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One-dimensional learning: the dialectic of sacred and secular as the enduring possibility of the university.

This article traces the origins of the university as an interplay between transcendence and immanence, sacred and secular, first in ancient Greek philosophy and then within the Byzantine, Islamic, and Latin intellectual worlds. It shows how the dialectic is threatened in modernity through the eclipse of the sacred in the public sphere and the hegemony of the secular in intellectual life, leaving the university no foundation for a unity and coherence of knowledge that would justify its continued existence. The author demonstrates how Newman and Whitehead provide clues for seeking apertures for transcendence to re-enter the university, as do alternative forms of intellectual and spiritual community, but a blueprint for the university's renewal cannot yet be anticipated.

I. Three Moments of University Development: The Metaphysical Rivalry of Transcendence and Immanence

The beginnings of the university can be found long before the medieval era where its rise is usually discerned. Its gradual emergence can best be understood to occur in two successive moments of history, the first unique to ancient Greece, and a second in which this initial moment was itself to be recapitulated in similar ways within three different religious traditions: first in the Byzantine world, then in the Islamic, and, finally, in the Latin Middle Ages. The most critical threat to its continued flourishing, it will be argued, arrives within a third moment, asymmetrical with the first two, that has been underway for several centuries.

Both of the first two initiatory moments exhibit an interplay between the secular and sacred. In the first, taking place in ancient Greece, an indigenous, sacred, polytheistic tradition of great power and beauty, but at the same time chronic disorder and incoherence, gave birth to a more reflective, secular order that retained, and indeed elevated, many of its central ideas and intuitions, while seeking an underlying principle of unity. In this first moment, an essentially sacred order (pagan religion) was put into a more secular form, one that nevertheless retained its roots in the sacred. One might think here of Parmenides's mystical journey to truth and being, Plato' s ascent to the One, and Aristotle's nous as a participation in the life of the Unmoved Mover. All three can be seen as largely secular adaptations of religious and mystical themes involving the elevation to a higher realm and a corresponding illumination. A higher unity is sought, but only at the expense of a movement away from the particular and fragmentary, with the higher realm of "forms" or "essences" replacing the gods and goddesses, and mediating some yet higher, ultimate unity. In Plato, for example, as illustrated by his "divided line" and sun analogies in the Republic, one moves from images to things, from things to models, from models to forms, and from forms to a yet higher unity that in this work is called "the Good," and in other works "the One" and "the Same." The movement proceeds away from particulars, and the relation of the One to the Many is indirect and several levels removed, remote from the many-faceted world we inhabit. This interplay of secular and sacred moments, of immanence and transcendence, allowed for the rise of diverse "schools" of philosophy, but these were not yet universities composed of diverse faculties, since an underlying basis for different faculties was yet to be established. The exemplary representatives of this initial anticipation of the university, then, are the Academy of Athens, founded by Plato and operating for nearly a thousand years, along with subsequent philosophical schools in other important cultural centers such as Alexandria.

The unifying basis that the university required was to fully emerge only in the second moment, whereby a newly comprehensive, overarching principle of unity was established, which, at the same time, drew that unity back into relation to the particular and everyday: in the monotheistic worldviews of Byzantine Christianity (The University of Constantinople, in 425), Islam (Qarawiyin University in Fez, 859, followed by al-Azhar University in Cairo, 969), and somewhat later in Latin Christendom (with Universities such as those of Bologna, Paris, and Oxford taking shape in the eleventh and twelfth centuries) where universities traced their lineage from the purely ecclesiastical monastic schools and cathedral schools established during the ninth-century Carolingian Renaissance. (1) The cultural and intellectual syntheses upon which these civilizations were based were not only strongly theological, but, in each case, claimed for themselves upon that basis a universality that extended inclusively, not just to all humanity, but to the farthest reaches of the "uni-verse." Nor were these three cultural iterations of universality and university seen as mutually exclusive, even though they were to some extent competitive with one another, for universities in one cultural sphere acknowledged the underlying legitimacy of those in the others, and not infrequently hosted visiting scholars, with cross-pollinization of ideas discernible at many points. (2) The concept of the uni-versity, then, required a theological vision of uni-versality to bring together diverse disciplines and various faculties under one cohesive vision of learning, corresponding to the unity of the cosmos itself, as it could henceforth be understood to be created, ruled, and maintained within an intelligible order by a single God, rather than a variety of tribal, cultic, and ethnic deities. The necessary presupposition for the university was the concept of a single God who was understood as creator and ruler of the whole universe: transcendent, yet sovereign over all--and in an important sense discernable and intelligible within all. In this second moment, then, an essentially secularized order (pagan philosophy) was successively combined with insights and sensibilities from the three great Abrahamic faith traditions. (3) Perhaps the most striking intellectual marker of this simultaneous assimilation and transformation is that in which first Platonism, then Stoicism (with its equation of Logos and Physis with Theos), and eventually Arisotelianism, were each respectively assimilated into these great theological currents of thought, resulting in the great traditions of Byzantine, Jewish, Islamic, and Latin philosophy that even today are normative within their respective spheres.

It was, then, this metaphysical unity of a single, almighty creator--and its epistemological correlate of the project of a unified body of knowledge that would draw together diverse kinds of studies, following from the attempt to know creation in a way at least weakly analogous to the way the creator knows it--that allowed for the curricular unity of the different university faculties in the medieval period. Grounded in the ultimate mystery of a transcendent creator, theology, as a unifying principle, at the same time allowed and encouraged different disciplinary articulations of the relation of God to creation, their very diversity serving to exhibit the glory of the creator. At the same time, at its heart lay the attempt to assimilate much of the wealth of ancient, secular culture into a unified, theological vision. And perhaps, above all, theology served as the foundation for what Robert Nisbet has called the "dogma" of the university, viz. the shared conviction that learning is worthwhile "for its own sake." (4) For only if knowledge of what is turns out to be revelatory of the one Creator of all that is, does it have this inherently valuable status, without which it would offer no more than either random bits of information, slipshod additions to a randomly waxing aggregate of facts, or else purely instrumental knowledge bound rigidly to its application. Moreover, this view that knowledge of the universe as a created order gives insight into its creator, that even seemingly insignificant and lowly things offer us an understanding of the divine order within which they are rooted, subverts the rigidly hierarchical view held by Plato, and to a lesser extent Aristotle as well, that the knowledge of lowly things such as plants and insects--and, to some degree, human beings as well--had little value, compared to knowing metaphysically higher beings, such as the heavenly bodies.

Yet this inclusive principle of unity within the university began to falter as modernity started to emerge in the Latin West under a new secularization that saw itself as heir, and even recapitulation of, the first secularization, i.e. the one that had taken place with the ancient Greeks. Unfolding during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, this third moment initially tried to assimilate the sacred order of the medieval world into a new secular order. We may think here of Descartes's methodological concerns about divine existence, or of Newton's positing of space as the "sensorium" of God. Both introduce theological considerations only to address seemingly intractable problems in their respective systems. And, unsurprisingly, this marginal attempt to assimilate the sacred order of the medieval world into the new secular order of modernity was soon discovered to have shallow roots, eventually abandoned, and finally rejected as "unscientific." We may think here first of the purely mathematical universe of Laplace, the first system to have had no recourse to theological principles in its astronomy, and then of the more proactive atheism of Darwin, Marx, and Freud who each set about to remove any theological remnants from what they regarded as science. The ferocious, and often dogmatic, response to what its proponents call "intelligent design" is a contemporary case study in the curiously phobic response of secular science to any scent of theology. (5)

There was, it should be noted, a lag of several centuries between the developments of the scientific vision of knowledge, which took place within largely non-academic contexts, and their assimilation within the university. The more traditional, theological vision that had always guided the pursuit of knowledge in the university persisted even into the early decades of the twentieth century. (6) It had not been until the rise of the "research university" in Germany, notably the founding of the University of Berlin in 1809, that a new model of the university was first consolidated, in which modern science was not just included, but seen as exemplary. Scholarship was progressively displaced by "research," and the laboratory experiment came to be seen as the models of the search for knowledge. Soon the research model, with its valorization of the natural sciences, was to be the standard for German and then American universities, and, eventually, prevailed worldwide.

