Sunday, June 14, 2009

A week at Collegium Colloquy

The blog has been quiet while I spent a week in Collegeville, Minnesota at Collegium Colloquy, created by Dr. Tom Landy as a way for faculty and staff from Catholic universities to discuss faith and intellectual life. One need not be Catholic to attend, and in fact he always encourages more participation from non-Catholics, including nonbelievers. The point isn't to look at things a certain way, but to gather fresh perspectives on whether and how there is something unique and worth preserving in Catholic higher education that may be lost over time as fewer people choose to join the religious orders that founded these campuses long ago. Does it matter that the orders such as Jesuits, Benedictines, Franciscans, Salesians, and other groups are shrinking? Can lay people -- both those who share the faith of the founders and those who do not -- take up the slack, and more important should they? Is this even reasonable to ask of any faculty member, ever? Some say yes, others no, and the debate was engaging and smart. I had a great week.

Of course, writing can and should be part of this as a way of collecting and crystallizing ideas that groups like Collegium generate. But another interesting point about writing came out of Collegium, and that's the model of Collegium itself. There is a way to think about our books as potential beneficiaries of Collegium-type thinking. What if, for example, when undertaking something enormous such as a volume dedicated to the life and career of a major author, it were normal to gather a group of scholars and collectively consider some of the important aspects of the project? This kind of "brain trust" thinking is antithetical to the lone-wolf scholar approach, but that's part of why I love it. Collegium reminds us that there can be great wisdom in a collection of like minds. Although I'm not crazy about committees per se, this isn't committeethink, but rather a way to percolate ideas without having to all agree on the outcome.

Above: A group of great minds on our way to dinner in Minneapolis. Your book blogger is at the far left.