Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pre-Christmas Reading

Here are some things I've been looking at recently:

1) David Brooks intuits communitarianism in a Jewish paradigm - very good - here
2) One and a half cheers for "Two Cheers for Nature" an article by David Barash - here (He makes a number of category mistakes himself; for instance by confusing the Catholic natural law view as equivealent to the nature is good claim...)
3) A mistitled but nonetheless decently argued piece about Downs Syndrome persons - here
4) Regarding gnosticism: is it the same thing under different historical forms? A review of the multi-volume series of works by Cyril O'Regan broaches the question - here
5) John Milbank: on the unjustly maligned Big Society, statism, toryism, distributism, welfare, charity, socialism, third ways, etc. etc. - broad strokes - in the inimitable Milbank style - here.

Enjoy. Merry Christmas

Friday, December 3, 2010

Academic Freedom Turns to Religious Persecution

It's quite the op-ed title (by Peter Stockland of the Cardus Centre, printed in the Vancouver Sun, copied here) but it's pretty accurate insofar as the campaign launched by the Canadian Association of University Teachers is concerned. This organization is a faculty union that is known for its griping and whinging more than anything else.

In recent months, it has moved against small religiously affiliated colleges in Canada, targeting those which attach a 'faith test' as a condition of employment for faculty members. The 'faith tests' spoken about in its campign are likely diverse, but the one that got attention last year if memory serves me correctly was the requirement by Trinity Western University in B.C., where faculty are required to sign some sort of creedal statement upon (or shortly after) hiring.

Well, the latest target is the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, as detailed here in this article from the CAUT house organ. There is also a link from this article to the actual report conducted by two faculty on behalf of CAUT into the situation of academic freedom at CMU. From that report, on can glean that the CMU actually wants to retain or (hold your breath) strengthen its Christian identity as an educational institution. Just imagine, those uppity Mennonites actually succeeding in this diabolical plot.

Well, you can see for yourself, but the bottom line is that CAUT is pushing a militant secularism on academia, particularly by calling into question (discussed in the article) agreements between colleges like CMU and larger secular universities. You see where this is heading, don't you...

From the article:
The report also recommended that CAUT formulate a policy statement to deal with protecting academic freedom for instances where an institution that does guarantee academic freedom has, or plans to have, joint academic programs or other academic relations with an institution that does not. 
 So, in other words, CAUT wants to deliberately isolate Christian colleges, and slowly squeeze them out, deny those insitutions the accreditation and affiliation credentials that those colleges need to promote their own programmes for the many thousands of students who attend those colleges and who then want to move on to other programmes elsewhere later with their college degree in hand. (Maybe CAUT sees Christian colleges attracting all these good students and enviously wants to find a way to get them into the universities instead, or is that tooooo machiavellian. I digress..)

Will those college degrees be recognized under conditions in which universities are relinquishing association with those colleges - on the limp excuse of protecting academic freedom? It is now a question.

Will universities be bullied by CAUT into shoving these colleges aside? Odds are, yes, sadly, in some cases.

Now, I don't think faith statements are a good way to promote the Christian identity of an educational institution. But, I do think that institutions who believe otherwise should be free to do so without being bullied into the sidelines by a bunch of elitist secularist faculty bureaucrats who think they know better.
Insidious, that's what this CAUT campiagn is. It should be stopped.

As I said, Peter Stockland of the Cardus Centre has put the issue into perspective here. Let's see where this goes.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Universities and Liberal Education

Universities really are coming up for more discussion in the media for all sorts of reasons, not so much in Canada, but especially in the U.K. because of governement funding cutbacks which will have an impact that will affect most members of a generation.

The recent decision by SUNY Albany to chop some of its humanities programmes, notably in the languages, has also made waves. It strikes many as the latest alarm bell over what is wrong in both universities that want to ape corporations and in a culture that strives for utility and mammon over the good life, including the good of intellectual fulfilment.

But there has yet to take place a more wide-ranging discussion as to what universities are for. This is in fact the issue that needs to be addressed. And as part of that discussion, albeit in the context of a faculty colloquium on religious pluralism and diversity, held at the Université de Montréal, I presented a paper, the abstract of which appears below...