Unlike the first two moments that led to the founding of the university, there is in this phase no viable synthesis of sacred and secular orders, of transcendence and immanence. On the contrary, efforts directed at moving toward restoring such a synthesis increasingly came to be seen as threats not just to the university, but to modernity as such. (William Blake's brilliant and prophetic defense of the imagination against the scientific worldview of Bacon, Locke, and Newton comes to mind as a dramatic, but unsuccessful, counter-movement-nor did the related attempts to incorporate teleological and theological elements into science by figures such as Goethe and Schelling find much more success.) The traditional unity of the university that had been grounded in theology began to be progressively replaced by the dominance of a single school, a single faculty--that of modern natural science and its practical extensions: first of all in engineering, and then in other applied fields, especially business. Just as engineering applied the concepts of science, so eventually business programs studied ways to produce and deliver the resulting goods. Meanwhile, the university itself comes to be seen as one business among others, distributing for a price the "goods" of knowledge and information, and certifying the completed delivery with academic degrees. Accrediting agencies dutifully insist that quantifiable techniques for "outcome assessment" be developed to demonstrate efficiency in education, demanding a kind of "quality control" similar to what is employed in industrial processes.

Often this dominance of science and its auxiliaries has been subtle and covert, yet, today, within the university, science is indisputably the most powerful current. This new, one-dimensional unity based on science, however, subverts the polyphony that is essential to the university, leaving non-scientific fields to ineffectually re-invent themselves--most successfully in the technologies of social engineering that often prevail in the behavioral sciences, leaving the arts and humanities essentially marginalized. Indeed, with the rise of post-modern epistemologies in the humanities (which had originally, along with medicine and law, constituted the core faculties of the university), the ancient disciplines of the liberal arts (such as philosophy, literature, history, and theology) have largely yielded to the sciences any claims to be seeking truth, and have substituted instead the goal of societal change or "social justice" (with the question of how we might know what is socially "just" left unexamined, having already forfeited knowledge claims, and in light of readymade answers coming from fashionable political sensibilities). A parallel project of social and cultural protest reigns in the arts, at first individualistic in Dadaism and Surrealism, and more recently collectivist. Meanwhile, all scholarship is reduced to (and must justify itself as) "research," i.e. it must package itself as an inquiry that is essentially similar to the pursuit and accumulation of positive knowledge that is undertaken in the sciences. Thus, the arts and humanities, once contributing the unifying center of the university, now cling tenuously to a peripheral role in the modern university, rationalizing ex post facto the technological change that now drives them, while recasting and distorting their work into the scientific model of research. But this means that the university is now one-dimensional, ruled by one faculty, with the secular relations of power and efficiency dominant.

II. The Rise of the Secular University

Science and academia had [by the nineteenth century] lost their old ecclesiastical or theological foundations as part of this transformation. Religion should now concern an academic or scientist only in their private persona, thus not qua academic or scientist. An academic or scientist now embodied a disinterested professional persona. In this sense, academia first lost its theological, transcendental mission in the Enlightenment.

--William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University

Herbert Marcuse, in his One Dimensional Man, proceeds from the Hegelian notion of negation--seen as opening and maintaining a dimension of "otherness"--and works toward an important insight, common to the Frankfurt School of Neo-Marxism, regarding the tendency of science and technology toward hegemony: showing how one-dimensional society, based on one-dimensional culture, reduces any notion of an "outside" to a single viewpoint. (7) Such a purely internal, immanent principle of unity--as it plays out culturally and in the university--is antithetical to the transcendent unity that oriented antiquity and the Middle Ages, for which ultimately the power of negation was that of the via negativa, the epistemology of negative theology which understood that the highest unity is irreducible to discursive thought, yet whose very transcendence rendered all partial explanations intelligible. But is such a foundation still possible? Do there really remain apertures within the university through which glimmers of transcendence could even become visible?

If so, they would need to be exercised largely from within the "humanities," out of which all other academic disciplines were once born: from literature, history, and, above all, philosophy and theology. For both the natural and the behavioral sciences are committed by definition to a methodological naturalism that seems to invariably lead to a naturalistic metaphysic, studying human beings as no more than one component of the same natural universe that the sciences seek to comprehend. But, of course, like any mode of relativism, this premise runs aground as an epistemology, for science cannot tolerate seeing itself and its own pursuit of knowing nature as itself simply one more natural phenomenon, of no greater significance than the munching of pandas upon bamboo shoots. (8) Rather, scientific knowledge--in order to function--must be assumed to possess the kind of universality, premised upon the possibility of a human transcendence of its own natural determinations, that was once founded upon the likeness of human knowledge to divine knowledge. The part would have to somehow raise itself above the whole, while remaining nothing more than a part--an insoluble dilemma representing an inherent weakness within what Husserl called "the natural attitude."

The studia humanitatis of antiquity sought to hold open the dimensions of human transcendence through exploring, from within classical literature, the power with which human nature could exceed itself, finding within human existence an ultimately dazzling grandeur. For example, in the Iliad, the first of all "classics," the immortal gods themselves watch in wonder as the Achaeans and Trojans wager everything for the sake of very non-tangible values such as honor and nobility--mortals risking what the immortals could never put at risk, their very being itself. For Cicero, and later for Augustine whom he inspired, the challenge was to bring this sense of human transcendence drawn from philosophical and literary studies into the public sphere through rhetoric. In parallel ways, during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages--in Byzantium and Islam, as well as in the Latin West--this studia humanitatis was kept alive, although in a somewhat abbreviated form, as the "liberal arts" that formed the center of university studies. But, at the same time, what now served as a curriculum was being set more explicitly upon theistic foundations that made the link between human and divine transcendence always visible, while also allowing for a new stability and continuity that made the institution of the university possible. In the West, the Renaissance seized upon this studia humanitas to retrieve the broader range of humanistic studies, giving new prominence to studies such as literature and history, while, at the same time, moving toward a more secular mooring for learning. In the Enlightenment, this secularization becomes more pronounced, even as the realm of humanistic studies narrows, giving way to the nascent sciences.

