Summer Symposium

Each summer, the Program of Liberal Studies and General Program alumni gather on Notre Dame's campus, eager to engage their teachers, the authors of the Great Books.

The Program of Liberal Studies coordinates the events which are centered on seminars that explore the week's theme.




JUNE 4-9, 2017

Once again the Program of Liberal Studies will offer a week of seminars for alumni of the Program, their relatives and friends, and anyone else eager to read and discuss important texts and ideas as part of a welcoming and lively intellectual community.  Several of the sessions will engage with questions surrounding the theme of Creation.  All sessions will be taught by current or emeritus faculty of the Program of Liberal Studies. Please consider joining us for what promises to be an exhilarating week.

Below find a list of the classes, followed by more detailed descriptions and information.

Jennifer Newsome Martin — How to Start from Before the Beginning: Biblical Creation and its Antecedents (2 classes)

Katherine Tillman — The Pre-Socratics and the Urstoff  (2 classes)

Denis Robichaud — Views on the Eternity of the World in Antiquity and the Middle Ages (2 classes)

Henry Weinfield — Dante’s Paradiso (3 classes)

Walter Nicgorski — Thomas More’s Utopia (2 classes)

Joseph Elkanah Rosenberg — “A Heap of Broken Images”: Reading “The Waste Land” (2 classes)

Phillip Sloan —Creationism and Science: New Insights into an Old Question (5 classes)


How to Start from Before the Beginning: Biblical Creation and its Antecedents
Professor Jennifer Newsome Martin
2 classes

This two-day seminar will analyze the first (Priestly) creation narrative in the book of Genesis in light of the ancient Babylonian creation-flood myths that pre-date it.  Particular attention will be given to the literary relation between the Enuma Elish and the Genesis account, a relation that might be categorized as a kind of “subversive mimesis.”  Our turn on the second day to Benedict’s Lenten homilies given at the Liebfrauenkirche in Munich in 1981 will demonstrate not only the difficulties attendant on approaching the biblical creation story in a mode of fundamentalist literalism but will also provide some constructive principles for considering the theme of creation more broadly in its biblical, theological, anthropological, environmental, and scientific dimensions.

Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, trans.

Stephanie Dailey (Oxford World’s Classics).  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.  ISBN # 978-0199538362.

Pope Benedict XVI, ‘In the Beginning’: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. 

(Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought).  Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005.  ISBN # 978-0802841063.

Day 1:  Genesis 1:1-2:3; “The Epic of Creation” (Enuma Elish), in Myths from Mesopotamia

Day 2: Benedict XVI Homilies, “God the Creator,” 1-18; “The Meaning of the Biblical Creation Accounts,” 19-40; “The Creation of the Human Being,” 41-58; “Sin and Salvation,” 59-78.


The Pre-Socratics and the Urstoff 
Professor Katherine Tillman
2 classes

What is the primordial matter out of which all things come to be?  If it is one, how do the many evolve from it?  If it is many, how does it hold together as a unity, or does it?  Is this underlying stuff something that changes or does it not change?  These are some of the big questions the first philosophers of the West, in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E., wondered and inquired about.  In the fourth century B.C.E., Aristotle’s explicit commentary on their answers is itself an introduction to his own thoughts about the basic causes of the being and becoming of all that is.

Readings:  A Presocratics Reader:  Selected Fragments and Testimonia, chaps. 1-13.  Second Edition.  Ed. with Introduction by Patricia Curd.  Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2011. ISBN 978-1603843058

Aristotle, Metaphysics (350 B.C.E.) Book I, sections 1-10.  Tr. W. D. Ross, “The Internet Classics Archive”: <>,

Or:  Penguin Classics, New Ed Edition, Tr. and Intro. Hugh Lawson-Tancred, 1998. ISBN 978-0140446197


Views on the Eternity of the World in Antiquity and the Middle Ages
Professor Denis Robichaud
2 classes

In beginning our discussion with Aristotle (322-384 BC) this course picks up where Prof. Tillman’s course ends. Aristotle argues in a number of places that the world is eternal. Was this self-evident to him or the result of careful reasoning? His texts and their later interpretations became the catalysts for rigorous debates on the nature of time, being, and the world. In addition to Aristotle we will study the themes and arguments of two important philosophers (one Pagan; one Christian): the late ancient Platonist Proclus (412-85 AD), and the medieval Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Proclus (who was the last leader of the Academy in Athens) wrote a famous tract On the Eternity of the World, which drew the criticism of the Christian philosopher John Philoponus (c. 490-c. 570). Philoponus, in turn, wrote two tracts against the eternity of the world (one against Proclus; another against Aristotle). Centuries later the works of Aristotle (along with their commentaries) that were recently translated and rediscovered in the Latin West caused new philosophical and theological controversies. Schoolmen were puzzled; how could Aristotle – il maestro di color che sanno (the master of the men who know), as Dante says – argue that the world is eternal? Can creationism be defended by reason or is it something known only through faith and revelation? The University of Paris condemned Aristotle’s teachings on the eternity of the world in the 1270s, but Aquinas also entered into the fray.

Day 1: Aristotle, Physics, 1.7; 8.1-3; Metaphysics, 12.1-2; 12.6-7;  Proclus, On the Eternity of the World, arguments 3-6.

