Thursday, February 18, 2010

Conversant with the Catholic Intellectual Tradition

So it seems like (as usual) a fair number of the 1 years cropping up are at Catholic schools. First of all, great. Thank goodness for an intellectually rigorous religion that wants to create institutions to hire academics. Here's the rub. I need a job, and I'm a good teacher. I'm not religious. I didn't go to Catholic school. I don't do Aquinas or the like.

Should I just give up on these jobs? I can teach the philosophy and respect the religion.

-- Second Suitor

p.s. Pascal move aside, I got a pretty good economic argument for converting..

40 comments:

FemPhil said...

I think it depends on what you mean by "teach the philosophy." My experience interviewing with schools like this is that "conversant with the Catholic intellectual tradition" means "can teach [and have specific ideas about teaching] Aquinas, Augustine, Descartes, and maybe also Pascal." So leading with "I don't do Aquinas"--even if you were actually Catholic--would likely be enough to get you disqualified.

Anonymous said...

Catholic schools are a diverse lot. I went to a Jesuit school fo undergrad, and there was little Aquinas and Augustine, and a lot of Nietzsche and Heidegger. The "Catholic Intellectual Tradition" at many places could just be shorthand for History of Philosophy--Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, etc. So as always, check the website for the course offerings to give you a better idea. Maybe others can give you a better idea about Franciscans, Dominicans, Vincentians, etc.

Anonymous said...

I am at a jesuit university on the west coast -- i believe one of those in question -- and as anon 5:40 stated there is a little Aquinas / Augustine going on, but it is mostly "history of philosophy" oriented; there are the Ancients and then plenty of Heidegger, Hegel, and other prominent figures commonly aligned with the continental tradition, heavy on the metaphysics.

For the record, while not all of the faculty are catholic, a good number are not, I believe all of the faculty are christians/theists... or at least there are no "out" agnostics/atheists in the department to my knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I like the ad for University of St. Thomas: "AOS: Open..." (and so you think you can apply. But then you read:) "...but facility with the Latin texts of Thomas Aquinas essential." Doh, so close, and yet so far!!

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with Anon. 5:40 in saying that they are a relatively diverse lot. So you probably want to decide on a case by case basis.

If you look at the current job openings, e.g., from what you mention about your own background, you would have as good a chance as anyone at Santa Clara from what I can tell; but at St. Thomas in Houston, not so much.

Besides the philosophical dimension there's also the political one - if this is an issue for you. E.g., St. Thomas up in St. Paul, MN is a fairly liberal place whereas Ave Maria, by contrast, is extremely conservative. I don't know about you, but for me that makes a difference. I think I would take a year in a cubicle over a year at Ave Maria. But that's me.

So, yes, look at course offerings and, if you have time, see what kind of research the faculty are doing, what they are publishing; that will tell you a lot about what kind of environment they live in and how they might see someone like you.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

I've taught at a couple of Catholic schools -- one Jesuit, one just plain Catholic. The general expectation is that you can do a minimally decent job with Aquinas and the like -- and be respectful of Catholicism.

Filosofer said...

I'm a non-Catholic who has taught (as an adjunct and as a VAP) at two small Catholic schools. I don't know how representative they are of Catholic institutions as a class, but my experience suggests that anyone who can answer "yes" to the following questions might as well apply:

1. Are you willing to learn enough Aquinas (and maybe a handful of other medieval thinkers) to be able to teach his (their) thought as part of an historical survey course?

2. Are you willing to respect the Catholic philosophical tradition (e.g., natural law in ethics, Aristotelian/Thomistic essentialism in metaphysics) as an intellectually serious and coherent worldview? That is, can you honestly say that you will (A) present these views in your classes and (B) do so as objectively as you can? (I've never met a Catholic philosopher or theologian who objects to fair and tough-minded criticism, so it's not as though you'd have to present these views as your own. But I have met at least a handful of professional philosophers who seem constitutionally incapable of taking these ideas seriously; if you're of their ilk, don't bother applying. You'd hate it there anyway.)

3. Do you have good answers to questions like "How do you view the relationship between faith and reason?" and "How would our identity as a Catholic school affect the way you teach the history of philosophy?"