Ironically, however, the scientific mindset that displaced the theological orientation was itself based upon deeply theological premises. Of the many historians of science who have seen the rise of modern natural science as based upon a Judeo-Christian worldview, perhaps the most eloquent is the Russian philosopher Pavel Florensky, not only an important historian and philosopher of science, but a noted scientist himself. Florensky argues that only with Christianity does nature have an inner reality of its own--have its own relationship to the God who has created it--and thus possess an ontological "weight" a reality proper to it, as distinct from being merely a mask for some shrouded deity--the prerequisite for both the love of nature, and, later, the science of nature. "This relation to nature," he maintains, "became conceivable only when people saw in creation not merely a demonic shell, not some emanation of Divinity, not some illusory appearance of God, like a rainbow in a spray of water, but an independent, autonomous, and responsible creation of God, beloved of God and capable of responding to His love." (9) Only thus does nature become fully real, and truly lovable, and ultimately intelligible. And only then does this intelligibility become notable, for when nature becomes seen as revelatory of an otherwise mysterious creator, its every detail assumes the greatest interest. This affinity for detail, upon which Nietzsche poured contempt in his indictment of the scientist as a near-sighted "nook dweller," becomes intelligible only within this theological orientation, which is still quite evident not only in figures such as Newton, but for those scientists today who have retained the ability to describe the most minute details of the cosmos with genuinely reverent, loving sentiment. So it is that modern natural science, even as it works to complete and perfect the theistic synthesis of secular and sacred, of God and world, dogmatically abandons its own presupposition.

But can we look to the humanities to restore the balance, to offer a renewed sense that the significance of being a scientific knower is itself something splendid and remarkable, yet inexplicable from within the sciences themselves? On the contrary, these very faculties of the university have often lost faith with the self-understanding that would see even their own theoretical activity as the pursuit of knowledge. As already noted, post-modern epistemologies, in their claim that knowledge-claims are essentially perspectival and ultimately derivative from political interests, have willingly deeded the knowledge franchise to the sciences. (10) Forfeiting knowledge-claims to the sciences, the humanities have now largely retreated into the skepticism of post-modern perspectivism, in which it is no longer truth but the promotion of tacitly political ends that legitimates their endeavors. That is, they have too often become exercises in ideology, if the latter term is taken in its narrower sense to mean a set of truth claims held not because of a belief in their truth-value, but because of beliefs about the political consequences of believing them. And, ironically, the humanities have become ideological in the broader sense as well, in which ideology would be understood as the attempt to make politics deliver what was once expected of religion: to elevate by its own means the human condition, and deliver both collective and individual salvation. Thus, in a covert but ineffectual manner, the university remains soteriologically true to its origins in theology.

Perhaps, then, it may only be a retrieval of the transcendent mystery of the sacred that would restore to the university its proper multi-dimensionality and universality, and therefore its ability to serve as a proper matrix for the cultivation of what is truly, and fully, human--i.e, to render a transcendent, sacred pole providing for a third dimension of depth, and mystery, as opposed to the laterally paired dimensions of "theory" and "application." Yet despite the embrace of "post-modernism" by many of its professors in many of its faculties, the university has remained stubbornly one-dimensional and modernist in a dogmatic insistence on secularity and its often strident aversion to taking seriously theological claims. The modern university, then, may itself be the worst enemy of the possibility of its own renewal.

III. The Current Problem of Justifying the University

Disentangling the visible from the invisible made it "inhuman" in our minds, by reducing it to mere matter.... wholly adapted to humans, malleable in every aspect and open to unlimited appropriation.

--Marcel Gauchet, The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion

What, we may ask, are the prospects for a renewal of the university that might once again root the mundane with the mysterious, the sacred with the secular? But before examining this question, a more fundamental one must be confronted: Does the university itself really deserve resuscitation? Does it deserve to survive at all? Addressing this second question first, it must be acknowledged that it is not immediately evident what social or cultural necessity would mandate the survival of the university as anything more than a loose complex of technical institutes transmitting practical knowledge. Much of the current research in science, government, medicine, technology, and business is already being conducted outside the university, in "think tanks" and privately funded research facilities. And schools of law and medicine now operate with nearly complete autonomy from their university hosts. Nor is it obvious that education in these fields is being "humanized" to any significant extent through their being pursued within a "liberal arts" milieu. The unifying function that science itself had assumed in the wake of theology's eclipse, once seen as bringing together the university faculties into a single universe of discourse--and which depended upon a postivist epistemology-is no longer evident even from within the strained attempts at interdisciplinarity that persist from time to time. The occasional creative power of discovery that still sometimes emerges from interdisciplinary collaboration is rooted far more in the creative energy that naturally emerges from individual interactions themselves than from any nurture of the university. On the contrary, when this does blossom, it is probably more often despite its being embedded within a university rather than as a result of it.

This would leave the justification of the university at the doorstep of the humanities faculties. Is the enormous and often unwieldy edifice of the modern university, then, vindicated by the existence and activity of the relatively small faculties of the humanities? One function of the humanities seems uncontroversial, and this is the preservation of the cultural tradition that has brought us to where we are. But does this need to be undertaken within the university context? Does the regime of research in the university aid or detract in this undertaking? And would this not surely be accomplished individually and privately, even if it were no longer sponsored publically? (11) During the "Dark Ages" of Western Europe, traditional learning was kept alive in certain small communities, where the Christian monasteries had escaped the barbarian invasions and upheavals, many of them in faraway Ireland. They preserved the manuscripts of ancient learning until they could be augmented from Byzantine and Islamic sources. The task of preservation is surely indispensable, but it is not clear why it must be yoked to an institutionalized university framework. And it is even less clear whether the humanities as they exist today--under the influence of a hermeneutic that is by turns ironic, post-modern, politicized, and deconstructive--are engaged in the transmission of texts or in their dismantling. Just as it is now thought that ancient Rome was wrecked and dismantled not primarily by barbarian invaders, but by its own residents who no longer saw a use for great structures, yet who needed building materials for their own private projects, so the masterpieces of the past are now being similarly recycled within the various humanities faculties.

But the university has long served as an important vehicle for acquiring new knowledge and uncovering new truths, not just preserving what was once acquired in the past. What of the constructive component of the humanities faculties, the "research" aspect that would seek new truth rather than just aiming to conserve the tradition? But the search for math is just what the humanities have largely ceded to the sciences. Thus, aside from the hermeneutic task of interpreting major texts for new generations--and increasingly, this legacy is itself often shredded and sifted in accord with academic fashions--much of the work done in the humanities must surely appear to an impartial observer as, at best, somewhat droll and decidedly esoteric, employing a technical and often bizarre lexicon capable of exercising no serious traction within the everyday language of human affairs; as often trivial, and sometimes preposterous in its conclusions, whether judged by the standards of tradition or against ordinary notions; and thus as more or less irrelevant to what any nonacademic person might conceivably care about, a fact which is commonly taken within the university to be an irrefutable indictment of the chronic philistinism (or "anti-intellectualism") of American society. (12)

This is, of course, an aggregate generalization, and by no means applies to all work in the humanities. But it is a waxing tendency that does not inspire hope. And its ascendency surely signifies that the concern with transcendence that has been central to the life of the university since its prehistory in the philosophical schools of late antiquity to its gradual eclipse in the deism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is not only marginal, but generally unwelcome in the contemporary university, inevitably viewed as an archaic remnant of an embarrassing past. Indeed, the word "truth" is just as unwelcome in most humanities faculties today as is the word "beauty" in most art faculties, a faux pas at best. Even the word "justice," for the time still viable and indeed compelling, has lost the cosmic and transcendent significance it held for Parmenides and Plato, let alone the numinous power it held for the early Greeks. (13) Nor is it grounded in the later natural law tradition. It occupies, rather, an essentially ad hoc and utilitarian niche, and is discernable through primarily sociological criteria of the sort assayed by opinion polls, yet another indication of the primacy of science.

