Resurrection of UD’s Anscombe Society

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Photo courtesy of John Paul Elfelt

The University of Dallas chapter of The Anscombe Society had its first meeting in two years on Wednesday, Sept. 16. The club was originally started by Emily Lataif in 2016 through the Love & Fidelity Network. 

Senior English major John Paul Elfelt was contacted over the summer by the previous president Allyson Grubbs ‘18 and has assumed the role of club president this year. 

According to Elfelt, the goal of The Anscombe Society is “to study the nature of the sexual dimension of the human person in light of Catholic teaching and a sound ethical framework through the lens of Anscombe’s reflections,” by means of a student-led seminar.

“The topics that will be covered include, but are not limited to, the nature of marriage, chastity, the essence and purpose of the marital act, the substantive difference between Natural Family Planning and contraception, questions about when life begins and abortion, and many more pertinent questions about sexuality,” said Elfelt.

“The Anscombe Society encourages unifying knowledge with action, wisdom with the day-to-day, so that with sound ideas about the role of sexuality, we may engage the world with more pure and affectionate hearts,” said Elfelt. “Knowing is not enough; we still have a will and passions. But knowing can order oneself towards an image of a splendid life; at that point, it’s a matter of habit and perseverance—and prayer!”

In the first meeting of the UD chapter of The Anscombe Society this year, about 30 students gathered to discuss Anscombe’s 1977 essay “Contraception and Chastity.” The essay delivers a framework for understanding the purpose of the marital act and to show how contraception is incompatible with marriage. Anscombe defends the Church’s teaching about marriage citing Augustine, Aquinas and papal encyclicals to show that marriage, properly considered, is ordered towards the union of the spouses and procreation.

The society takes its name from British analytic philosopher Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, who lived from 1919-2001. Anscombe was a Roman Catholic, a wife, mother of seven and a highly regarded Cambridge professor most known for translating Wittgenstein into English and her precise writing about ethics. 

Anscombe was chosen as the namesake of the club, according to the mission statement of the Princeton chapter of the society, because of her “unabashed dedication to the life of the mind and to marriage and family in her life and work.” 

According to the Love & Fidelity Network website, Anscombe Societies began at Princeton University when a group of students, led by then-undergraduate Cassandra Hough, decided they were unhappy with their campus’s attitude toward sex and relationships, and had “had enough of college hookup culture.” The goal of the club was to offer their peers a richer and more beautiful alternative view of dating, love and marriage through the lens of philosophical thought and teachings.

After graduating from Princeton, Hough received numerous requests to help start Anscombe Societies at other universities. She founded the Love & Fidelity Network in 2007 in order to support the student initiatives. Although it is still a small organization, there are chapters of The Anscombe Society at universities such as Yale, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and the Catholic University of America.

According to Elfelt, the club will be having seminar discussions as their primary form of meeting. 

“Given the present circumstances, we can’t bring in speakers,” said Elfelt. “Our seminar discussions’ purpose is for insight into the truth about sexual matters. The format of a seminar discussion encourages questions, debate, insights, all for the sake of two things: first, knowing the truth and second, loving and defending the truth.”

The club’s officers are seniors Meg McDonough, Patrick Andrews, Joe Boyle, Bobby Lueck and Tricia Davern.

Andrews, a senior classics and philosophy major, said, “Wednesday’s meeting gave us a real taste of the possibilities this club has before it: to create conversations among UD students about the philosophical meaning of sex and the import of this meaning for relationships, religion, family and politics. The conversations we have aren’t really intended to pronounce a final, thorough verdict on any question, but to facilitate further conversations between students after each event.” 

“I hope with each event we have, more and more students will attend and enhance their ability to seriously ponder and discuss what sexuality is all about,” said Andrews.

“One of our goals is to have a clearer sense of human freedom relative to our sexuality,” said Elfelt. “In the background of these discussions looms several difficult questions: ‘What is human flourishing? What is human freedom?’”

The society is largely focused on studying Anscombe’s work and papal encyclicals. Elfelt hopes to have speakers in the future and possibly host events with other chapters and plans to close the semester by reading “Libertas,” an encyclical about human freedom by Pope Leo XIII. 

“This will give a helpful framework for understanding the nature of human freedom, giving more form and shape to the philosophical work about sexuality studied in our seminars,” said Elfelt.

The club plans to consistently meet every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. The next meeting will be on Sept. 30th, and consecutive seminars will be on Oct. 14 and 28, and on Nov. 11 and 25.

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