Summer Symposium

Each summer, the Program of Liberal Studies and General Program alumni/ae 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 5-10, 2016


The Relationship between Religion and Science in the Modern World

Dear PLS Alumni and Friends:

Here is the roster of seminars that we will be offering at our annual alumni symposium next summer. The dates of the symposium are Sunday, June 5 through Friday, June 10, 2016. We have two more or less separate themes for next summer’s symposium, both of which were suggested by last summer’s participants. The first theme is “Purgatory” and the second is “The Relationship between Religion and Science in the Modern World.” As always, we look forward to seeing you. Please direct questions to Henry Weinfield at or to Debbie Kabzinski at

Prof. Christopher Chowrimootoo
Redemption in Wagner’s Parsifal (1882)
In this two-day seminar, we will explore the theme of redemption in Richard Wagner’s operatic swan song, Parsifal (1882). We will examine this theme through a detailed study of the text and music associated with three central characters: Amfortas, Kundry and Parsifal. As a backdrop to this close analysis of the opera itself, we will read and discuss a selection of philosophical texts, which address the idea of redemption directly – including excerpts from Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, Richard Wagner’s “Religion and Art,” and Alan Badiou’s Five Lessons on Wagner

Prof. (Emeritus) Michael J. Crowe
Expanding Universe (aka Big Bang) Theory, Including Some Religious Issues.
The two classes on this topic will center on the Expanding Universe Theory, arguably the most important theory developed in the twentieth century. Also called the Big Bang Theory, it centers on the claim (now established in detail) that 13.8 billion years ago an explosion occurred in a tiny region of space, which led to the formation of the material universe as we know it. We shall not only discuss the implications of this theory for other areas of science, but also its relations to religion, including Catholicism. We shall find out that the creator of this theory was not the person to whom it was long ascribed, but another individual, who only in the last fifteen years has been accorded the credit he deserves. (two sessions)

Expand Univ. Readings Part 1
Expand Univ. Readings Part 2
Expand Univ. Readings Part 3

Prof. Stephen Fallon
T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets (1935-1942) explore the intersections of the divine and the human, the transcendent and the mundane, and the eternal and the temporal. They record the intimations of the paradisal and the painstaking and ultimately purgatorial struggle to inhabit those intimations. More than a century earlier, in A Defense of Poetry, Percy Shelley wrote that poetry "arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life, and veiling them, or [i.e., either] in language or in form, sends them forth among mankind.... Poetry redeems from decay the visitations of the divinity in man." In Four Quartets, Eliot, unlike Shelley a Christian believer, asks whether the poet has a role to play in capturing, sharing, and holding on to visitations of divinity in our world. (four sessions)

I encourage students to buy the authorized text of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, as it indicates line numbers, which will make navigating the text together in class easier and more efficient.  It is available for $9.00 with free shipping on Amazon Prime (and with used copies at the same site starting at $1.85 + shipping).  
The url is

Prof. Robert Goulding
Approaching Einstein
This seminar will begin by considering the nature of geometry, and the development of new geometrical ideas over the course of the nineteenth century: particularly non-Euclidean geometry, and the notion of the curvature of space. At the end of the class, we will be introduced to relativity in a very informal way. In a future seminar, beginning from these foundations, I hope that it will be possible to go more deeply into the theories of relativity. (four sessions)

Set texts: Peter Pesic, Beyond Geometry: Classic Papers from Riemann to Einstein (ISBN: 0486453502)

George Gamow and Russell Stannard, The New World of Mr Tompkins (ISBN: 0521639921)

Dana Densmore, Euclid's Elements Book One with Questions for Discussion (ISBN: 1888009462).

There will be a detailed reading guide posted to the website. Most importantly, participants should work through the Densmore Euclid book in advance of the symposium -- in the interests of time, we will begin almost immediately with questions of non-Euclidean geometry, which will presuppose a good grasp of this Euclidean material. The classes will break down roughly as follows:

1: Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry.

2: From Pesic: Clifford, The Postulates of the Science of Space; Poincare, Non-Euclidean Geometries

3: Mr Tompkins, chapters 1-5

4: From Pesic: Einstein, Geometry and Experience; Space-Time; The Problem of Space, Ether, and the Field in Physics (1934).

Jennifer Newsome Martin
“Stuck in the Middle with You”: Liminality, Purgatorium, and the Fire of Divine Love
The Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, formulated dogmatically at the Councils of Florence (1438-1439) and Trent (1545-1563) but having deep roots in the early Church tradition for far longer, is often insufficiently understood or caricatured. This two-day class session seeks to advance a theological reading of purgatory as continued spiritual transformation in a human life: to this end, we will read and discuss a sampling of texts which address the nature of purgatory across multiple genres, including discursive theology, Scripture, conciliar statements, medieval mystical poetry, and the private diary entries of an early Christian martyr. The first class will consider both the biblical data and historical developments of the doctrine of purgatory, specifically with respect to its connection with the practice of prayers for the dead. The second class will treat Catherine of Genoa’s mystical text Purgation and Purgatory along with selections from her Spiritual Dialogue, which connects the experience of purgatory deeply with the “pure love” of God. 

