Is civil discourse dead? Two modern-day intellectual giants will address this pressing question next week in a virtual talk hosted by the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought (AICT) in Boulder.
On Jan. 21, AICT director Dr. Scott Powell will speak with Professor Robert George of Princeton University and Professor Cornel West of Harvard University in a talk that serves as the climax of their virtual speaker series that kicked off last fall. Professors George and Cornell are at two different ends of the ideological spectrum, yet their friendship and ability to engage in discourse is well known among the scholarly community, and serves as a crucial example to a society that seems to become more divided every day.
“Robert George and Cornel West [are] two men who have a deep, deep love for each other and a deep friendship with each other, but who disagree pretty intensely, politically and societally and about all sorts of other things,” Powell told the Denver Catholic. “Theirs is a demonstration of how we can actually disagree with each other in love.”
To register for the talk, visit thomascenter.org/civildiscourse. The talk starts at 7 p.m. mountain time.
The Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought is the intellectual formation arm of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Each year, they host a variety of speakers and debates which address some of the hot topics of the times from a Catholic perspective. This year, due to COVID restrictions, these events cannot be held in-person, so the AICT has been going the virtual route instead.
Instead of the usual lecture format the speaker series utilizes, Powell has engaged in livestreamed conversations with the speakers, the first of which was Sept. 22 with Father Josh Johnson, Vocations Director for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La. and author of Broken and Blessed, who discussed “Loving Well Across the Racial Divide.” The conversation format, Powell said, is both “easier to listen to,” and also reflects the goal of the speaker series, which is to show that it is possible to engage in conversations about contentious issues in a loving and civil way.
On Oct. 19. Dr. Powell had a conversation with Father Mike Schmitz about “Building Community in a Time of COVID.” Father Schmitz is the director of youth and young adult ministries in the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., and is best known for his YouTube videos in which he answers theological and moral questions.
On Nov. 19, Dr. Powell hosted a conversation with J.D. Flynn, former editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency and current editor-in-chief of The Pillar, on the topic of “Fake News and Spiritual Exhaustion.”
“There is an underlying theme that kind of runs through [the talks],” Powell explained. “The point to make is that a lot of folks aren’t actually having conversations about these things. We’re hearing soundbites. We’re hearing people yelling at each other. We’re seeing things being thrown at us and spit at us and yelled at us by the media, but we’re not seeing the experience of sitting down and talking through things.
“The reason I chose these particular topics and these particular speakers is that these are the questions that our students are asking and these are the conversations that they’re having online with each other,” Dr. Powell said. “I want them to know definitively that the church has stuff to say about this.”