsia has judged it for several generations. But T.S. Eliot did not think so: he himself would have given that laurel to The Divine Comedy. But as no literary education can be deemed complete without a knowledge of this work, we shall come together in this seminar to explore why The Waste Land has enjoyed such good press, from both religious and secular alike, delving into its atmosphere and landscape—into its images, references, allusions, and unique music. Together we shall try to discover why this poem, a full hundred years after its first publication in 1922, still haunts the Western imagination. What does it reveal? What does it portend? And why have we as a culture not grown out of it? 

The founding fathers of sociology differed in whether society was fundamentally like a war of opposing elements, or like an organism with interdependent parts.  We will consider the most famous work of each author, Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. 

“[T]here is not a place of splendor or a dark corner of the earth that does not deserve if only a passing glance of wonder or pity,” says Joseph Conrad in his famous “Preface,” where he discusses the purpose of art and particularly of literary fiction. During the 19th and 20th centuries, when the world lost (for good or ill) its sense of philosophical and theological grounding and consensus, we see a flowering of realistic fiction that seeks to portray both the splendid and the dark, to arouse wonder and pity, and to investigate questions of human meaning and purpose from a uniquely literary angle. In this course, we will study some of the great works of that period. We will investigate these authors’ investigations of the human being; but we will also consider these authors’ reflections on their own art, asking with Conrad, What is literature for? What is it meant to do for and to us?

The great treasury of Greek drama, the vast majority of which has now been lost, was written by a small handful of writers, in a single Greek city, with a population in the tens of thousands, emerging from the illiterate depths of bronze-age prehistory. One might be forgiven for guessing that the products of these writers would not survive the test of time. And yet—the treatment of the human condition by Aeschylus and Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes, has proved to hold enduring interest across centuries and cultures. In this course we will read about Agamemnon and the vengeance of his murder by his son Orestes. We will read about the pitiful plight of Oedipus, and reflect on the paradoxes of freedom and fate. We will read about the comic portrayal of Socrates in the Clouds, and we will ask what all these very old Greek things have to do with human beings today.

We will readPrometheus BoundAgamemnonThe Libation BearersThe EumenidesAjaxOedipus RexOedipus at ColonusAntigoneThe BacchaeMedeaHippolytusHelenThe BirdsThe Clouds, and The Frogs.

The great natural philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “Nature has some perfections to show that she is the image of God, and some defects to show that she is only His image.” In many ways, this profound statement summarizes the findings of scientists throughout history.

We will read:  Selections from Archimedes’ On Floating BodiesPtolemy’s Algamest, Bacon’s Opus Majus, Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Kepler’s Epitome of Copernican Astronomy, Galileo’s The Two New Sciences, Pascal’s Account of the Great Experiment Concerning the Equilibrium of Fluids, Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, Newton’s Optics, Huygens’ Treatise on Light, Ray’s The Wisdom of God as Manifested in the Works of Creation, Lavosier’s Elements of Chemistry, and Darwin’s The Origin of Species. These selections will help students learn how natural philosophy built the foundations of modern science and the pivotal role the church played in shaping it.

This course offers a study in the classic texts of political philosophy, addressing the questions faced by both ancient people and people today: What are the ends of political life? What is the best form of government to serve these ends? What is the proper relation between government and the individual, and between government and religion? To answer these questions we will need to go beyond the surface-level policy discussions that we hear on the news and examine instead the fundamental issues that these policy discussions rest upon. By taking in a broad range of great books, we will also gain some understanding of the long historical development of western political ideas.

We will read: Plato Republic I–V; Aristotle Politics I, III–IV; I Samuel; Tacitus Annals I, XIII–XVI; Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II QQ. 90–97; Machiavelli, Prince; Hobbes, Leviathan Introduction, 13–21; Shakespeare, Henry IV; Montesquieu Spirit of the Laws Preface, I–VIII; Rousseau, The Social Contract I–II; Locke, Second Essay on Government; Kant The Science of Right Introduction, Second Part; Federalist (selections); Hegel, Philosophy of Right Introduction, III.III; Mill, Representative Government I–VIII, On Liberty.