For the past 10 years, the Lumen Christi Institute’s summer programming has become a gold-standard for intensive doctoral seminars. These week-long summer seminars for graduate students are designed to help improve the pipeline of future higher education by providing students from top research universities with a rich engagement with texts from the Catholic intellectual tradition. Each seminar is led by a senior scholar and provides important fellowship opportunities for students who often feel isolated at their own institutions. For the past several years, our summer programming has included seminars in Oxford on Saint John Henry Newman led by Fr. Ian Ker; in Rome and Chicago on Saint Thomas Aquinas led by Fr. Stephen Brock; at Notre Dame, Rome, and Jerusalem on Economics and Catholic Social Thought led by a team that includes Joseph Kaboski and Martijn Cremers, and in Berkeley on Catholic Social Thought led by Russell Hittinger. Students frequently identify these seminars as highlights of their academic career and often apply again to different seminars. This past summer, the Lumen Christi Institute dramatically expanded its summer offerings, moving from four to nine seminars, including two new seminars open to undergraduate students.

The Thought of René Girard

This summer, for the first time, the Lumen Christi Institute held a seminar for graduate students on one of the most influential 20th century Catholic thinkers, René Girard. Held at the picturesque Premonstratensian Abbey of Saint-Michel de Frigolet near Avignon, France—Girard’s birthplace—the seminar brought in fifteen students for a week of seminar discussions and fellowship. The seminar was led by Grant Kaplan, Professor of Theological Studies at Saint Louis University, and Wolfgang Palaver, Professor of Catholic Social Thought at the University of Innsbruck. Through an intensive reading of his major works of literary analysis, religious anthropology, and Biblical exegesis, the five-day seminar explored Girard’s key insights into the imitation of desire, conflict, and scapegoating, connecting them to central themes of Christian theology. Students were also able to participate in the abbey’s singing of the office.

Chelsea King, a doctoral student in Theology at Notre Dame and participant in the seminar, said that “This was one of the best experiences I have had as a student. I found that the syllabus was structured well, and I really appreciated studying Girard’s thought from a variety of angles. It was great to have such diverse fields represented in the group and made for a great discussion. There was never a dull moment! I also couldn’t believe how delicious the food was, and how hospitable the monks at the Abby were. I also found that it was a good balance between social activities and academic work. It was great that we had a chance to establish community and friendship outside of the context of a formal seminar. Overall, this was fantastic; an experience I will always remember.”

It was great that we had a chance to establish community and friendship outside of the context of a formal seminar. Overall, this was fantastic; an experience I will always remember.”

Business & Catholic Social Thought: A Primer

This summer, the Lumen Christi Institute hosted its fourth annual summer seminar titled “Economics and Catholic Social Thought: A Primer.” This seminar is designed as an introduction and immersion into Catholic social thought for graduate students and junior faculty in economics, finance, or related fields. Following the success of this seminar, two of its leaders, Martijn Cremers and Fr. Martin Schlag, asked Lumen Christi to help coordinate a similar seminar designed expressly and exclusively for doctoral students and faculty in the field of business. Led by Schlag, Cremers, Andreas Widmer, and Lloyd Sandelands, “Business and Catholic Social Thought: A Primer” convened for the first time, at the University of Notre Dame, from June 2 to 5.

Guided by leading scholars of business and Catholic social teaching, the seminar gathered 20 faculty and students from fields ranging from business ethics to accounting for ten sessions of lectures, presentations, and discussion at the Mendoza College of Business. Sessions were designed by the seminar faculty to widen epistemological preconceptions and show practical implications of Catholic social teaching for business in a way that affirms the goodness of business directed toward the common good. Multiple institutions came together to coordinate this seminar: the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas (MN); the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame; the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship at the Catholic University of America; the Lumen Christi Institute; and the Markets, Culture and Ethics Research Centre at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. A second seminar will be held again at Notre Dame in the summer of 2020.

