It’s back to school time, and how’s this for a bracing lineup of campus lectures in just the past four weeks?
At Yale University, distinguished philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, who is an atheist, hosted a top theologian, Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews to jointly ponder “Living Well in Light of Death.”
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat visited Ann Arbor to advise University of Michigan students that “Faith Is Not a Sideshow.”
At arch-rival Ohio State, a panel on “Living and Dying Well” consisted of a physician, a biological ethicist, and a specialist who helps patients with end-of-life planning.
Bob Cutillo, a physician working with Colorado’s homeless, spoke at the Mayo Clinic and its medical college on “The Doctor’s Gaze: Some Ancient Opinions on How We See Our Patients.”
Then it was celebrated attorney Rachael Denhollander, leader of the sexual abuse victims in the Michigan State and USA Gymnastics scandals and among Time magazine’s “100 most influential people.” Her double-header this week at New York University, then Columbia University Law School, addressed how justice can be reconciled with religious faith and forgiveness.
So began the season for the Veritas Forum of Cambridge, Mass., which organizes campus lectures to address “life’s hardest questions” from traditional Christian viewpoints that it believes academe neglects. To date there’ve been Veritas events at 185 colleges and universities, including at all but one of America’s top 25 schools in the new Wall Street Journal rankings.
Lecture topics run the gamut, for example “What Does It Mean to be Human?? “Is There Truth Beyond Science?” “Does Science Point to Atheism?” “Is Tolerance Intolerant?” “Contradictions in the Bible?” and “What Makes Us Racist?”
The concept is particularly intriguing due to heavy involvement of conservative or “evangelical” Protestants, often depicted in the media as anti-intellectual or at best mediocre thinkers.
The journalism hook? If your outlet hasn’t yet done a feature on this unique effort, check on future events and past ones held in your area at this site. To see a collection of lecture videos, click here.
The roster of past speakers is impressive, with such figures as Duke University fine arts theologian Jeremy Begbie; pianist Mia Chung from the Curtis Institute; Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project and then the National Institutes of Health; Owen Gingerich, senior astronomer at Harvard’s Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; Ian Hutchinson, plasma physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Rosalind Picard, founder of MIT’s Affective Computing Research Group; novelists Madeleine L’Engle and Marilynne Robinson; Yale Law’s Stephen Carter; and Christian philosophers J. Budziszewski, Peter Kreeft, Alvin Plantinga, Miroslav Volf, Dallas Willard and Nicholas Wolterstorff.
A couple persons above are deceased, but most any Veritas personality could produce a provocative faith-and-culture interview.
Veritas readily includes Catholic speakers, sometimes involves Jewish notables like law professor Alan Dershowitz, and enlivens events by booking non-religious or anti-religious debate partners such as Kagan, Antony Flew, Garrett Hardin, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Pinker and Peter Singer, or the likes of hyper-skeptical Bible scholar Gerd Ludemann.
Veritas takes its name from that Latin word meaning “truth,” the slogan of Harvard University (shortened from the onetime “Truth for Christ and Church”). Founder Kelly Monroe Kullberg tested the idea in 1992 with Harvard Law School talks on “Is Atheism Dead?” followed by “Is God Alive?” From there, she writes, “I began to imagine the value of introducing Christian scholars to students around the country.” Programs are sponsored by local chapters of groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship or, in the case of Denhollander’s talk this week, Columbia’s Sexual Violence Response and international affairs school.
David Hobbet, a former McKinsey management consultant who’s been executive director since 2013 (office: 617-491-2055) has launched three new projects:
(1) Veritas Fellows, a 9-month training course for campus ministers.
(2) Veritas Academy, a four-day retreat for entering freshmen, just concluded this year at Cornell, Minnesota, and the University of North Carolina.
(3) The Augustine Collective, which networks Christian literary journals at 22 universities.