Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Here is the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada's response to the Canadian Association of University Teachers' complaint against the revised statement of academic freedom that the AUCC issued a few weeks ago.

The key set of claims comes in the middle of the AUCC statement:

"Academic freedom is constrained by the professional standards of the relevant discipline and the responsibility of the institution to organize its academic mission. The insistence on professional standards speaks to the rigor of the enquiry and not to its outcome. The constraint of institutional requirements recognizes simply that the academic mission, like other work, has to be organized according to institutional needs. This includes the institution’s responsibility to select and appoint faculty and staff, to admit and discipline students, to establish and control curriculum, to make organizational arrangements for the conduct of academic work, to certify completion of a program and to grant degrees." (emphasis mine)

This statement is an important corrective to the heavily politicized notion of academic freedom that issues forth from CAUT, in which no presuppositions whatsoever are to be admitted in inquiry. CAUT defends academic freedom on the basis of historical cases that are a century old. From CAUT, one would have hoped for a more robust and specific citation of contemporary evidence of threats to academic freedom. (This would be especially possible in cases where industry is funding and biasing certain scientific research. One thinks of the pharmaceutical industry right off.) CAUT's position also depends on a completely untethered understanding of tenure, something which ought to be up for rigorous debate among academics given the tremendous scepticism that reigns in our society over the utility of tenure. 

I have not heard this stated in the media, but it seems plausible to consider the AUCC's decision to revise its statement on academic freedom as a response to the CAUT bullying of Christian universities last year. The above selection from the AUCC statement seems to go out of its way to talk about institutional autonomy and mission, even to the point of faculty hiring. Good for the AUCC! (And, not coincidentally, some Canadian Christian colleges and universities are members of the AUCC.) But, have you heard anything? Send me an email: paul.allen @

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dawkins and W.L. Craig

Richard Dawkins has posted a flaming defense of his decision not to debate evangelical philosopher William Lane Craig.
The nature of this non-debate is very readily summed up:  Dawkins badly needs the crazy biblical interpretations of a fundamentalist approach to scripture in order to look good. This is not the first time that doctrinaire atheists and one-sided evangelicals "needed each other" badly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My next book

is in the T &T Clark catalog (p. 44) . Meanwhile, bibliography and footnote format beckon (long sigh)...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Canadian Universities at a tipping point

of credibility. In undergrad education, according to the Globe. The emphasis on research, which has been the drum pounded ad nauseam for the past ten years is starting to look more problematic than ever.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monbiot on Academic Publishing

Very Interesting!

Secular Gnosticism and the NY Times

Nice piece by Francis Beckwith here.

The Other Blog I write for

Items and topics more relevant to the Catholic church and the Archdiocese of Montreal, which sponsors the blog, Fides publica. I will keep my own personal blog here though, focusing from time to time on topics more technically theological, philosophical and academically oriented.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Doubting Thomases

Doubt and faith are often found together, and rightly so. Arguably, you can't have faith (as opposed to certainty) without the acknowledgement of doubt on similar issues on which you have faith. But when doubt takes over, one has to wonder what is going on. Into this very situation comes a movement known as analytic theology.

Here is a paper on the whole phenomenon of analtyic theology by William Abraham, from which comes this insightful quote from Van Harvey, circa 1971:

One of the most striking characteristics of Protestant theology in the last two centuries has been the emergence of what I shall call the alienated theologian, the professional who is concerned with the articulation of the faith of the Christian community but who is himself as much a doubter as a believer.
Van A. Harvey, “The Alienated Theologian,” in Robert A. Evans, ed., The Future of Philosophical Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971),113.