Modern Science and Catholic Faith: Graduate and Undergraduate seminars

A grant received this past year from the John Templeton Foundation has dramatically extended the Lumen Christi Institute’s programming in Science and Religion. This summer, for the first time, the Lumen Christi Institute held two seminars for students in STEM fields, Philosophy, and Theology, on “Modern Science and Catholic Faith,” one for graduate students, and a second one aimed at undergraduates. The graduate seminar was led by microbiologist, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P. and physicist and president of Society of Catholic Scientists, Stephen Barr. It took place at Providence College, in Rhode Island, and brought in seventeen students for a week of seminar discussions and fellowship. The undergraduate seminar was also led by Barr, along with theologian Chris Baglow, and took place at the Saint Joseph Abbey and Seminary College in St. Benedict, Louisiana. Both seminars provided participants with the background knowledge and conceptual tools necessary to understand and think clearly about the tensions between and integration of science and faith.

Providence Seminar participant and Graduate student in Psychology at the University of Toronto Vanessa Chan said that she “found the seminar very informative and provided a solid framework for understanding not only philosophical foundations, but also the perspectives from which secular thinkers are approaching the same questions. It was a lot of fun for someone who hasn’t had much philosophy background, and to be able to share in the viewpoints that scientists, philosophers, and theologians brought to the table. The week was intellectually, spiritually, and socially edifying, and I don’t normally get all three at once, so it was great”. 

Monastic Wisdom Seminar

Last June, the Lumen Christi Institute held a seminar for undergraduate and graduate students in various disciplines on the tradition of monastic wisdom, discipline, and theological reflection. Hosted in partnership with the community of Trappist monks living at New Melleray Abbey, the seminar brought twelve male students to Iowa for a week of seminar discussions, communal prayer, fellowship, and manual labor on the Abbey’s grounds. As such, the seminar introduced students not only to the monastic wisdom tradition as it can be encountered in classic works of spirituality and devotion, but also to that tradition as a living and shared patrimony appropriated communally and liturgically.

The seminar was led by the monks of New Melleray, including New Melleray’s Abbot, Fr. Mark Scott, OSCO. Students read works by St. Benedict of Nursia—founder of western monasticism and the patron saint of Europe—St. John Cassian, St. Athanasius, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. They also prayed communally with the monks, participating in the prayerful rhythm of monastic life cadenced by the divine office, which the monks gather together seven times daily to pray.

Charles Ducey, PhD student in German at the University of Chicago (and currently a postulant with the Congregation of the Holy Cross), said “I greatly appreciated the chance to attend the monastic wisdom study retreat at New Melleray. I didn’t imagine that I would be able to wake up at 3:15 each morning for vigil prayer, but all of the participants managed to rise for the start of the divine office every day during the retreat. The time with the monks was invaluable—they are very wise and holy men. In addition to the seminar meetings that they led, several of the monks, including the abbot, also joined us for dinner on several occasions and shared about their vocations. Brother Juan Diego, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, spoke with great conviction about his call to the monastery and gave me some advice about my own spiritual discernment. I speak for all the participants in saying that Lumen Christi ought to repeat and expand seminars of this kind next summer”.

Future Seminars

Over the last 10 years, the Lumen Christi Institute’s summer seminars have become a gold-standard for graduate-level summer programming. These latest expansions have allowed the Institute to not only increase the breadth of our offerings, but to also make them available to undergraduate students. We are actively fundraising to support our existing primary seminars, and to continue making available new offerings. Plans for future seminars include a program in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, in Ireland, that brings together undergraduate and recent graduates from America and Ireland; a monastic wisdom seminar for women taking place at a Benedictine monastery; a seminar for African American college students that bring in dialogue the African American and Catholic intellectual traditions; and large “democratic seminars” in Chicago and Paris open to all qualified doctoral students, featuring our top senior scholars, on topics like the mystical theology tradition.