A deeper and richer understanding of just how much has been lost, and perhaps also what might or might not be the possibility of its retrieval or re-invention, can be ascertained through reflecting upon two of the last great defenses of the university in the light of modern realities: those of John Henry Cardinal Newman and Alfred North Whitehead, both of them nineteenth-century graduates of, and professors at, the English-speaking world's two most ancient and venerable universities, respectively those of Oxford and Cambridge--the two complementary texts themselves perhaps facing in opposing directions, centrifugal and centripetal--yet sharing the same essential concerns. Both defenses of the university are eloquent and deserve to be heard in their own words.

IV. Cardinal Newman: University, Intellectual Coherence, and Transcendence

Our conception of higher education will of necessity be dominated by the fact that a synthesis of [what is] knowable is possible only with God.

--John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University

Newman's Idea of a University attempts to justify the implementation of a secular curriculum which still retains its roots in theology, whose presence he sees as essential to the life of the university--i.e, a curriculum that is similar to what then, in the mid-nineteenth century, still prevailed at his beloved Oxford--at the newly founded Catholic University of Ireland, to which he had been appointed as its first Rector. (14) Originally delivered as a series of lectures celebrating the University's inauguration, Newman extols the benefits of liberal education in the university to both the faculty and the students. To the faculty, it offers a place where independent scholars may seek together for the unity and coherence of all knowledge--a unity for which the mind inherently hungers--precisely because it is institutionally grounded in a transcendence that is itself the source of all truth. That is, even in the nineteenth century, Newman is able to plausibly reassert the historical premise of the university itself. But it is when he describes how this search for coherent truth is applied to the task of educating students that Newman's vision is most powerful:
   An assemblage of learned men, zealous for their own sciences,
   and rivals of each other, are brought by familiar intercourse and
   for the sake of intellectual peace, to adjust together the claims
   and relations of their respective subjects of investigation. They
   learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other. Thus is created a
   pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also
   breathes, though in his own case he only pursues a few sciences
   out of the multitude. He profits by an intellectual tradition,
   which is independent of particular teachers, which guides
   him in his choice of subjects, and duly interprets for him those
   which he chooses. He apprehends the great outlines of knowledge,
   the principles upon which it rests, the scale of its parts, its
   lights and its shades, its great points and its little, as he other
   wise cannot apprehend them. Hence it is that his education is
   called "liberal." A habit of mind is formed which lasts through
   life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness,
   calmness, moderation, and wisdom; or what in a former discourse I
   have ventured to call a philosophical habit. (15)

Even today, I think that few academics will be unable to find something stirring in this description, and also most likely something of what originally led them into the university, and which some small part of them likes to believe is still taking place. Yet, taken as a whole, this vision--as plausible in nineteenth-century Europe and America as it would have been in fifth-century Constantinople, ninth-century Baghdad, or fourteenth-century Paris--will at the same time seem not just idealized, but utterly fantastic as a picture of what actually takes place at the university of the early twenty-first century. Not that there is no element of this kind of reality to be found here and there, but it is just not the main event at all in the business of the university today.

How was this vision lost so quickly? Newman, even at the time, already saw the forces that would pull it apart. "Excellence must have a center," Newman wrote. (16) And if theology and philosophy with their inherent orientation toward the transcendent are not the center, then there will be many centers, with the pursuit of knowledge becoming everywhere eccentric:
   It seems, as I then observed, that the human mind is ever
   seeking to systematize its knowledge, to base it upon
   principle, and to find a science comprehensive of all sciences.
   And sooner than forgo the gratification of this moral
   appetency, it starts with whatever knowledge or science it hap
   pens to have, and makes that knowledge serve as a rule or
   measure of the universe, for want of a better, preferring
   the completeness and precision of bigotry to a fluctuating
   and homeless scepticism (italics added). (17)

The result of this tendency, of course, is precisely the intellectual smorgasbord that we find in the university today, and which in 1853 Newman envisioned brilliantly and prophetically as something then merely hypothetical, a curricular reductio ad absurdum that would not even "rise to the very idea of a university." Rather, such a de-centered university would be:
   a sort of bazaar, or pantechnicon, in which wares of all kinds
   are heaped together for sale in stalls independent of each
   other, and that, to save the purchasers the trouble of running
   about from shop to shop; or an hotel or lodging house, where
   all professions and classes are at liberty to congregate, varying,
   however, according to the season, each of them strange
   to each, and about its own work or pleasure. (18)

But surely there is little likelihood at present that a movement toward reimplementing the sort of traditional institution that Newman embraced could take place, apart from a particular university under the tutelage of some one religious body or other. And even then, critical problems of "accreditation" would surely arise if something like this were actually to be implemented. Nor is it likely that much attention would be paid to its activities by more conventional institutions. Far from its being considered the highest knowledge of what is highest, few even within theological circles see theology as a kind of knowledge at all, at least knowledge by contemporary criteria. Where theology is still taught outside of heavily denominational settings, it is generally offered in religious studies departments, which are professionally committed to bracketing the truth claims of religion in favor of an objective approach more closely resembling that of the anthropologist than the traditional theologian. Nor is philosophy in any condition to assume this role of mediating transcendence; rather, its main tendencies have long been in the opposite direction.

Moreover, such a movement would seem deeply retrograde, and perhaps would rightly be so accused, in light of Heidegger's powerful and widely influential critique of what he called "onto-theology"--i.e. the project, underlying much Western metaphysics and epistemology, to see the deity as the highest being, the knowledge of whom serves to ground all other knowledge. Such a metaphysics not only, as Nietzsche had charged, devalues the visible in favor of the invisible, but as Heidegger elaborates, onto-theology substitutes for a living god "the god of philosophy," a god to whom one "can neither fall on his knees in awe nor can he play music and dance before this god"--i.e, it subverts the very mystery and holiness that constitutes the divine element, delivering not a genuine deity but a causa sui, a self-caused cause, that serves merely as an explanatory principle. (19) Heidegger is probably somewhat anachronistic in tracing this "onto-theological constitution of metaphysics" all the way back to the Pre-Socratics, but certainly it is prevalent in the late scholasticism that served to crown the medieval Latin university and that prepared the epistemological foundations of modern naturalism--according to which what can be known is, or can be known by, the sciences. God henceforth becomes a provisional accomplice to modern science, as is the case with the deism of the Enlightenment, but ultimately a hypothesis, as Laplace explained to Napoleon, who is no longer required. (20)

Thus, the theological foundation of the university, as it is elaborated in the later scholasticism of the Latin West by figures such as John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, gives birth to the naturalistic worldview of the sciences that becomes the new basis for the unity of knowledge, thereby becoming the principle of its own obsolescence. (21) It is not surprising, then, that Newman's system of knowledge bears a striking resemblance to that of Descartes, with the exception that it is theology rather than philosophy that grounds the system, for both systems share a common ancestry. The conclusion thus seems unavoidable that whatever affection or nostalgia may still be evoked by Newman's vision of a unified system of knowledge with theology at the top, drawing together the faculties of the university into cohesion, its restoration is neither likely, nor viable, nor probably even desirable, a vision of the past more proper to a time when modernity was still young. If the sacred and secular are still to be drawn together within the university, their proximity to be celebrated and built upon, it will not be in this way. (22)

V. An Insight from Whitehead on Imagination and the University

A university is imaginative or it is nothing--at least nothing very useful.

--Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education

But a more modest, yet perhaps a more ultimately compelling, justification for the university can be found in Alfred North Whitehead's brief essay "Universities and their Function." Like the addresses forming the basis for Newman's Idea of a University, this too was written to commemorate a specific inauguration: not the founding of a new university, but at first glance implausibly, the institution of a College of Business at Harvard University, at which university Whitehead was then teaching, a context that in fact encouraged him to sharpen the relevance of his observations for a technological society. He begins by granting what is obvious, yet is only reluctantly acknowledged even today: that the two main tasks of the modern university, education and research, can both be performed just as effectively and "at a cheaper rate, apart from these expensive institutions." The justification for the university's existence, then, "is not to be discovered either in the mere knowledge conveyed to the students or in the mere opportunities for research afforded to the members of the faculty." (23) It is, rather, in the chemistry that takes place when these two functions are brought into immediate contact with one another that the magic of the university is to be found. Bringing together the experience and knowledge of those who know and the energy and imagination of those who want to learn results in a vitality that energizes not just faculty and students alike, but that silently radiates into a nation, a people, or a culture as a whole, inciting them to achievements that become the source of their very identities, for, as Whitehead notes "we love to be members of a society which can do [great] things." (24)
   The justification for a university is that it preserves the
   connection between knowledge and the zest for life, by uniting the
   young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning. The
   university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively....
   A fact is no longer a bare fact: it is invested with all its
   possibilities. It is no longer a burden on the memory: it is
   energizing as the poet of our dreams, and as the architect of our
   purposes ... The task of a university is to weld together
   imagination and experience (italics added). (25)

Brought continually into contact with new generations of students, perpetually energetic and imaginative and full of life, the researcher himself is reborn as a professor: his otherwise arid and abstract knowledge must itself be brought to life, as he is forced to translate the knowledge and experience that has become sedate and stale for him into a medium that will engage the imagination and youthful energies of his students: "The universities should be homes of adventure shared in common by young and old. For successful education there must always be a certain freshness in the knowledge dealt with.... Knowledge does not keep any better than fish," Whitehead argues, and even if the knowledge to be imparted is not itself new, "somehow or other it must come to the students, as it were, just drawn out of the sea and with the freshness of its immediate importance." (26) Even if it is purely scholarly knowledge that is being conveyed, "it is the function of the scholar to evoke into life wisdom and beauty which, apart from his magic, would remain lost in the past." (27)

And here it becomes clearer why the newly established College of Business presents an important case study for him. For it turns out that "applied" knowledge is nothing new to the university, and indeed the University of Salerno--by some accounts, the first university in Western Europe--was originally just a school of medicine. It is not, then, because it deals with applied knowledge that the business curriculum holds special significance here, but because it embodies most fully a feature that it shares with all other technically oriented fields of study today: "technical excellence can only be acquired by a training which is apt to damage those energies of mind which should direct the technical skill." Moreover, the early stages of virtually all professional careers, both technical and otherwise, initiate their newest members through assigning them at first to relatively routine tasks: "jobs which consist in carrying out fixed duties in obedience to orders." The danger, then, is increasingly that by the time the training and the apprenticeship is complete, "prolonged routine work dulls the imagination [and] qualities essential at a later stage of a career are apt to be stamped out in an earlier stage." Thus, it is the increasingly vital task of the university in a technological society to stimulate the imagination in such a way that routine will be filled with life and significance, carrying the career into its more mature stage, when demands upon the imagination will gradually replace routine. Whitehead asserts:
   The way in which a university should function in the preparation
   for an intellectual career, such as modern business or one of the
   older professions, is by promoting the imaginative consideration of
   the various general principles underlying that career. Its students
   thus pass into their period of technical apprenticeship with their
   imaginations already practiced in connecting details with general
   principles. The routine then receives its meaning, and also
   illuminates the principles which give it that meaning (italics
   added). (28)

"Thus the proper function of a university," Whitehead concludes, "is the imaginative acquisition of knowledge." (29)

It would be easy to take this as platitudinous, admonishing all diligent professors to season their lectures with lively anecdotes and amusing illustrations. But Whitehead is saying much more than this, with implications that are far-reaching. He is saying that the heart of the university is neither the faculty nor the students, neither scholarship and research nor education, but the imaginative energies--along with the intellectual excitement and zest for living that accompany them--that may arise when the two poles are bought into contact with each other. The imaginative element provoked, incited, elicited through this interaction brings to life something that is of the greatest importance for both student and professor--persisting with the former as the beating heart of a creative career, and enduring with the latter as the motive for the research and scholarship that will be imaginatively transmitted to yet another generation--as well as spilling over into society in ways that are important for the life of the community. (30)

Whitehead understands the imagination here in the traditional sense of Western philosophy to be what links the universal and the particular, "connecting details with general principles," investing mere "facts" with all their "possibilities." But this rooting of the particular in the universal, the factual in the possible, is not the same as the linking of an application to the theory that sustains it, for according to Whitehead, it is the theory itself that must be vitalized, invigorated, animated from being a mere abstraction--not in order for it to be applied, for this is presupposed in any successful theory, but in order for both theory and application to be meaningful, compelling, exciting.

For Kant, imagination was the synthetic power that could bring together the universal with the particular, the possible with the actual, and thus it made possible a faculty that he called "transcendental imagination": the synthetic ability par excellence that could bring together within experience all the elements of knowledge into a single, unified whole. For Plato, in the Republic and its image of the divided line, imagination or eikasia--as distinct from phantasia or "fantasy"--was also a unifier, drawing together the many images toward the one original to which they point and signify--at first from the visible image to the visible original, but later from the visible image to the invisible original to which the visible community is nevertheless beholden. Yet this is itself a striking example of what was described in Part I of this essay as the secular redaction of an ultimately religious theme in Plato and other representatives of the Greek secular renaissance: of the descent of the god, of the epiphany of Wanscendence within immanence, of the methexis or participation of the visible with the invisible itself becoming visible. That is, the modern concept of imagination, philosophically forged by Kant and the German Idealists, even as it was creatively extrapolated by Blake and his successors, is largely a modern revival of the ancient Greek theoria or illumination, ancestor to the medieval Latin contemplatio or contemplation: the seeing of the invisible within the visible that constitutes the source and essence of all living religion, and because the latter is its source, the ultimate legitimation of all mystical experience.

Referring this to Whitehead's example, the sources to which the imagination connects would be more than just formal properties, but what he calls "the higher categories of eternal objects" that themselves found the abstractions. (31) And indeed Whitehead's epistemology assigns just such a connecting role between the eternal and the temporal to the imagination. But where is the deity in this? God is "the ground of all order and originality," (32) luring and enticing free creativity in the direction of the divine goodness--"the antecedent ground conditioning every creative act ... the mirror which discloses to every creature its own greatness." (33) Thus, if we were to conclude with Whitehead that imagination is not just a necessary component of the university, but its very heart, then the infusion of the invisible into the visible, of the possible into the actual, of the eternal into the temporal--and we may also say, in at least a limited sense, of the sacred into the secular--would remain enduringly present, even if in a subtle and perhaps covert manner.

VI. Apertures of Transcendence within the University

The Eternal Body of Man is The Imagination, that is, God himself, The Divine Body.