Also, following up on Anon 5:40's suggestion that different religious orders might have different approaches, it's worth noting that differences are more likely to appear at an institutional or regional level. For example, the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio would be a miserable place, I think, for a non-Catholic (or at least non-Christian) philosopher to teach, and I can't imagine that such a person would make it to the interview stage. But there are other Franciscan schools out there, and some of those have a very different orientation. For example, those that are affiliated with the Sacred Heart Province (in the Midwest) tend to understand their religious identity more in terms of ethical commitments than in terms of doctrinal orthodoxy. At these schools, a dyed-in-the-wool atheist who is passionate about social justice and service learning might actually be more comfortable than a traditionalist Roman Catholic philosopher would be. (Of course, I don't mean to imply that traditionalist Roman Catholic philosophers are typically not passionate about social justice and service learning.)

Anonymous said...

I'll throw in my two cents, b/c I've taught at a few Catholic schools, and am Catholic. "Conversant with the Catholic tradition" and what not, generally means, "don't be %$W#.", If the AOS is not medieval philosophy, they generally (with exceptions like St. Thomas, which is really a 'Center for Thomistic Studies') don't expect mastery of that tradition. The emphasis is generally more on 'tradition' than 'Catholic' -- i.e. the history of philosophy, including medieval. After all, there is no real agreement about what counts as "Catholic philosophy" anyway.

Likewise, it doesn't (generally) mean push the party line (Despite the claims of some Thomists, it is not the 'official Catholic philosophy -- there isn't one) but respectful engagement. But probably don't start the interview this way, b/c there probably will be a Thomist interviewing you

In any case, it is easy enough to get enough knowledge of Aquinas for a freshman survey, even starting from scratch. "Intros to Aquinas" are a dime a dozen, and there are some really good ones out there.

Anonymous said...

I used to adjunct at a Catholic SLAC. Religion never came up, and was never an issue. I'm also an atheist who can respect religious diversity, and I respect the "Catholic Intellectual Tradition," which I consider actually intellectual. And I know that some Catholic institutions are more liberal than others.
But I'm also a bioethicist whose diss was on the ELSI of repro-genetic technology. I applied for some ethics/applied ethics jobs this year at some Catholic schools, but I suspect my diss might disqualify me at the outset. And I would have serious reservations about teaching in an environment that was hostile to my views on women's rights and GLBT rights.
Whether or not you're qualified may really depend on what classes they're looking for the VAP to fill. And it may depend on the culture of the dept.

Anonymous said...

Some Catholic schools are very liberal, some are very conservative. Some are in the middle. At schools in the middle (or with divided faculty), the AOS can matter a lot. At such schools there may be a lot of pressure to hire a more orthodox Catholic or a Thomist for a bioethics job, while there is very little pressure to hire a Catholic or Thomist for epistemology /political/aesthetics, what have you.

Anonymous said...

How's the APA Central going?

Anonymous said...

Hey,
Did anyone else get a PFO email that had as its subject line:

[name of school]: bad news

I think this is the only PFO email/letter that has made me laugh.

Continental Pissant said...

As a non-Catholic who has tenure at a small Catholic university in a very conservative city, no one in my department can be remotely construed as specializing in the "Catholic intellectual tradition." We are Continentals who do our Aquinas and Augustine as needed, have nice conversations with our pals in Theology, and mostly are left alone.

I can tell you that Catholic students generally are more conservative than are faculty or administration. A good number of them would like nothing more than to make faculty swear the to the Mandatum from Ex Cordiae Ecclesiae (1990 Papal Encyclical regarding Catholic education). Administration generally knows better.

As others have said, a lot depends on the culture of the sponsoring order. Or, if it is a diocesan university, on the bishop.

If the department is part of a seminary or a house of study, you may have to agree to a canonical mission, stating something to the effect that you will not undermine the doctrines of the church. This mostly applies to theology faculty, but philosophers can be subject as well. And be aware, because the Vatican *has* used this as pretext for removing tenured theology faculty. This happened at Catholic University in the late 1980's to Charles Curran.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_8_127/ai_61795233/

Finally, as if this isn't enough crap, here's a thread that bears on some of the same issues:

http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php?topic=52678.0

Oh, and yes: as was said above, "heavy on the metaphysics." Make of it what you will, but I recall a discussion somewhere that said something to the effect that a non-metaphysical philosophy would be incongruous with the Catholic worldview and educational mission. Presumably there are degrees of incompatibility as to what this means.

Bobcat said...

My 2 cents: I was an undergrad at a Catholic university, and the vast majority were atheists with the standard array of socially and economically liberal views. (There was one political libertarian; the rest were liberals/Marxists; there where three Christian theists when I first matriculated there, and only one when I left.) There were about fifteen faculty total. Of the non-Catholics there, I think only three did not have open contempt for the Catholic tradition.