But also, and in that very light, I also noticed a recent post by James K.Smith, philosopher and emergent church-er from Calvin College, who has a post on Secular or Secularist Liberal Arts education here

This post from Smith is a very valuable contribution to the theme of what a liberal arts education in a post-secularist context would look like. In other words, how does a liberal arts college provide a secular education without being secular-ist? But, Smith has smelled a rat in this cauldron of otherwise fresh thinking and he summarizes it thus:

"while I would applaud the move to this sort of "secular" liberal arts education, such a model still refuses to think about education as formation.... even the new "secular" liberal arts college will remain committed to a persistent aspect of liberal Enlightenment orthodoxy: an allergy to paideia, to the thick task of formation that constitutes inculcation in a tradition..."
  Ah-ha! Yes, because if the students are not clients, after all, then they are persons who by their very presence seek to be formed in some intellectual richness - that will be for them good, true and beautiful. 

Well, I have a proposal for Smith that might suit his interests here: how about programmes and departments in theology that complement Religious Studies departments, since Theology is a humanities discipline par excellence, and Religious Studies nowadays is deeply influenced by the heuristics of the sociology of religion. Now admittedly, this is an idea that would not survive the legal jurisprudence in American contexts, because American laws prohibit public money from reaching theology programmes in any publicly funded college or university. 

But for all the rest, it would be another nail in the coffin of secularism and a hand up to the beleaguered liberal arts tradition in colleges and universities because theology would allow colleges to handle the God question in a much more open and conceptually clear way than is the case in many Religious Studies programmes.

So anyway, here's that proposal - that I mentioned off the top of this post:
 Curricular Heresy: God and the University Amidst the Triumph of Reason
Public policy debates involving religion in the public sphere have thus far ignored the critical role religion and especially theology play in the academy and society, beyond being sources of commentary and analysis. This paper draws on an informal survey of theology and religious studies in Canada, with some comparative remarks regarding the U.S.A.,Germany, Scandinavia and the U.K., in order to introduce the claim that the retention of theological programmes in universities is not merely a remnant of historic affiliations with Christian churches. Rather, theological curricula consist of being a proactive, dissenting heresy to the consensus triumph of empirical reason with benefits for science and the liberal arts. With reference to MacIntyre and in nuanced sympathy with Gavin D’Costa’s diagnosis of theology's Babylonian captivity in public universities, this paper advocates theological education as a counterpoint to hardening empiricist orthodoxies in the university and society.     

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Few Good Articles

1) Starting With One about Alastair MacIntyre in Prospect magazine
2) Continuing with a Patrick Deneen article on the Humanities, Science and the Universities.
3) And a good rendition of some of the themes present in Charles Taylor's A Secular Age by the man himself

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Spotty Reading in a busy term

My blogging has slowed to a crawl, due to teaching, administration and the rest of it...

But, here are some things I've spotted lately - of possible interest:

1. Conservatives should fear climate change.

2. William Carroll, who has taught at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, comments on Stephen Hawking's rambling speculations from several weeks ago - on creation and Big Bang cosmology, and the confusion that ensued.

3. Why Schleiermacher and Karl Barth overlap a wee bit more than you would have imagined. "On Theology as the Science of the Divine Word" from Matthew Bruce with a response by Matthias Gockel. The focus is on method, a topic which is tied tightly to the name of Schleiermacher and resisted by Barth, who held that methodological questions are a distraction from proper theologizing about God.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Wendell Berry

Here - a perspective by Russell A. Fox on one of the great environmentalists of our time. Berry is indispensable; I used one of his shorter books - Life is A Miracle once in a course. The book is essentially a response to Edward Wilson's Consilience, an empiricist attempt to claim that ethics is a branch of human biology. The students (at least those who did the reading) really caught on to the radically different way of being an environmentalist that Berry promotes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cross and Context: Douglas Hall

Just noticed this piece from several weeks ago in Christian Century from Douglas John Hall, one of Canada's premiere Protestant theologians, now retired from McGill University. Nothing controversial from this doyen of liberal protestantism, yet there is a nod to theology as a counter-cultural force. Instance this:

What then is the mission of a church that can no longer count on its favored status in Western civilization to ensure its meaning and its continued existence?