--William Blake, "Laocoon"

Few philosophers have been able to render the religious and spiritual traditions of the past more palatable to modern sensibilities than has Whitehead, and this is no small accomplishment. But is his ultimately secularized, and somewhat intellectualized, notion of the sacred sufficient to constitute a fourth historical moment in the dialectic of the university, one in which the secular militancy of the Enlightenment would be counter-balanced by its complementary sacred or numinous principle? Or more modestly, does this understanding of imagination and its metaphysical ground adequately hold open the dimension of radical alterity or otherness that has made possible the achievements and excellence of the university? Is there a compelling element of mystery here, a "thick" narrative of transcendence at work, or rather just a "thin" and comfortable celebration of realities that no one would care to contest, but which in fact would challenge little, leaving intact the hegemony of the science faculties and their reigning naturalistic epistemology? For who cannot claim some element of creativity in their work, and hence--by this standard--the putative agency of the Holy Spirit, properly so re-interpreted?

Of those who sense that there is a cause for concern regarding the increasing resistance to transcendence shown by both the university faculties and the intellectual community as a whole, many will doubtless be reassured by Whitehead's reflections. His thinking here discerns a spark of transcendence at play within every occasion where the university is functioning at its best. Nevertheless, Whitehead's insights are intellectual successors to a distinguished lineage of major, albeit reductionistic philosophers who each attempt to translate spiritual truth into a mundane idiom--a tradition represented by figures such as Kant (who tried to show that the truth of religion was really ethical), Hegel (who purported to demonstrate that the truth of religion was historical and cultural), Feuerbach (who worked to demonstrate that the truth of religion was social and communal), and Marx (who argued that it was political and economic)--for within the modernist regime, religion must always be other than it seems. But there will be additionally, and perhaps significantly, some smaller number of the unconvinced, who read Heidegger's gloss upon Holderlin's lament over the "flight of the gods" with troubled apprehension and the fear that something essential is in danger of being lost. These putatively retrograde individuals, each out of step with both modernity and its post-modern enablers, will doubtless feel that the eclipse of the holy within our shared experience of the world is a loss of something pivotal and essential.

Beyond this point, however, I fear we are at a loss to predict the future. For who, in the third century, could have anticipated the triumph of the seemingly coarse and rustic teachings of Judeo-Christian theism within the sophisticated institutions of late antiquity, even given the fact that pagan philosophy and religious speculation had themselves independently arrived at many of the same conclusions? How does the light of transcendence get generated in a way that is powerful enough to elevate and transfigure mundane, secular knowledge? Perhaps it is mistaken to simply look toward the university as the proper place for this flame to be re-ignited, rather than as the place where it is to be subsequently, gradually, tested and debated and its viability demonstrated.

Plato's Academy--established on the site of sacred olive groves dedicated to Athena, a place where various religious rituals had long been performed--is in an important sense the true prototype of the university. Although originally more a milieu of philosophers than a structured institution with designated teachers and students, it nevertheless brought together different kinds of learning into a unified project of inquiry. It is not clear what subjects were studied, apart from dialectics, mathematics, and astronomy, but Plato's "greatest study" of metaphysical transcendence--variously named in the dialogues as the Good, the One, and the Same, and itself most likely rooted in the mystery religions of the time--cannot have been prominent enough to prevent the Academy from embracing, within a generation, a radical mode of closure to the metaphysical as such, by means of the skepticism that prevailed there for centuries, and that may be interestingly compared to the postmodern skepticism of today. Nor is this surprising, given the protective esotericism concerning the highest truths that Plato espouses--directly in his letters, and indirectly in the dialogues themselves. Yet, gradually, through an unknown history, this transcendence does somehow percolate into the Academy, with avowedly Christian teachers represented at least by the fourth century, and the heavily theocentric concerns of Middle Platonism in the fifth. We can assume a similar gradualism in the School of Alexandria as well, leading to the fourth century when Christian and pagan Neoplatonists debated theological concepts between themselves.

"How does the deity enter into philosophy?," asks Martin Heidegger in his influential essay, "The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics." (34) Parallel to this, we may ask how it is that the deity, and the dimension of transcendence in general, enters into the university? It is actually somewhat rate historically to find flesh infusions of alterity, or transcendence, entering into the university primarily from within. At best, we find figures such as Meister Eckhart--himself familiar with the university, but hardly at home there--who challenge the constructions and abstractions of scholastic theology with a dimension of transcendence more radical, and more threatening, as his stormy reception indicates. As suggested already, an example that casts even more doubt on the permeability of modernity to transcendence can be found in the case of William Blake, with whom it is instructive to compare perhaps the most influential of modern philosophers, G. W. F. Hegel. Blake emerges as the consummate outsider, neither trained within the university, nor benefiting from its labors. So thoroughly had the British university failed to preserve the ancient theological tradition--distortingly casting it either as Enlightenment Deism or Protestant Moralism--that Blake was forced to forge an impressive new lexicon of his own, to freshly and comprehensively articulate realities that had, largely unknown to him, long ago been discovered and named. (35) Not surprisingly, the response from the university was to largely ignore him for two hundred years. In contrast, Hegel assimilated transcendence into the conventional currency of his day, thereby spawning a cottage industry devoted to secularizing sacred truth into an idiom that can be easily and comfortably assimilated into the commonplace discussions prevailing in society. As Kierkegaard seems to anticipate, Hegel's reward for his acquiescence to the conventions of his academic colleagues would be his enthronement as a monument of Western thought. On the other hand, Blake (and indeed, for the most part, Kierkegaard himself) remains within the academy largely obscure and marginal.

Increasingly, the spheres of sacred and secular are becoming assimilated into those of private and public. At the same time, as Hannah Arendt writes, the decline of the public realm as a "sphere of appearance" casting light upon human affairs, leaves us in what she calls "dark times" that powerfully inhibit the public manifestation of what is highest and best. (36) Given a derelict culture, and the distortions that it necessarily entails, the re-incorporation of the transcendent into the immanent must be a movement in which the sacred element (largely privatized) somehow--against the current of what seems evident--re-emerges within the secular and public, while nevertheless retaining its integrity. And the template for this movement is uncertain and irregular, for it is without recent precedent, and perhaps without any antecedent at all.

Some have proposed what may be called, after MacIntyre, a "Benedictine" solution: "the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us." (37) MacIntyre refers, of course, to the rise of monasticism in the Latin West, a movement that preserved not just the light of transcendence but civilization itself during the Dark Ages of Western Europe. It is certainly of interest that some forms of monasticism have been rather energetically revived, and even initiated, in certain regions during recent decades. (38) A similar strategy of withdrawal is noted by Arendt, citing Heidegger: "There is no escape, according to Heidegger, from the 'incomprehensible triviality' of this common everyday world except by withdrawal from it into that solitude which philosophers since Parmenides and Plato have opposed to the political realm." (39) Yet even within the darkness, the lives of certain figures can serve as beacons: "Even in the darkest of times we have the fight to expect some illumination, and ... such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light [kindled by] some men and women, in their lives and in their works." (40) Arendt's insight here suggests a different understanding of the role of charisma in the university, a central topic of William Clark's notable work on the rise of the research university. (41) Rather than seeing it as the authoritarian remnant of an earlier order, we can understand the characteristic charisma of the professor by means of Whitehead's analysis, as deriving from the transcendent horizon that the imaginative element of the university necessarily entails, and the glimmer of light and hope that it casts. But beyond the person of the professor, are there apertures for transcendence within the "theories and concepts" of the university today?