Anonymous said...

I work at a Catholic University and am not Catholic. I would endorse the comments above that these places should be approached on a case by case basis. I work in fairly traditional areas of M&E from an analytic tradition and have been able to teach the courses I want and do my research without any requirement that I teach Aquinas or anything like that. The only stipulation was that I "support" the mission of the University, which at my place merely means that I am not openly hostile to Catholic teachings. This does not mean that one cannot criticize the church--the vast majority of professors at my institution are liberal leaning and several are openly secular--but merely that one be mindful of the general mission of the University and respect that. This has not been a big deal and while it is something to be mindful of at the lunch table, it has not affected my work.

One does find more religious people on a campus like this, of course, but that does not bother me much. A good number of them (not all) are reasonable scholars and not afraid of critical discussions of religion. There are certainly more orthodox religious believers in such a place, but it is not difficult to stay clear of them if need be. For the most part the students are interested in getting a good education and are like other students I have taught at nonreligious institutions.

On another note, something which hasn't been mentioned is that Catholic Universities tend to actually value philosophy (don't forget Aquinas was supportive of philosophy). So philosophy has a real presence at my institution. For the size of the University the Philosophy Dept. is larger than at comparable nonreligious institutions, and all students are required to take at least 1 or 2 courses in the subject. The students who are actually Catholic know something about Aquinas, too, and this is something one can use in introductory courses (the five proofs, anyone?). So I think there are certain benefits from being at an institution like this worth considering. I have heard faculty at secular institutions (e.g., state universities) complain that nobody there respects the discipline.

A problem to note is a university like this does have some concern that ethics related positions not be filled with pro-abortion faculty. This is not something I agree with, but there is some sensitivity around this. In other areas there have not been any issues and we merely want good scholars.

Anonymous said...

"On another note, something which hasn't been mentioned is that Catholic Universities tend to actually value philosophy . . . ."

Ditto-- at my Catholic undergraduate university, there were 3,000 undergrad and 12-15 full-time philosophy faculty. Every student had to take 9 credits of philosophy, including one 300-level course. At the thoroughly secular university I currently teach at, there are 4 full-time faculty for 7,000 undergraduates, and there is no philosophy requirement at all. If you are worried about the job market in philosophy, you should pray every day and every night that Catholics build more and more universities!

P.S. Saying Aquinas was "supportive of philosophy" is a bit like saying Starbucks is supportive of coffee!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know why so many Catholic universities tend to be heavily continental? Is it a shared emphasis on hermeneutics and history between religious philosophers and continentals, or is it something else?

Anonymous said...

Years ago I quipped that "Catholic University" was a contradiction in terms--only to be told that George Bernard Shaw said it first. So I wasn't original--just in good company.

Academic freedom must be as broad as possible for truth-seeking. Some US Catholic institutions still respect that--but I take it that the Vatican is doing its best to make them all toe the dogmatic line.

Anonymous said...

"Does anyone know why so many Catholic universities tend to be heavily continental?"

This is an interesting question I've wondered about; I don't know the answer, but here's a thought. In earlier periods Catholic university philosophy departments were (as some still are) more squarely allied to religious and theological issues, and this meant they had more thomists on their faculty. Thomists are very much interested in metaphysics as Aristotle and Aquinas practiced it. This kind of "big picture" metaphysics of the older variety that involves broad theorizing is more commonly treated by Heidegger and others in that tradition (cf. Heidegger's concern with the broad history of western philosophy in his work). So in this respect I could see continental philosophy more naturally fitting in with thomists' interests in the past. And then those faculty continued to hire new faculty in such areas. On the other hand, consider that in the 1950's logical positivism was the mainstream in analytic philosophy, and this hardly would be expected to find a sympathetic ear in such places. I don't know if this is the real reason but it probably had some role.

Anonymous said...

"Years ago I quipped that "Catholic University" was a contradiction in terms"


Um...there wouldn't be universities without the Catholic church. I suggest you look into the history of such institutions before suggesting that they are incompatible, by definition, with Catholicism.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I quipped that there would one day be nimrods who would attack the religious beliefs of others in an anonymous forum... and lo, I was right!

Anonymous said...