I believed that the very first responsibility of Christian communities in such a situation was a) to begin at last to recognize the radical incompatibility of Christian establishment with the biblical and best traditional conceptions of the Christian movement, and b) to explore the possibilities of Christian witness and service from a position outside or on the edge of the dominant culture.

I remember a conversation early in the 1970s in which a small group of clergy in the city where I lived were discussing the question, "On the pattern of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, what do you think ought to be the 'message of the Spirit' to the churches of this city?" I found myself answering this question almost without knowing what I said: "The Spirit writes to the churches of North America: Disestablish yourselves!"
To which one might heartily agree, except that one is also hard pressed nowadays to name a church or church figures whom we might call established! Of course, there are vestiges of the old order, such as official chaplains to sundry offices of state carrying out various public functions. Then again, as in Quebec curently, efforts are fully under way to rid hospitals of their official, denominationally affiliated chaplains. Now there's disestablishement - with a vengeance.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cut from the Same Augustinian Cloth: Benedict XVI and Rowan Williams

Oh, what a treat is this article here - in this week's Tablet, a British, lay Catholic magazine. It comes from Rupert Shortt whose biography of Williams has won rave reviews and who also has a biography of Benedict XVI published in 2006. Here are two compelling snipets on what each church leader demonstrates about their mutual dependence on Augustine and more.
"Rowan Williams may represent a fairly uncommon amalgam of liberal and conservative impulses, but that is no less true of Joseph Ratzinger..."

"It seems to me that Benedict’s understanding of Catholicism itself might be enlarged through further engagement with a figure of Rowan Williams’ stature. The journey could at the same time reconnect Joseph Ratzinger with his younger, pre-conciliar self."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hey students! Hard work yields success

This time of year, faculty members adopt tactics both subtle and not-so-subtle to implore students to set aside the gadgets and crack open the books. And, yes, it is true that hard work can (and does) yield academic success, but for reasons that are largely cultural, hard work has become feared and praises of hard work are deemed politically incorrect. Two articles spotted today seem to indicate how significant this cultural problem is.

First, take a look at Tom Friedman's article from Saturday's Times in which he cites another article in the Washington Post on the lack of student motivation as a major problem that besets America. The U.S.A. has dropped to no. 11 in a "ranking" of best countries, and there are good reasons why the U.S. is underperforming. Excerpt:

The second piece, which could have been called “Why We’re No. 11,” was by the Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson. Why, he asked, have we spent so much money on school reform in America and have so little to show for it in terms of scalable solutions that produce better student test scores? Maybe, he answered, it is not just because of bad teachers, weak principals or selfish unions.
“The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation,” wrote Samuelson. “Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a ‘good’ college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong, he said.
  The other article comes from the University Affairs, a Canadian university monthly for faculty, administrators and others. In that article, Alan Slavin, a Physics prof at Trent University in Ontario discusses the failed curricular reforms in that province made during the late 1990's. But, then, in a revealing aside near the end comes this:

I recently reviewed the drop-out rate from my introductory physics class that I have taught quite regularly from the 1980s. Over this time, the drop-out rate has increased gradually from eight percent in the early 1980s to more than 20 percent now, with one glaring exception. In the Ontario double-cohort year of 2003-04 and the next year, (which included about 25 percent of the four-year students who stayed in high school for an optional fifth year), the drop-out rate plummeted to eight and 10 percent, even though the class performance was not exceptional. Similar results were seen at Brock and Guelph universities. The best explanation is that these students were told that they would have to work very hard to gain one of the limited places at university. The work and study habits they developed then carried into university, and helped them through their first year. The lesson is that at least some student problems can be reversed very rapidly if the incentive is large enough.
The double cohort is a reference to the year in which grade 12 and grade 13 students graduated together, thus swelling universities' freshman year classes. Revealing though...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Religious Naturalism Against Undergraduate Atheism

In this fascinating review of two books by religious naturalists, John Cottingham takes on what is termed the undergraduate atheism of the Ditchkins crowd (Dawkins, Hitchens et al) and the responses of religious naturalist Mark Johnston and the French writer André Comte-Sponville.