There are alternatives to the dilemma posed between Hegel's reductionistic account of transcendence and the account of Blake, which awaited the twentieth century to even begin to he assimilated into the discourse of the university. Whitehead's own work, despite its pronounced emphasis on immanence, is one example, while Heidegger's writings on a letzte Gott, and upon die Gottlichen as a dimension of the fourfold, have been widely influential, despite their being hardly less esoteric (and idiosyncratic) than the texts of Blake. In France, Levinas has recruited a phenomenological medium to discuss radical transcendence, while Marion has employed both phenomenological and post-modern considerations to explore what he calls the "saturated phenomenon" as a medium of transcendence. Nor are these inquiries confined to philosophy. In sociology, Peter Berger has found within the sociology of everyday life what he calls multiple, subtle "signals of transcendence." Wendell Berry has drawn from the agrarian spirituality of rural America to retrieve a traditional and unassuming sense of the holy. Rene Girard and Jacques Ellul have approached the socio-cultural structures of violence and modern technology with theological sensibilities. In fiction, Walker Percy, Flannery O'Conner, and, above all, Fyodor Dostoevsky have woven the experience of transcendence, and its absence, into their narratives, although the conceptual rigidity of the university is indicated in the case of Dostoevsky by the regularity with which spirituality in his novels is rendered into the purely immanent lexicon of psychology in the critical literature. In poetry, Eliot and Rilke struggled to give voice to the trace of the sacred, as well as its withdrawal, within the saeculorum. In the sciences themselves, scientist-theologians such as Polkinghome and Jaki, as well as historians of science such as S. H. Nasr, have written extensively to demonstrate the viability of transcendence within scientific discourse, and even such towering individuals as Einstein and Heisenberg have given generous hints of this possibility. Finally, in theology proper, thinkers such as Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Pavel Florensky have developed powerful versions of a non-reductive theology of divine transcendence within respective Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox idioms, although it is not clear who, if anyone, will succeed them.

Nor are these apertures to be found only in the writings of specific individuals, or even within the anticipated "Benedictine" communities. Clark, among others, has shown that it was within the much smaller "colleges" of the medieval university that the monastic vita contemplativa that had given birth to the Western university was still preserved. (42) Nor is this collegial tradition obsolete. For example, currently in the United States, what are here called "liberal arts colleges" not infrequently keep alive a collegiality and sense of community that can be conducive to the immediacy and openness that would allow a re-entry of transcendence into academic reality, nor is it accidental that many of them preserve at least informal links to their original, denominational sponsors. It is not possible to anticipate what additional form these smaller, more immediately interactive, communities might take. Already the recent technologies of internet, email, and fax--along with the technological ease of travel--have provided both those who are professionally ensconced within the university and those who are formally outsiders, a similar possibility of belonging to non-local collegia, composed of colleagues from around the world. And new assemblages within what is called the "blogosphere"--a discursive universe of "web-logs" or "blogs" that link to each other, and form communities of intensively active dialogue--show that them ale likely to develop forms of community (and models of universality) that we cannot now envisage, if the dangers of a new (and this time, elective) tribalism emerging from such immediacy of communication can be averted.

The call to the university heard both from outstanding individuals (professors "imaginative" and "charismatic") and from less conspicuous, and perhaps less definable, communities of learning and discourse--the annunciation to a renewed calling--will initially be discernable as a still small voice from far away, a gentle resonance that may at first perhaps be heard uneasily by the university's administration and faculty senate, not so much as the compelling lure of a Kantian "regulative ideal," but rather as the beautiful siren-song against which precautionary ramparts must be erected. It is to be hoped that as that time arrives, Plato's disconcerting insight that the most important knowledge ultimately has its foundation in eros will quietly prevail against perceived utility and unexamined common sense, allowing a renewed vision of the university to enchant and animate and invigorate learning anew for yet another millennium.

If the university's cross-millennial concern with transcendence is based primarily upon class interest, or ressentiment, or wish-fulfillment-as its most influential critics have maintained--then its eclipse will ultimately be of little consequence, or perhaps more likely, be all for the better. But if this engagement is more deeply founded upon the quiet, yet irreducible, and perhaps irrepressible, intuition--arguably patent to all humanity--of a dimension that is itself not just transcendent, but for this very reason critically and ontologically supportive of both human transcendence and of immanence per se, then there need be no worry of its suppression being more than temporary and transitional and ultimately ephemeral. The university would therefore, in this case, possess an indefinitely enduring future.


(1) The University of Constantinople was founded by the Emperor Theodosius II in 425 "with 31 chairs for law, philosophy, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music, rhetoric and other subjects. 15 chairs were assigned to Latin and 16 to Greek. The university was reorganized by Michael III (842-867) and flourished down to the fourteenth century." Demetrios Constantelos, Christian Hellenism: Essays and Studies in Continuity and Change (New Rochelle, NY & Athens, Greece: Aristide D. Caratzas Publ., 1999), 19.

(2) Indeed, Haskins notes that the stimulus for the rise of the Latin universities came largely from exchanges with the Islamic scholars of Spain and the Byzantine scholars of Greece, with whom Sicilian centers of learning such as Salerno had remained in contact. Charles Homer Haskins, The Rise of the Universities (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1957), 4-6.

(3) Although it remained a decidedly minority culture, Judaism, together with Christianity and Islam, contributed importantly to this second moment, and Jewish scholars played prominent roles in all three dominant cultures: Byzantine, Islamic, and Latin.

(4) Robert A. Nisbet, The Degradation of the Academic Dogma: The University in America (NY: Basic Books, 1971). The notion that the university must pursue knowledge for its own sake had been emphasized earlier in Newman's Idea of a University.

(5) As will be clear from what follows, the proponents of intelligent design are to be faulted not primarily for the lack of sound argumentation that their opponents allege, often without troubling to read their books, but rather for ingenuously overlooking the methodological atheism upon which not just modern natural science, but the contemporary university itself, are both founded.

(6) Wilshire, problematizing the "secularization"--and consequent "professionalization"--of the university, notes that "the origins and early growth of higher learning in the United States are a part and parcel of its religious life. The learned class was composed almost entirely of theologians." Bruce Wilshire, The Moral Collapse of the University: Professionalism, Purity, and Alienation (Albany: SUNY P, 1990), 60. This theological influence was, in the United States, by no means confined to those universities with a "denominational" background or affiliation. Longfield has shown that not until the first years of the twentieth century did such features as "required courses in Natural Theology and Evidences of Christianity, required chapel, and prayer before class" finally begin to be phased out in major public institutions such as the Universities of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Bradley J. Longfield, "From Evangelicalism to Liberalism: Public Midwestern Universities in Nineteenth-Century America," eds. George M. Marsden and Bradley J. Longfield, The Secularization of the Academy (NY and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992), 65.

(7) Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (London: Routledge, 2006). Marcuse's Frankfurt School colleague, Max Horkheimer, casts the problem as one of sustaining the "dialectical relation of nature and spirit" by avoiding a reductionism on the side of either term of the dialectic. Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (NY: Seabury P, 1974), 169ff.

(8) John Sommerville, in a recent study of the secularization of the university, notes this contradiction in Stephen Jay Gould's book, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (NY: Ballantine Books, 1999). While Gould notes that humans are purely and simply part of a nature that is "sublimely indifferent" toward us--of no more significance within the natural order than a snail--at the same time he contrasts human moral duties with nature, which is "amoral." How, Sommerville asks, if humans are merely part of an amoral order that is indifferent to human concerns, can we account for the demands of morality and the fact that we are not at all, in fact, indifferent to one another? John Sommerville, The Decline of the Secular University (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006), 25. On the political implications of a purely naturalistic viewpoint, Horkheimer observes: "When man is assured that he is nature and nothing but nature, he is at best pitied. Passive, like everything that is only nature, he is supposed to be an object of 'treatment,' finally a being dependent on more or less benevolent leadership." Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason, 170.

