Speaking in Charlotte, Notre Dame scholar Ralph McInerny discusses the classics and what went wrong.
Jane Shaw, John William Pope Center For Higher Education Policy
November 10, 2008
Why do modern humanities professors hate the Western canon, the so-called Great Books that once defined a liberal arts education? Ralph McInerny, a professor of philosophy and medieval studies at Notre Dame University—and also the author of the popular Father Dowling mystery series—has an answer.It isn't just relativism (or, in McInerny's words, the idea that it's as important to teach Tarzan as Hamlet) or the claim that classical scholars push the works of "dead white males" in order to control society. The reason, says McInerny, is that most of the Great Books are "were written under Christian auspices." Their religious underpinning is obvious in the works of authors such as Dante, but also "inescapable" in those of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Furthermore, the non-Christian parts of the canon, such as those by Plato and Aristotle, were written under the assumption that providence, or a divine mind, governs human life.This is an idea that many modern academics cannot stand, said McInerny.McInerny shared his thoughts about Great Books at an evening lecture in Charlotte on November 6. His talk before an audience of about 100 people was sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Pope Center.