It's a brilliant review, but the books sound brilliant in their own ways too, especially Johnston's, since he appears to have reoriented the atheism/theism debate to one in which the evolutionary desires for selfish and selfless behaviour play a central role in the analysis of religion. Johnston apparently offers up process thought as a third option lying between the classical theist / atheist divide. Ok, but can a process God, who is indistinguishable from Nature (capital N) really sustain the retrieval of a true morality and life's true meaning that Johnston wants to retrieve? Cottingham says no. For instance:

Both writers mention, en passant, that they were brought up as Catholics. But, like many academics and intellectuals, I suspect they have given insufficient credit to the pervasive subliminal effects of the culture to which they were exposed, day by day and week by week, as they grew up. To be sure, there was much about that culture, especially in its more rigid and fossilised forms, that was no doubt oppressive, if not worse. But the sense, powerfully articulated in both writers, of the sacred, of the mystery and wonder of existence, of the power and resonance of the moral ideals that call us to transcend ourselves, of the supreme value of love and self-sacrifice — how much of this is really independent of the liturgical and scriptural and sacramental culture which nurtured them? And how much of it can be retained once that culture has been dismantled?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Reviewing Hauerwas

I've heard several people laud Stanley Hauerwas's memoir, Hannah's Child. Here is a review by Martin Copenhaver in Christian Century that summarizes and evaluates the book in a fair and insightful way. Excerpts from the review:
As he writes elsewhere in the memoir, he believes that "wherever Christians exist they are constituted by words and actions that should—but may not—make their lives difficult." This is a moving account of a Christian simply—and powerfully—living out the implications of his convictions...
Hauerwas contends that you cannot rightly consider someone's thought apart from that person's life; as he often puts it, "Only ad hominem arguments are interesting." Obviously, to write a memoir is to invite just that kind of argument....
It is telling that Hauerwas is fond of Oscar Wilde's contention that we are never more true to ourselves than when we are inconsistent. In his inconsistency, then, Hauerwas is consistently true to himself.
The first line there is an excellent way of describing the essentially (i.e.: not optional) challenging character of Christian faith and the theological reflection that it inspires - in our culture of 'live and let live'

The Great University Debate Has Begun

Well, at least south of the border. There are good reaons to hold this debate in Canada too, except that Canadians are a lot more reticent to debate most things. We are complacent if nothing else....

Here, read Camille Paglia's praise of trades, in which she also advocates core curricula in colleges and universities, an idea that couldn't arrive fast enough in the increasingly fragmented and hyper-specialized Canadian university. She is a bit too sweeping in some of her statements however. See for yourself...

And here, taking up the two big books on the subject of tenure is a fine New York Times piece.


Friday, September 3, 2010

William Cavanaugh on Hitchens

Whew, what a devastating critique of Christopher Hitchens this is. In politics, this kind of writing would be called a 'gotcha'. Cavanaugh (St. Thomas Univ., Minneapolis) takes apart Hitchens' argument that religion is inherently violent- in an Australian Broadcasting essay. Completely demolishes the argument that is.

Totalitarianism aims at human perfection, which is essentially a religious impulse, according to Hitchens. Religion poisons everything because everything poisonous gets identified as religion.
At the same time, everything good ends up on the other side of the religious/secular divide. Hitchens says of Martin Luther King Jr., "In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was he a Christian." Hitchens bases this remarkable conclusion on the fact that King was nonviolent, and the Bible preaches violence from cover to cover.
What is not violent cannot possibly be religious, because religion is defined as violent. So Stalin is religious but Martin Luther King is not.

HT: faith and theology

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini: Round 2

I recently blogged a LRB review of a new book by these two titled What Darwin Got Wrong

Here is another review, equally interesting from the redoubtable Simon Conway-Morris. Snippet:
Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini declare their secular credentials and are adamant that God, like Mother Nature and the Tooth Fairy, is a dispensable fantasy. But suppose they are correct in arguing that there really are nomological principles that underpin what evolution can and cannot achieve? If such principles are inherent to the universe, one is led inevitably to inquire why they are constructed that way. Pure accident.
 From the context of Conway-Morris's review, what is that sentence "Pure accident." doing at the end of this paragraph? Is this his description of Fodor and P-P's view? It seems so, but it is not entirely clear...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Tenure: Thinking Outside the Box

Here is a good article on tenure, from which the following snippet stands out on incentives for joining the ranks of academe:

the appeal of job security may be overrated. Tenure may be an added incentive, but it's almost never a deal maker. "All sorts of brilliant people want to be members of academe," says Trower. "I don't think it's because of tenure. It's because of the work." The life of the mind is its own reward.