Ah good one 7:06! Just because there is a medieval tradition linking Catholicism with the foundation of learning that led to the secular freedom of the Enlightenment must mean that Catholicism fully embraces the intellectual evolution of that tradition! Of course! How could I be so stupid. Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

8:31

You seem to have an enlightenment inspired conception of what a university ought to be and confuse this with what a university in fact is. Without this conflation, you couldn't make the claim that there is an outright incompatibility. There are different conceptions of the university and the contemporary Catholic model exemplifies one of them.

Anonymous said...

"Academic freedom must be as broad as possible for truth-seeking. Some US Catholic institutions still respect that--but I take it that the Vatican is doing its best to make them all toe the dogmatic line."

As I understand the result of ex corde, the Vatican only intends to make the Catholic Universities "toe the line" in the case that of theologians who are teaching church dogma. The Diocese has oversight in essence of these faculty member's teaching.

But, then I haven't followed the issue since the late 90's or whenever the encyclical was published. My sense of it was that philosophers did not have much to worry about, but perhaps I was wrong, or things have changed.

Anonymous said...

The previous post seems to have it right, from what I understand. Ex corde states something to the effect that "there are different methods in theology and philosophy which should be respected." I understand the vatican to have interest in overseeing theological teachings (that they be consistent with the Church), and hence there is pressure on faculty in these areas. But this is not quite the same for philosophy faculty. For what it's worth, as a professor at a Catholic university I have never had anybody speak to me about what I'm teaching in relation to church doctrine.

Anonymous said...

"Years ago I quipped that "Catholic University" was a contradiction in terms"

Yups, schools like Notre Dame, Georgetown, Fordham, BC and all the Catholic SLACs all suck ass. I am so much happier teaching 4/4 at my state college degree factory where philosophy is barely a minor and piggy-backs on another department. That's a REAL university. Fuck yea! You can major in Dental Hygiene here! Who needs a church encouraging and subsidizing the study of philosophy when I can have a real university that doesn't give a shit.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Notre Dame, Georgetown, Fordham, BC--

Any quips about "Catholic law school" being a contradiction in terms?

Anonymous said...

Re: Ex Corde Ecclesiae - most Catholic universities quietly ignore this document, for good or ill.

Anonymous said...

Hey,
Did anyone else get a PFO email that had as its subject line:

[name of school]: bad news

I think this is the only PFO email/letter that has made me laugh.

I once had one with the subject line 'rejects'.

Anonymous said...

I am a Catholic teaching at a Catholic University. I hold dogmatically the teaching of the Church and believe that it in no way compromises my job as a philosopher (a position shared by Anscombe, Geach, Dummett, Aquinas, etc.). Going over the experiences that are depicted in this discussion, I see that it has been a major failing of Catholic Universities in the United States in their retreat from appropriate hiring practices that will ensure an education consistent with and supportive of the Magisterial teachings of Catholicism.

I can't help but thinking that perhaps if more Catholic Universities would have stuck to their mission as Catholic there would have been less support for the recent (so-called) anti-discrimination statement by the APA on hiring practices. This is especially evident since, as has been pointed out by this post, Catholic Universities across the board have always and will always see philosophy as a serious and vital component of higher education (long after various philosophy department cuts have been made at other Universities in favor of areas of study with more cash-value.)

Anonymous said...

2:11--

How is departing from a teaching that discriminates against gays a "failing"? This seems to me to be one of the great triumphs of Catholic universities in the U.S.

Also, you must be joking when you include Aquinas among those Catholics who have held dogmatically to the teachings of the Church. Presumably you mean the same Aquinas whose teachings were condemned by the Church in 1277. It was only in the next century that he was canonized, of course. The best Catholics, then and now, have always been 50 years or so ahead of the Church!

Anonymous said...

2:11 here,

5:10: Your claim that Aquinas was not a dogmatic philosopher is absurd. In fact, I can accurately characterize "dogmatic philosopher" as the type of philosopher Thomas Aquinas was.

Regarding my comment about 'failing'. An institution ought to supports its fundamental ethical and foundation teachings. Catholic Universities, in many cases, do not do so. This puts such an institution at risk for incoherency and irrelevancy.

Anonymous said...

You sound more like an Etienne Tempier than an Aquinas, 2:11. Good luck with that!

Anonymous said...

"Presumably you mean the same Aquinas whose teachings were condemned by the Church in 1277."

That's pretty loose history, to put it mildly, anon.

Anonymous said...

