Secular universities funded to create institutes of Catholic thought

US secular universities will benefit from a US$3.6m grant to create a national network of independent institutes of Catholic thought.

Several secular universities are already home to many of these institutes.

The aim of the plan is to help make Catholicism’s intellectual tradition a vital aspect of academic life, foccusing on the theology, arts, politics and history of Catholicism.

The Lumen Christi Institutes, which will manage the fund, say the independent institutes help Catholic students see the integration between their studies and their faith.

Lumen’s acting CE, Michael Le Chevallier, believes Catholic students at secular universities should feel better equipped to ask themselves: “How does this career fit within my vocation as a lay Catholic person?”

One benefit he can see coming from the grant is it will enable several institutes in the network to amplify their focus on science and religion. This is important given the widespread misconceptions and myths around the relationship between science and faith.

“Unfortunately today, Catholics have inculturated some of the worst divisions between science and Christian faith into our own mental worldview in America,” Le Chevallier says.

Many believe evolution is in conflict with modern Catholic faith and many young adults think modern science and the Catholic faith are in conflict — often resulting in their leaving the church, he says.

While the independent network currently includes six Catholic institutes, there are plans for more: after its first year, the network will expand to new members, including ecumenical partners.

Some established institutes, like Lumen Christi in Chicago, have been around for more than two decades, while others like the Nova Forum and the Harvard Catholic Forum were founded in the last two years or so. COLLIS at Cornell will begin programming this summer.

Catholic physicist Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University is looking forward to the new opportunities the funding will offer students.

He has seen how different university environments, “which may be less supportive of their faith,” can be for religious students.

It’s crucial to create opportunities that allow them to have an informed dialogue with faculty and their peers, he says.

This will help them to “really grow and understand that their faith is not something that’s in conflict with science but, it’s a part of their core personality.

“Whether they go into science or medicine or law … their faith will provide a source of strength.”

He plans to help facilitate programming that looks into how faith and science inform each other when they’re in conflict. Talks on sacred music, its history and meaning are also on his radar.

As an astronomer, Lunine, a Catholic convert who was raised Jewish, says his faith helps him approach his work with more humility. It also informs how he appreciates “the beauty and deeper aspects of the cosmos than just the calculations themselves”.


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