Day 2: Aquinas, On the Eternity of the World, pp. 18-72.

-Aristotle, either, or the volume used in the PLS: The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. by Richard McKeon with an introduction by C. D. C. Reeve (New York: The Modern Library, 2001). ISBN 978-0375757990

-Proclus’s On the Eternity of the World, excerpt assigned to be circulated. Those wanting the complete (and expensive) version: On the Eternity of the World, ed. and trans. H. Lang and A. D. Marco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001). ISBN 978-0520225541

- Aquinas, On the Eternity of the World (Medieval Texts in Translation no. 16), second edition (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University 2010). Pp. 18-72. ISBN 978-0874622164


Dante’s Paradiso
Professor Henry Weinfield
3 classes

Last summer we worked through the Purgatorio, so this coming summer, as promised, we shall read and discuss Dante’s Paradiso, the final canticle of his Divine Comedy. Our reading of the Paradiso fits into the overall theme of Creation of this year's symposium; for as Dante and his guide Beatrice climb the heavenly spheres, they come closer and closer to the source of all creation. A culminating achievement, the Paradiso has been described as a great experiment in poetry, an attempt to articulate what is fundamentally ineffable.

Our text will be Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of the Paradiso. It is available both as a Bantam paperback (ISBN 978-0553212044) and in an edition published by Everyman (978-0679433132). We shall read the poem as closely as we can (our three seminar classes allow us to divide the 33 cantos of the poem into approximately 11 per session). In preparing for the symposium, please read the notes along with the poem itself.


Thomas More’s Utopia

Professor Walter Nicgorski

2 sessions

As we end this year of 2016, we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the appearance of Thomas More’s “little golden book.”  It is one of the most puzzling and intriguing classics of all time.  This truth was captured by C.S. Lewis when he once observed “All seem to be agreed that [Utopia] is a great book, but hardly any two agree as to its real significance: we approach it through a cloud of contradictory eulogies.”  More is revered by Catholics as a patron saint both of lawyers and statesmen (these categories do not necessarily overlap!).  His Utopia has provided inspiration for Marxists, libertarians and social democrats.  In our seminars we will explore the relationship between Parts I and II as we ask the large question about More’s overall intent.  King Utopus and our practical reason are the creators of this city-state that could be “paradise.”  We will attend to its residents’ views of the first and last things.  It is best to have read the whole before you arrive at Notre Dame, but, of course, our first session will focus on Part I and our second on Part II.

The text:  If you own a copy that has the complete text (Parts I and II as well as More’s prefatory letter to Peter Giles), that will be sufficient, and the presence of various translations around our table will be an asset.  If you are purchasing an edition, I recommend the Cambridge University Press paperback edition edited by George Logan and Robert Adams (ISBN 978-1107568730).  See you all in the land of “no where.”


 “A Heap of Broken Images”: Reading “The Waste Land”|Professor Joseph Elkanah Rosenberg
2 classes

One of the foundational texts of modernism, T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” has befuddled, angered, enthralled, and mystified readers for close to a century. It has been hailed as “the most vital, the most important poem of the modern era,” and derided as a “pompous parade of erudition.” Eliot, late in his life, referred to the poem as a “piece of rhythmic grumbling.” In this two-day seminar, we will ask just how one is to read a poem as fragmented and disconnected as the “The Waste Land.” Are we as readers meant to sew the fragments together? Does it matter whether or not we can trace every allusion? Or is the poem a sphinx without a secret? In relation to the theme of this year’s symposium, our seminar will allow students time to contemplate at least briefly the relationship between creation and destruction.

Please note that there are numerous editions of “The Waste Land” available. Students are recommended to use an unannotated edition if possible.


­Creationism and Science: New Insights into an Old Question
Professor Phillip Sloan
5 classes

This course is intended as a follow-up to the single session on Darwin and Creation in the summer of 2017. In this case we will deal both historically and conceptually with the issue. The intent will be to get us past the tired “evolution and creation” debates that have badly muddied the waters and that have generated several misconceptions on how the Christian doctrine of creation relates to natural philosophy and its successor, modern physics and biology. This topic will be engaged by early efforts to give “allegorical” readings of the Book of Genesis and how this was transformed into a realist claim about the developmental history of nature. We will terminate by readings from a contemporary theoretical physicist interested in the dialogue of science and theology.

My reader contains short introductions to the readings and should help guide through these
materials. Please contact me with any questions (

Collection of Duplicated Readings from primary sources. These will either be posted on the
Department web page (non copyright—Indicated by DW) or else put in a secure website or
mailed directly (copyright—Indicated by CM). One text is on the Web and can be
downloaded as indicated.

Hanby, M. No God, No Science? Theology, Cosmology and Biology ( Oxford: Wiley-
Blackwell, 2016) PB. ISBN 978 1 4051-5801. $45. Also on Kindle.
Barr, S. Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press,
2006) ISBN 0-268-02198-8. $23

Sloan Alumsem Instruction Letter
Alumni Creation Reader
PLS Sloan seminar

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The PLS Office now has funding available for a number of small grants to cover expenses related to our annual Summer Symposium, thanks to the newly established Richard Spangler fund. Richard Spangler (Class of 1977) was an enthusiastic and dedicated participant in these seminars, and family and friends have established this fund to honor him.

If you are interested in receiving such a stipend, please contact the office at