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The Idea of a Catholic University
by George Dennis O'Brien
University of Chicago Press, 2002
Cloth: 978-0-226-61661-2
Library of Congress Classification LC487.O23 2002
Dewey Decimal Classification 378.071273

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY | TOC
ABOUT THIS BOOK
George Bernard Shaw thought that a Catholic university was a contradiction in terms—"university" represents intellectual freedom and "Catholic" represents dogmatic belief. Scholars, university administrators, and even the Vatican have staked out positions debating Shaw's observation. In this refreshing book, George Dennis O'Brien argues that contradiction arises both from the secular university's limited concept of academic freedom and the church's defective notion of dogma.
Truth is a central concept for both university and church, and O'Brien's book is built on the idea that there are different areas of truth—scientific, artistic, and religious—each with its own proper warrant and "method." In this light, he argues that one can reverse Shaw's comparison and uncover academic dogma and Christian freedom, university "infallibility" and dogmatic "fallibility."

Drawing on theology and the history of philosophy, O'Brien shows how religious truth relates to the work of a Catholic university. He then turns to the current controversies over Pope John Paul II's recent statement, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which seeks to make Catholic universities conform to the church's official teaching office. O'Brien rejects the conventional "institutional-juridical" model used by the Vatican as improper both to faith and academic freedom. He argues for a "sacramental" model, one that respects the different kinds of "truth"—thus preserving the integrity of both church and university while making their combination in a Catholic university not only possible but desirable. O'Brien concludes with a practical consideration of how the ideal Catholic university might be expressed in the actual life of the contemporary curriculum and extracurriculum.

For anyone concerned about the place of religion in higher education, The Idea of a Catholic University will be essential reading.

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