Aquinas wasn't condemned over any doctrinal issues in Paris (or in Canterbury, where some quintessentially Thomistic theses were also condemned a few weeks later--and this time by a fellow Dominican!). In fact, neither condemnation mentioned him by name at all. Some propositions he asserted were condemned, for instance, the doctrine of the unicity of substantial forms (each thing has only one substantial form). These condemnations were issued by individual bishops in their jurisdictions. Paris and Canterbury were very important jurisdictions, so this condemnation was important, but it is a far cry from saying that he was condemned by the Church. He held all the dogma that was defined in his day.

Feb 24th, 5:10pm misrepresents the facts. The condemnations were due to philosophical principles that were thought to be problematic for theology. He (the person) was not condemned, and the propositions that were condemned were not dogmatic propositions.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice for you, 5:10, if all great philosophers, or all great Catholic philosophers, for that matter, shared your understanding of the relationship between philosophical inquiry and ecclesiastical authority, but Aquinas certainly did not. Any amount of time studying his writings, especially if one does not just cherry-pick a few passages thought most relevant today, will confirm this.

If anybody is interested in how NOT to address the "Catholic intellectual tradition," 5:10 gives a good example here: shoddy history combined with the blithe assumption that all the smart Catholics must have been above all that nonsense about hierarchy and Tradition and Magisterium and whatnot.

Anonymous said...

The commenter at 1:25 neglects to mention that the bishop at Paris was acting on the orders of the Pope to investigate rumors of heresy. While it was not an official Church condemnation, it was an important agent of the Church acting at the behest of the Church's leader who carried it out. (The pope's precise role in the condemnation is, of course, still disputed.) Secondly, the fact that a number of Aquinas' teachings were "philosophical principles that were thought to be problematic for theology" is just another way of saying that a number of Aquinas' philosophical teachings ran afoul of Church dogma. A reasonable non-ideological interpreter of these events can appreciate, firstly, the irony that this happened to someone who is now the quintessential Catholic dogmatic philosopher, and secondly, the historical lesson that we should be wary whenever so-called dogmatic Catholics start criticizing philosophy faculty at Catholic universities.

Anonymous said...

Commenter at 1:25 here. I didn't think it necessary to mention that the Bishop of Paris was acting at the behest of the Pope. That would be evidence for the condemnations being important, and I had already provided evidence for that claim and explicitly stated it. It isn't evidence that Aquinas was condemned or in poor dogmatic standing with the church in any way. The SEP article has more information on these condemnations for those interested.

"the fact that a number of Aquinas' teachings were "philosophical principles that were thought to be problematic for theology" is just another way of saying that a number of Aquinas' philosophical teachings ran afoul of Church dogma."

This is false. dogma is a subset of theology, and so it is possible for a principle to be problematic to the wider theology but not problematic to the dogma. The Church has, in the past, claimed that one cannot teach something just because it runs contrary to the mere common opinion of theologians; and that which is merely common opinion of theologians is not dogma.

Perhaps 4:50pm means something wider than I mean by dogma. I mean: "a truth appertaining to faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful. It might be described briefly as a revealed truth defined by the Church" (Catholic Encyclopedia Df of Dogma). I don't see any case to be made that Aquinas denied or said anything in conflict with anything that was dogma in his day (the immaculate conception was defined as dogma way after his death). And I also don't see the condemnations of 1277 as providing a historical lesson that we should be wary when so-called dogmatic Catholics criticize philosophy faculty at Catholic universities. There may be dozens of reasons for being wary, but I don't see why these condemnations of 1277 are among them. (just a note: 1:25 is my only other post on this thread, so if anyone else was criticizing Phil faculties, it wasn't me.)

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, 6:16!

--4:50

Anonymous said...

I am not a prof or instructor but I want to put in one cent about teaching in the Catholic tradition. Well maybe two: 1) it's catholic. there's a lot a priest must do to toe the ecumenical line but even that is fairly fuzzy within the church and there's a dialogue always going on. a non-priest/nun/monk has less canonical mandate: they want you to teach PHI, not REL. 2) If you become familiar with Alasdair MacIntyre (and related theory as thinktanked @ND) you will see all of the above in action, and I have found his work very fecund without feeling non-secular at all. BTW I read you guys because after I found this site (&predecessor) I realized I did not envy University life as much as I thought I did. A hermit such as I cannot live in such a world -- even though it is one of my beliefs that besides all things human being moral things, practically all is political as well. Thank you for this blog.