I would make two changes to this text which Harvey penned 40 years ago: 1) add "Catholic" to the word "protestant" and 2) I'm not sure that there is even a mjaority of theologians who are genuinely concerned with the "articulation of the faith of the Christian church." At least in academic theological settings...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Corporatization of the University

In a highly relevant NYT column, Stanley Fish lays out the problems with contemporary university governance, including the effects of turning the university into a branch plant of the corporation. In a reference to another essay on said topic (in the context of a serious dispute over the state of affairs at a university in Idaho, he  cites the following:
In an essay entitled “Inextricably Linked: Shared Governance and Academic Freedom,” Larry Gerber, chair of the committee that issued the Idaho State report, ties the very survival of higher education as we know it to shared governance: “It is no coincidence that many who seek to reduce higher education to a form of narrowly conceived job training are also in the forefront of efforts to replace shared governance with a corporate style of management.”
Nothing new, but very revealing all the same...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dan Brown-esque un- theology

I sometimes get asked what I thought of Dan Brown's books. I typically feel a mixture of remorse (for ignoring the entire corpus of Dan Brown) and relief (...for ignoring said corpus of pulp fiction!) as well. My wife read The Da Vinci Code, and promptly let me know that the writing was so bad, I shouldn't bother to read it.

 On the other hand, there are those who take advantage of the large audiences for the kind of thing that Dan Brown has to offer and who market themselves as... for example, documentary filmakers. I sense that we should pay better attention than we do to this media genre. (The "we" here - being professional scholars, including theologians.)

Simcha Jacobovici is exhibit 'A' in this category of Dan Brown-esque creative persons. He's the one responsible for that howler of a documentary back in 2007 which tried to claim that the Lost Tomb of Jesus had been 'discovered'. The wikipedia article does a good job of exposing that poor piece of work here... at least for now. That article may be changed, wikipedia being what it is.

The latest scandal involving Jacobovici is a "documentary" that aired during Holy Week apparently - on the lost nails of Jesus' crucifixion. This is exposed here. Take a deep breath, and here's the summation of the latest "documentary"...
Simcha Jacobovici’s claim of the discovery of the “Lost Nails of the Crucifixion” is speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation and topped with a colorful hat.
It just keeps coming, this Dan Brown-esque un-theology. What is the proper response?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Historical Theology OR History as Theology

An insightful piece from "Andrew" at memoria dei on the identity problem facing many div schools: when is Historical theology just historical and why is that a problem? When does Historical theology become a field with arguments like that of systematic theology, and what does that mean?
Toward the bottom comes this summary:

a study which interprets faithfully something of the past is a good thing.  But its significance as a work of theology, defined by the end of theology, will depend a great deal on the extent to which one is also able to clarify its value for the task of affirming the reign of God in the midst of the contemporary situation.  Theology is defined by history only while at the same time being defined by the end of history.
The issue can be easily framed in terms of Bernard Lonergan's 'functional specialties', an eightfold division of labour. Mind you, such a 'functional' approach in theology can - in our day especially - have the negative effect of legitimizing "theological" inquiry that is not essentially or even tangentially theological. History as "theology", yet all we get is history. To some extent, this position is set in default by departments of Church history - in some denominational colleges and faculties. But church history is not historical theology.

Regarding Historical theology proper, take Lonergan's functional specialty of history (or interpretation). If you assume that the theological task of either interpretation or history (functional specialties #3 and #4 in Lonergan's schema) is something that is autonomous from the larger theological inquiry, then you can end up with atheological interpretation or atheological history. Inasmuch as autonomous interpretation or historical analysis concerns religious material, then we are dealing with Religious Studies...but nothing more.

To some extent, Lonergan conceded the scenario of the independence of Theology from Religious Studies by commenting on the fact that functional specializations 1 through 4 (Research, Interpretation, History, Dialectics) are carried out within Religious Studies. The question that Lonergan - writing in the early 1970's - didn't ask (although he was certainly aware of the cultural impact of a pervasive atheism) is this: what if the constructive question of God (seen through the layered (intellectual, moral, religious) act of conversion) simply drops off the radar screen for interpreters and historians in Theology faculties? What does that bode for institutions of theology? The experience of many departments and faculties in British universities over the course of the past 50 years is instructive, as is the number of formerly religiously committed private colleges and universities in the U.S. But, this and other historical matters would take a set of long paragraphs to unfold...

