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 3-8, 2018


Theodicy and its Discontents


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 Theodicy. All sessions will be taught by current or emeritus/a 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.




Paradise Lost and Theodicy

Steve Fallon

(5 days)


Course Description:

In the opening lines of his great epic, Paradise Lost (1667), Milton announced his intention “to assert eternal providence / And justify the ways of God to men” (1.25-26). While these words may in retrospect sound safely pious, in the Calvinist England in which Milton came of age engaging in theodicy, or the justification of God, was controversial. The Calvinist Synod of Dort in 1619 warned against “curiously scrutinizing the deep and mysterious things of God.” Calvin himself viewed inquiry into divine justice with flawed human reason as damnably presumptuous. Milton’s theodicy is based on the assertion of rational creatures’ free will. As we read Milton’s transcendently beautiful epic, we will attempt to understand his strategies for demonstrating divine justice and gauge their success. Given that persuasive narratives require actions to be motivated, how well does Milton rise to the nearly impossible challenge of demonstrating the free will of Adam and Eve, of angels, and of the Son of God himself? Among the topics for discussion will be Milton’s understanding of the prohibition of the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; the relative responsibility of Adam and Eve for the fall; Milton’s attitude toward claims for the felix culpa (happy fault) or fortunate fall; the implications of his anti-Trinitarianism for the role of the Son of God; and the relation between angels, devils, and human beings.  Drawing on my current study of Milton and Isaac Newton, we will also look at theological and natural philosophical positions shared by the two seventeenth-century giants.


Readings: On the principle of the hermeneutic circle, that the parts become more explicable in light of the whole, and the whole in light of the parts, I suggest that you read all of Paradise Lost before the first day, so that your reading during the week will be a second reading. It will also be helpful by the second day to have read the pdf excerpts provided from Milton’s Areopagitica (1644) and Christian Doctrine (De doctrina christiana), which was suppressed, lost, rediscovered in 1823, and published in 1824. We will proceed through the epic over the course of the week. The schedule will be subject to change depending on the pace of our discussion.


Monday, Book 1 —Book 3.415

Tuesday, Book 3.416 — Book 5

Wednesday, Books 6- 8

Thursday, Books 9

Friday, Books 10-12



Paradise Lost. You may use any edition. Suggestions:

1) an inexpensive Modern Library paperback edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Steve Fallon (yours truly) (ISBN 978-0375757969).

2) an inexpensive edition with notes at the back, John Leonard’s Penguin paperback (ISBN 978-0140424393).

3) for a far more expensive and far more heavily annotated paperback, Alastair Fowler’s Longmans edition.

4) a good edition with a selection of contextual readings from Milton and the Bible, Scott Elledge’s out of print Norton Critical edition (not G. Teskey’s current Norton Critical edition).


Selections from Milton’s Areopatitica and his theological treatise, De doctrina christiana, I.3 “Of Divine Decree” and I.4 “Of Predestination.” (PDF in course materials) Selections From Milton S Areopagitica And Christian Doctrine




Theodicy: A Theological Critique

Andrew Radde-Gallwitz

(5 days)


Course Description:

For some theologians and philosophers, faith provides a perspective from which to make sense of evil and suffering; for others, any such attempt at “theodicy” is self-defeating, perhaps even idolatrous. In this five-day seminar we will enter into this perennial debate through a careful reading of the book of Job as an ancient Hebrew response to one kind of theodicy, followed by a study of Brian Davies’ Thomist critique of modern theodicies.


Required Readings:

1. Job, in Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (New York: Norton, 2010). ISBN: 978–0393340532.

2. Brian Davies, The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil (New York: Continuum, 2006). ISBN: 978–0826492418.


Recommended Reading:

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae First Part, questions 45, 48–49, 103–105 (accessible online at




Suffering in History: A Cross-Cultural Approach

Professor Phillip Sloan
(2 days)

Course Description:

The theme of this summer’s seminar, centered around the general question of “Theodicy” and the meaning of suffering and evil in history, forms the general focus of these two seminars. We will look at this issue from the imaginative perspective developed by Romanian-born comparative religionist, novelist, and and historian of religions, Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), who was professor and Director of the History of Religions department at the University of Chicago from 1958 until his death. In this creative and provocative work on the philosophy of history, Eliade approaches the issue of suffering and meaning in history through the contrast of Western and “Archaic” thinking about time and history in relation to a divine order.


Reading: Session 1; Eliade, Introduction, Preface, chps. 1-2, Concentrate on 1.

             Session 2: Eliade, chps. 3-4 and critical reviews. Concentrate on 4.

Required Readings:

Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, or Cosmos and History (Harper Touchbook, 1991 , ISBN 0-691-01777-8 (any edition OK)




Suffering in Albert Camus’ The Plague

Clark Power

(2 days)


Course Description:

Albert Camus’ The Plague remains a stirring plea for honesty and solidarity in the midst of suffering and indifference. We will examine Camus’s description of his vocation as an artist as “rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.”


Reading Assignment:

Albert Camus, The Plague, trans. Stuart Gilbert (Vintage)




On Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Robert Goulding

(2 days)


Course Description:

In his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1750-1776), David Hume subjected to scrutiny a wide range of rational arguments put forward in favor of religion, including, in the final chapters, arguments from theodicy. His Dialogues are modeled on those of Cicero, in which the several protagonists advocate for quite irreconcilable philosophical positions, and the reader is left to decide which is the strongest (and which, if any, reflects the author’s own beliefs). The three main speakers here are Cleanthes (a conventional theist and advocate for natural theology), Demea (who adopts a “mystical” and fideistic position), and Philo (a skeptic). The dialogues end by allowing that there may be some role for rational religion; but (as we shall discuss), the role seems to be small, and it is arguable whether even this conclusion is merited from the previous dialogues.


Reading Assignments

David Hume, “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,” Dialogues and Natural History of Religion (Oxford World Classics: ISBN 978-019-953832-4)


Session 1: Introduction and Dialogues I-VII (pp. 29-83)

Session 2: Dialogues VIII-XII, Dedicatory letter (pp. 84-130, 25-28)




Returning to Plato: Two Inquiries into Justice

Walt Nicgorski

(2 days)


This two-day seminar will examine two of Plato's inquiries on justice, one from the Republic and the other from his dialogue to Gorgias. You are welcome to use any translation of Plato’s texts as long as they are complete and utilize the Stephanus marginal numbers (e.g. 327b, 447c, etc.). All participants are encouraged to read or reread the entire Republic before arrival at Notre Dame. However, the discussions in the two seminar sessions will focus on what is indicated immediately below.

Session I: Books 1 through 4 of Plato’s Republic

Session II: Plato’s Gorgias (complete)



Voltaire’s Candide

Henry Weinfield

(1 day)


Did someone say, theodicy?


Well, have you read Candide, Voltaire’s great send-up of optimism?


In this one-day seminar, that’s what we’re going to do!


Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) wrote it over the course of a long weekend in 1759.


Please read it in the marvelous translation by Robert M. Adams, which is available in the Norton Critical Edition version (2nd edition). ISBN: 978-0-393-96058-7.


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Cost: $750 for one participant and $1,000 for two participants. Prices increase after April 30th.

Dorms: $72 for single room per night and $50 for a double room per person per night

Morris Inn: $139 per night and you will need to contact them directly and mention the PLS Summer Symposium (800-280-7256 or 574-631-2000)

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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