So what's the alternative model? Renewable contracts. Some suggest seven years. Others say 10. The goal would be to give professors enough security to make them comfortable but not enough to breed complacency and lock the university into a deal that no longer makes sense.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This past week's Web Reading

1. On Catholic universities and academic life. From this post, one of an increasing number of pointed jabs at the narrowing of academic life. A topic that is set to explode soon onto the front pages of the western press if another economic crisis precipitates a funding crunch...:

The hyper-specialization of knowledge is one of the characteristics of the modern university, which results both in the increasing balkanization of knowledge and in what Luke Timothy Johnson recently (and precisely and felicitously) described as the “desperately trivial character of much academic scholarship.” Young scholars must find ways to get published in obscure academic journals that no one will ever read. While there may be interesting minutiae in the sciences that are also significant, this is rarely the case in the humanities where minutiae remain minutiae, of little significance except insofar as an article about them might help one secure tenure.

And the following remark is not just true but damning. Damning of the entire enterprise that trumps "research" (not scholarship) over teaching in the effort to show students that it really is ok to know more and more about less and less:

Men and women trained as professors in recent decades tend to lack the capacity of earlier generations of scholars to give a broad, accessible account of their field of study, one that can inform the public at large.
Here endeth the lesson...

2. Terry Eagleton on John Cornwell on Newman. hmmm... I think I prefer A.N. Wilson's TLS review (sorry can't find it online)

3. Rod Dreher c/o Flannery O'Connor on Anne Rice's decision to leave the church. Ecclesiology 101 anyone?

4. Rod Dreher on Philip Rieff c/o Ross Douthat on just how deep the debates over SSM really go, and how no proponents and few opponents are willing to stretch their minds that far. Go Rod go.

5. And for something completely... well, only somewhat different: Edward Feser on the immorality of using the bomb. August 9, 1945. Nagasaki. Let us remember.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Money taketh happiness away!

From the abstract of a paper available here:

having access to the best things in life may actually undercut people’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures.

I love the title: "Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away"...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Plagiarism is a Big Moral Deal

But not according to Stanley Fish today in a NYT post titled "Plagiarism is Not a Big Moral Deal". Now a lot depends on Fish's use of the words "big" and "moral".

First, on the claim that plagiarism is an issue in the small world of academia. Fish notes:

The concept of plagiarism, however, is learned in more specialized contexts of practice entered into only by a few; it’s hard to get from the notion that you shouldn’t appropriate your neighbor’s car to the notion that you should not repeat his words without citing him.
So, plagiarism is not like stealing apparently. But is that right? Is it really more like breaking the rules of a game? This is what Fish suggests with the several paragraphs long discussion of various sports and their rules. A rule, in that context, is simply an agreement on the procedures that should be followed. No big moral deal - as he says.

Second, on defining plagiarism, it is found to lack a philosophical basis, and therefore has no moral claim on which its proscription can stand:

the ground plagiarism stands on is more mundane and firm; it is the ground of disciplinary practices and of the histories that have conferred on those practices a strong, even undoubted (though revisable) sense of what kind of work can be appropriately done and what kind of behavior cannot be tolerated.
So disciplinary practice and moral proscription are two parallel universes? Fish says that originality, which is what plagiarism is intended to protect is not such a big deal:

If it is wrong to plagiarize in some context of practice, it is not because the idea of originality has been affirmed by deep philosophical reasoning, but because the ensemble of activities that take place in the practice would be unintelligible if the possibility of being original were not presupposed.
But originality does not need to be philosophically based in order for the literal copying of a text to be wrong. Taking something without asking is wrong. Period. That is a moral claim, and there are numerous contexts to which it applies. Some are professional, others are not. Why is this so complicated? Stealing is morally and professionally proscribed and no philosophical justification or that philosophy's denial (Fish) adds anything to this proscription.