For Day 1, please read:
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “Hell, Purgatory, Heaven,” Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, 2nd ed., trans. Michael Waldstein (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988), pp. 215-238. A PDF of this chapter will be provided if participants do not wish to purchase the entire book.

From the Scriptures, 2 Maccabees 12:38-46; 1 Corinthians 3:15, and 1 Peter 3:18-19 (may be accessed online at

“The Passion of the Holy Martyrs Perpetua and Felicity,” accessible at

For Day 2, please read:
Catherine of Genoa, Purgation and Purgatory, The Spiritual Dialogues (The Classics of Western Spirituality), trans. Serge Hughes (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), pp. 70-87 and 134-150.

Prof. (Emeritus) Walter Nicgorski
Skepticism and Affirmation in Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods (De Natura Deorum)
In this major dialogue, Cicero explores the strengths and weaknesses of ancient theologies. The reader is brought to wonder where Cicero himself stands on the limits of reason and how he comes to approve or affirm a position concerning divine matters, including the very question of the existence of God. The Enlightenment's effort to replace the authority of Revelation with that of reason brought great attention to this text of Cicero. Voltaire was ecstatic about it, and it was admired by Rousseau, Diderot and Montesquieu. Earlier it had deeply engaged the first Christians and Church Fathers. This book was a favorite of the late Fred Crosson, beloved of so many of us; it was also a favorite of David Hume whose challenges to reason and science run so deep.

There are three books within this work; the last two are tied together in a way that will become clear. We will plan to discuss Book I at our first meeting and Books 2-3 at the second. On the Nature of the Gods is available in the bilingual Loeb edition for those who would like to have the Latin text at hand. Good English translations from Penguin Books and Oxford are available in paperback. All three versions utilize standard section-numbering; thus all are acceptable for our seminar. I recommend the Oxford edition for the quality of its introduction and notes as well as for its having a useful overall summary of the argument of the entire work.

Prof. Joseph Rosenberg
Purgatory Without End: Henry Green’s Party Going
For a novel that is, for all ostensible purposes, about little more than the neurotic anxieties and erotic maneuverings of a few conspicuously spoiled bright young things as they wait for a train interminably delayed by fog, Henry Green’s Party Going is strangely filled with premonitions of doom. “What targets for a bomb,” mutters an unnamed character as he surveys the packed train station; “my darling, my darling, in this awful place I wonder whether we aren’t all dead really,” complains another. The train station hotel is hung with pictures of Nero fiddling while Rome burns, and throughout the course of the novel we are witness to the slow mummification of a dead pigeon. However, while the fog-drenched, crowded cityscape of the novel would seem to link it to earlier visions of Purgatory, Hell, and Limbo, such foreboding signs are as foggy as the train station itself, where promised departures are forever postponed. In this one-day seminar, we will discuss how Party Going creates a sense of the portentous, but no sense of what is being portended, parodying the purgatorial visions of earlier writers as little more than so much make believe.

Prof. (Emeritus) Phillip Sloan
Revisiting the Evolution-Creation Debate
The so-called “evolution-creation” debate, while seemingly old and stale, nonetheless remains with us as a major issue in the common perception of the relations of science and religion. The historical formulation of these issues in the period from 1650 to the present continues to generate a discussion that shows no signs of cessation. In this evening seminar, we will examine this issue in light of some select reading from Darwin’s Origin of the Species and two chapters from the recent book by Michael Hanby, No God, No Science? Theology, Cosmology, Biology (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013). My article, “Evolution to 1872,” in the Stanford on-line Encyclopedia of Philosophy (, will form general background reading. 

Prof. Henry Weinfield
Dante’s Purgatorio
This three-day seminar will involve a reading of Dante’s Purgatorio, the second canticle of his tripartite Commedia.  Here, in the mildest and most lyrical of the three canticles, as we climb the purgatorial mountain, along with Dante and his guide Virgil, we are charmed by the many hymns being sung by the repentant sinners.  Here, through Virgil’s discourses on love, we learn that “love is the seed in [us] of every virtue / and of all acts deserving punishment.” Here we encounter a great many poets, some of whom have been influenced by Virgil, though the latter’s place is in Limbo. And here, when we finally arrive at the Earthly Paradise, Dante is reunited with his “old flame” Beatrice. We shall study Purgatorio in Allen Mandelbaum’s translation, which, in the Bantam Books edition, has the Italian en face. (ISBN: 0-553-21344-X)

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We now have 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,