The University at the Edge of Words

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George O'Brien


The contemporary academy exists in a world of words. Broadly speaking, there is the scientific way of words and the humanistic way with words. From the origin of the university to the present, there has been strong opposition to academic study. In twelfth century Europe, monks with their way with words, lectio divina, were bitterly opposed to the new universities. This essay outlines an analogous suspicion about academic study expressed in rock music, particularly by the 1990s band Nirvana and its leader, Kurt Cobain. Monks and rockers suggest that life in its chaos or its salvation has no place in “academic” study. I counter that, properly understood, theology in the curriculum can address life and life’s salvation. The essay ends with a practical suggestion for Catholic educators: a curriculum of service that addresses life, its moral demands, and its inevitable failures.

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