Fish ends with the following, which is where he is most tellingly wrong:

Everyday disciplinary practices do not rest on a foundation of philosophy or theory; they rest on a foundation of themselves; no theory or philosophy can either prop them up or topple them.
No, Professor Fish. Everyday disciplinary practices rest on the foundation of human art and science, the conventions of which are possible on the basis of human nature, a nature capable of virtue and vice and much else besides.

That is the ultimate moral foundation by which the rising problem of plagiarism ought to be judged. Plagiarism is stealing or lying and usually both if done intentionally. (The plagiarism which I've encountered as a teacher is the unintentional sort - people who literally did not know that they were stealing/lying!)

But here's the point: the person who plagiarized Professor Fish undoubtedly still feels guilt over what he/she did. And guilt is a sure sign of moral failure, a different kind of failure than forgetting to tag third base on the way to home.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Christopher Hitchens, Man of Faith

So says a friend of his, in the NYRB. Read to the end to see what kind of faith Ian Buruma is referring to. After years of enjoying his pugnacious and rhetorically breathtaking articles in the Atlantic and elsewhere (prior to his atheist book anyway), this evaluation of "Hitch" is a most revealing read.

LRB Review of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

This review by Peter Godrey-Smith in the LRB of this book, 'What Darwin Got Wrong' is very concise and revealing of the serious philosophical dispute at the heart of contemporary interpretations of Darwinism. Scroll down for Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini's brief reposte. While my own sympathies are with Fodor and P-P based only on a couple of other articles (I have not read this book under review), I nevertheless tend to agree with Godfrey-Smith when he comments:

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini criticise the tendency to talk of selection as if it were an agent. They are right that this is often misleading, but they seem to be making a similar mistake when they treat it as something over and above the ordinary facts of life, death and reproduction. For Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, it makes sense to ask: ‘Even if trait T causes organisms to reproduce more while T* has no effect, how can selection see that fact?’ But there is no question to ask here, nothing extra that selection might achieve or fail to do.
In other words, Godfrey-Smith is defending a more modest interpretation of the classic received view of Darwinism, a modesty that is itself conducive with Christian and other religious interpretations of evolutionary theory, it is important to note. Godfrey-Smith is one of a number of thinkers who want to take the metaphysical sting out of Darwinism - without making the more dramatic criticism of Darwinism that Fodor and P-P undertake.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fish fun

Stanley Fish is often a riot. Here, in the NY Times the other day, he is provocative and right on - discussing student evaluations of professors. Now, there is in my view, an important role for student evaluations, but as one commentator says in response to Fish, "the popular is not necessarily the good." Popular teachers are not necessarily the best, which (again to qualify what needs qualifying) does not mean that unpopular is good either.

But the practice of evaluating faculty teaching based on student evaluations alone, which is (I'm afraid to say) the practice at Concordia, is not good. Faculty teaching should be evaluated to include assessment by senior faculty - who may be more immune to fashionable trends in teaching.


THIS popped up c/o Eric Mankiw's blog more recently from an interesting study that he links here:

Results show that there are statistically significant and sizable differences in student achievement across introductory course professors in both contemporaneous and follow‐on course achievement. However, our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value‐added but positively correlated with follow on course value‐added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow‐on related curriculum.

Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value‐added and negatively correlated with follow‐on student achievement. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value‐added in follow‐on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.

In other words (C/o Wapo)

Sarah Coakley Symposium

Here is an interesting list of abstracts for an Australian symposium dedicated to the thought of Sarah Coakley. I heard Sarah speak in Oxford on the science of cooperation and the theology of Incarnation a few weeks ago, and it was a tour de force, the moreso given its theological locus. She will also give the Gifford lectures in 2011.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Happened to B XVI?

Wonder what happened to the catholic church sex abuse scandal in the media? Well, you're not alone, and getreligion's got some interesting analysis with links to more here.