(9) Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of Truth, trans. Boris Jakim (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1997), 210.

(10) Reviewing the controversy over the curricular canon in the American university during the late eighties, John Searle took note of this tendency almost twenty years ago, but at the time he attributed it to only one faction of the humanities faculties, whereas today it is probably to some degree or other the predominant view: "Many members of the cultural left think that the primary function of teaching the humanities is political; they do not really believe that the humanities are valuable in their own right except as means of achieving 'social transformation.' They (apparently) accept that in subjects like physics and mathematics there may be objective and socially independent criteria of excellence ... but where the humanities are concerned they think that the criteria that matter are essentially political." John R. Searle, "The Storm over the University," The New York Review of Books 37.19 (December 6, 1990): 36.

(11) The example of William Blake is instructive here. At the very height of Enlightenment rationalism, operating entirely outside the university system of which he had never been a part, and almost completely unacknowledged, Blake independently--and often drawing solely upon his own experience-rediscovered important elements of the mystical, theological, and poetic traditions that had tacitly sustained Western culture for two thousand years, and which now lay forgotten beneath layers of misunderstanding and distortion. Blake, more powerfully than perhaps anyone else, re-discovered transcendence within the heart of a seemingly irresistible juggernaut of rationalism and immanence. As Kathleen Raine writes, "Blake called the scientific philosophy idolatry, for what is it but the worship of sticks and stones? Those who believe that matter is an agent whose activities direct the world are the only heathen who have ever been so blind as to 'bow down to wood and stone.'" Kathleen Raine, Blake and Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977), 100.

(12) Sommerville observes that "the liberal arts themselves have changed. They've turned into technical specialties. They're often addressing questions no one is asking, and giving answers no one can understand." Sommerville, Decline, 8.

(13) Marcel Detienne, The Masters of Truth in Ancient Greece, trans. Janet Lloyd (NY: Zone Books, 1996), 53-67.

(14) What Newman sees as indispensable to any university is not "revealed" but "natural" theology: "In a word, religious truth is not only a portion but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short, if I may so speak, of unraveling the web of university teaching. It is, according to the Greek proverb, to take the spring from out of the year." John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University (NY: Doubleday, 1959), 103.

(15) John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University, 128f.

(16) Qtd. in John Coulson, "Newman's Idea of an Educated Laity--the Two Versions," ed. John Coulson, Theology and the University: An Ecumenical Investigation (Baltimore: Helicon P, 1964), 51.

(17) John Henry Cardinal Newman, "General Knowledge Viewed as One Philosophy," Discourses on the Scope and Nature of University Education (Dublin: James Duffy, 1852), 140. This is the important Part Five of the original lectures that was not included in the later Idea of a University.

(18) John Henry Cardinal Newman, "General Knowledge," 139f.

(19) Martin Heidegger, "The Onto-Theo-Logical Constitution of Metaphysics," Identity and Difference, trans. Joan Stambaugh (NY: Harper and Row, 1969), 72. The religious critique of onto-theology as a kind of "idolatry" is richly developed in the work of Jean-Luc Marion. See his God without Being (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991).

(20) Unlike the system of Laplace, Newtonian astronomy had required the hypothesis of divine intervention to explain the ongoing stability of the solar system. When Laplace presented his five-volume Celestial Mechanics to Napoleon, the latter noted that he had heard that in this large book about the universe, there was no mention of its Creator. Laplace responded to him curtly that he had no need for that particular hypothesis.

(21) With Scotus's principle of the univocity of being, God is no longer seen as possessing the non-particular being that could run through all things, but rather the same kind of individual being of "sticks and stones." With Ockham's nominalism, "transcendentals" such as beauty and goodness that had always been seen as offering glimpses of transcendence within the visible begin to be seen as abstractions, rather than as realities.

(22) Perhaps the only approximations in real history to Newman's "idea" have been the monstrous examples of fascist and communist governments subordinating the university to "higher" and pseudo-transcendent principles. Clearly, this had little to do with what Newman intended, nor did he in any way influence these developments. Nevertheless, ideas have consequences that are often unintended, and these frightening implementations should give us pause at how such an idea of the university might actually get implemented. Sadly, it was Martin Heidegger, the first to explicitly articulate the critique of onto-theology, who eloquently advocated the politicization of the German university during the nineteen thirties. See his "Self-Assertion of the German University," Martin Heidegger and National Socialism, eds. Gunther Neske and Emil Kattering (NY: Paragon House, 1990), 5-13.

(23) Alfred North Whitehead, "Universities and their Function," The Aims of Education (NY: The Free P, 1967), 92.

(24) Alfred North Whitehead, "Universities," 95.

(25) Alfred North Whitehead, "Universities," 93.

(26) Alfred North Whitehead, "Universities," 98.

(27) Alfred North Whitehead, "Universities," 98.

(28) Alfred North Whitehead, "Universities," 96.

(29) Alfred North Whitehead, "Universities," 96.

(30) Significantly, Whitehead in certain ways anticipates the conclusions of Edmund Husserl, his younger colleague in Germany, and himself a mathematician like Whitehead. In his Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, trans. David Cart (Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1970), written eight years after Whitehead's reflections on the university, Husserl complained that the "sciences" or Wissenschaften--the bodies of knowledge, both scientific and humanistic, that the universities strive to preserve, advance, and transmit--were becoming abstract and removed from their living sources in the Lebenswelt, the world of experience to which all concepts must ultimately refer. Like Whitehead, Husserl saw an increasing challenge to link knowledge with its vital origins. For Husserl, this is a task for what he calls "transcendental phenomenology" and which bears a striking resemblance to what Whitehead calls here "imagination," if in no other way than in tracing the abstractions of knowledge back to their original roots in lived experience that gave them birth and that continue to render to them whatever ongoing meaning they will possess.

(31) Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: Corrected Edition, eds. David Ray Griffen and Donald W. Sherburne (NY: The Free P, 1978) 115.

(32) Alfred North Whitehead, Process, 108.

(33) Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (Cleveland, The World Publishing Company, 1967), 148.

(34) Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference, 55.

(35) Cf. Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (Boston: Beacon P, 1965), especially "The Case Against Locke," 3-29. Blake was certainly aware of the Platonist tradition in its pagan elaboration, but seems to have had little acquaintance with the texts of early Christian mysticism that would have been most compatible with his own visionary explorations.

(36) "The public realm has lost the power of illumination which was originally part of its very nature." Hannah Arendt, Men in Dark Times (NY: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1968), 4.

(37) Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame UP, 1984), 263.

(38) It is widely known that a number of Buddhist monasteries were founded in certain Western nations during the sixties, many of which flourish today. Less publicized has been the re-invigoration of monasticism in the Orthodox East (in countries such as Greece, Russia, Romania, and Egypt) as well as the establishment of more than thirty Orthodox monasteries in England, France, and, especially, North America during the past three decades, most of which are populated by young men and women, many of whom are highly educated and quite at home with the discourse of the university. See Scott Cairns, Young Monks (forthcoming).

(39) Hannah Arendt, ix.

(40) Hannah Arendt, ix.

(41) William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006).

(42) William Clark, Academic Charisma, 75, 146, and 149.
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Author:Foltz, Bruce
Publication:Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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