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Problem with Democracy in Canada

Is that there is less and less of it - actual real democracy working in neighborhoods and ridings. So says Fr. Raymond deSouza in the National Post. Wonder whether the editorialists of that paper or any other newspaper think this is important?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Real Threats to Academic Feedom

As opposed to fictitious threats to academic feedom, as noted in this CHE article.

Book Note: God's Century

A forthcoming book titled God's Century: Resurgent Religion and Global Politics is due out this month. A must read by the sounds of it at the Mirror of Justice blog.

Friday, February 18, 2011

On CAUT and Academic Freedom

As you may know, I've been busy these past few weeks - along with a growing number of Canadian faculty - fending off the Canadian Association of University Teachers or CAUT. Our efforts are catalogued here, in a statement of petition requesting CAUT to cease and desist in its investigations and castigations of Christian colleges and universities which require faith statements as a condition of employment.

As I have mentioned before here, the CAUT investigation into Canadian Mennonite University concluded with a report that recommends, among other things, that institutions which "do protect academic freedom" develop policies in regards to those institions which "don't." Which of course means that CAUT wants to drive a wedge between public universities (and their supposedly ideology-free understanding of academic feedom) and private universities which have faith statements that are deemed so dangerous to academic freedom. The implications of such a wedge abound.

With this recommendation and other charges in the air, I daresay CAUT has already met its objective of tarnishing the reputation of Christian colleges and universities among those who may not have even known about these institutions' existence. (Though, I note that in the press, it has also received some very negative publicity, including from its own "members.")

But the comedown of the other day is a bit mealy-mouthed. On Wednesday, CAUT told the National Post that it will stop its practice of establishing formal investigations into institutions which require faith statements.

This is a meaningless gesture for two reasons: 1) CAUT will continue to develop its list of institutions that require a faith statement with the obvious intent of besmirching reputations. It is a contemporary version of the Index of Forbidden Books (a la Inquisition). 2) It is now clear, since Redeemer University College announced recently that they will not cooperate with any CAUT formal investigation, that the launching of formal investigations would go nowhere anyway. Another factor in all this is: CAUT may not have any other institutions to complain about - for the moment. We don't know.

The point is, of course: the Christian academies with no CAUT members are none of CAUT's business. If an institution is Christian and seeks to foster that religious identity through the sharing of a common statement of faith, than, ipso facto, in a free country, it is free to do so. And that institution should not be branded as acting contrary to the fostering of liberty for doing so. Signatures appended to faith statements are voluntary acts.

I personally do not think that faith statements are the best instrument for fostering a Christian identity in an academic setting. But, again, the point is: what do I know? Perhaps an evagelical or Mennonite (Or dare I say it, Catholic) college president and Board of Governors knows better. It's a prudential judgment, not properly subject to second guessing from national bodies that obviously do not share the aims of said institution.

And, a final point for now: one of the impressive aspects to this exercise of drawing up a statement of petition against CAUT's actions has been receiving and acknowledging the many (hundreds) of emails from faculty with PhD's conferred at secular institutions (some among them are from the world's leading universities) who now work at Canadian Christian colleges and institutions.  There are scholarly credentials worth protecting from the likes of CAUT.

And, as Alasdair McIntyre has reportedly argued in a lecture in Oxford in 2009 (during the Q&A perhaps) but published in New Blackfriars, it is probably the case in North America that academic freedom thrives to a significantly greater degree in Christian colleges and universities than it does in public universities. And CAUT and all of us who work in Canadian universities should think about that - just the very scandalous possibility!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Deactivated Bible

Adam Kotsko has a rather brilliant yet brief take on our problem with the contemporary guild known as biblical studies. Here is a snippet from one of Adam's responses to the comments after the blog entry:
The practical effect of “disqualifying” all historical/traditional uses of the Bible does, however, seem to me to be following a basically “Protestant” impulse of seeking to assess theological claims based on their groundedness in scripture — but it then radicalizes this principle by essentially ruling that no theological claims whatsoever can be legitimately grounded in scripture.
The notion that a basically Protestant view would be lurking in the background shouldn’t be surprising, given that critical biblical studies was for so long an exclusively Protestant endeavor.
Kant and the Deactivated Bible: A Must Read....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011