Short excerpt:

I think things died down because these reports tried to bring Benedict down. And when it didn’t work, folks lost interest.
Yup, that about sums it up. But read the last line of the article - that is the tragic part: there are other abuse victims who we don't know about and whose stories (and faith) we won't hear about.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Reading

Not my summer reading, but the summer reading of college and university students. In the U.S., a large number of post-secondary educational institutions mandate summer reading for those students who have been accepted into various programmes. This sounds like a great idea. And it is - except that the range of reading prescribed is disturbingly myopic.

A report from the U.S. National Association of Scholars puts it this way in a balanced report available here:

In principle, of course, a common reading program could be built on the basis of intellectually challenging works; books of widely‐recognized and lasting merit; books that are milestones of cultural achievement; books of undeniable historical importance; or books of profound artistry. We noted that five of the colleges out of the 290 chose works that plausibly fit at least one of these criteria: Frankenstein, Walden, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (two colleges), and The Communist Manifesto.

What of the selections by the 285 other colleges? The best we can say is that all (or almost all) the selected works have some merit.
Then a few lines later, it diagnoses the problem in terms of American culture's bias toward the present, a.k.a. what's in front of our noses...:
We suspect that the present‐ism that is so prevalent in the common readings reflects an underestimation of the students’ ability to discover connections between the past and the contemporary world. College ought to push students towards making such connections rather than assume that students won’t “get it.”
It makes for arresting reading and I'm sure that this report would be relevant for Canadian universities, at least those (few?) which have summer reading programmes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Big Shaggy

It's a terrible moniker, but it is nonetheless the term du jour in a wonderful column by David Brooks on the need, more than ever, for a humanities education. A most "useful" kind of education to have!

Here is my favorite part of what he has to say, because it touches on the ability to think analogously. Making good analogies is an effect of a creative, educated mind. Thinking analogously is not thinking that is careless or ad hoc. Analogies are a way of making the merely metaphorical more orderly. Unlike so many of the empirical claims common to the social and natural sciences, analogies are not governed by strict deductive or inductive inference. Here's Brooks:

Studying the humanities will give you a wealth of analogies. People think by comparison — Iraq is either like Vietnam or Bosnia; your boss is like Narcissus or Solon. People who have a wealth of analogies in their minds can think more precisely than those with few analogies. If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon, you’ll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.

Too much of what passes for a university education these days is being driven by the need to teach "skills" and to "train" students. We see this creeping trend even in Theology, especially in "biblical studies" where philology and language driven methods substitute for genuine inquiry into theological meaning and hermeneutically shaped purpose. As if data and method are all what really counts.

There is an almost "in-humane" aspect to this trend - as the increasing number of advocates for theological exegesis have readily diagnosed in regards to biblical studies.

But do read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Upcoming Seminar

I will be giving a lecture at one of the seminars of the University of Oxford's Ian Ramsey Centre.
Below is the abstract. Look forward to seeing you if you're in the UK, perhaps if you're stuck here for lack of air transport...

In this paper, I take up the issue that was debated so famously in the early fifth century between Augustine and Julian of Eclanum on whether or not the fact of sin implies a negative or evil character to the natural world. This paper retains a focus on the perennial question of the nature of sin. It begins with a reconsideration of the terms of theological debate that were inaugurated by Karl Barth’s “no” to Emil Brunner’s natural theology in the 1930’s. I argue that a contemporary notion of sin that is informed by several disciplines could overturn this argument by accepting that both a natural theology and a theology of salvation are mutually interactive, because of recent scientific developments in evolutionary psychology and moral philosophy. Sin is foreshadowed in a natural law account of the vices and the passions, which today are increasingly understood as a function of heritable traits in human evolutionary history, and which are therefore biologically prompted. A few studies in evolutionary psychology are cited to support this claim. Therefore, sin itself can be identified independently of theological sources, but its meaning is not fully grasped unless there is the sort of full blown theological account that Barth was trying to stress. Textual evidence from Paul, Augustine, Aquinas and Pannenberg is introduced to support this claim. The conclusion is that a focus on sin in the science-theology dialogue would bring together otherwise disparate theological accounts of God and creation. Natural theology and a theology of salvation are not so far apart as twentieth century theologians imagined