Scholars from a dozen Jesuit colleges and universities converged on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus on June 16 for “Faith and Reason: A Dialogue at the Heart of Jesuit Education,” a three-day conference organized by Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture.
The conference, a series of four keynote addresses, panels and breakout sessions, was attended by representatives from Jesuit colleges and universities in the Baltimore, New England and New York provinces. It opened with “Reason and its Adventures Since the Enlightenment,” by Charles Taylor, D.Phil, philosophy professor emeritus at McGill University.
Taylor offered a critique of the concept of “reason alone,” as described in Emanuel Kant’s Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, while at the same time trying to explain its strength and its convincing power.
“The notion is that we can establish the ethics and political theory we need to have a fair and equal society by reason alone,” he said, “and that reason alone can give you the shape of what fairness and justice require.”
Taylor then introduced the concept that reason alone is insufficient to create a just world, and that faith is necessary to give direction to reason.
In his opening remarks, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, noted that June 16 is not only Bloomsday, the day commemorating the life of James Joyce and his novel Ulysses, but also the anniversary of the second break-in at the Watergate Hotel and the Feast of Saint John Francis Regis.
“In a very real sense, we are members of the same family that gave the world James Joyce, an alumnus of Clongowes Wood in Wicklow and Belvedere in Dublin; G. Gordon Liddy, a graduate of Fordham; and John Francis Regis, a graduate of the Jesuit College in Beziers,” Father McShane said.
“Therefore, we are all of us heirs to same Ignatian desire to engage the world, as were Joyce, who engaged the world with imagination; Liddy, who engaged the world of politics with more passion than reason; and Regis, who engaged the world and embraced the poor with pastoral zeal.”
The conference, he said, would be a time for building bridges between faith and reason, between religion and culture and between the heart and religion.
Peter Steinfels, co-director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture, pointed out in his introduction that although the words “faith and reason” sound as if they go together like “bread and butter” and “love and marriage,” there is serious disagreement in the academic world. He pointed out that a proposal at Harvard three years ago to make mandatory a course called “Faith and Reason,” was watered down to “Culture and Belief.”
“It is not too much to say that the pairing of faith and reason, whether in tandem or in opposition, has become a shorthand or code signaling all kinds of intellectual and political fault lines,” Steinfels said. “No doubt this is partly a reflection of our stubbornly binary way of conceptualizing all sorts of matters, as in male and female, conservative and liberal, or PC and Mac.”
Questions about faith and reason take on special coloration and significance for Jesuit schools when it comes to curriculum, scholarly interests and aptitude, interdisciplinary research and discussion, campus community, social critique and civic engagement, as well as students’ personal and professional formation.
“It is impossible to deny that questions of faith and reason are central to the very raison d’etre of Catholic higher education, and that among the many traditions that are found within the Catholic tradition, the Jesuits created one of unusual—their critics might say, undue—confidence that faith and reason are allies rather than enemies,” he said.
“In some ways, working within a tradition that takes the relationship between faith and reason not only seriously but positively poses challenges absent in environments that are hostile to either faith or reason or just indifferent to their relationship.”