UD hosts “America, Liberalism, and Catholicism” conference

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

Correction: In an earlier version of this article it was incorrectly stated that Dr. Ryan Anderson was the new president of American Public Policy Institute (APPI). Dr. Daniel Burns will be the new president of APPI.

On Thursday, April 15 and Friday, April 16 , the University of Dallas hosted the “America, Liberalism, and Catholicism” JPII Conference. The conference was organized by Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, UD’s St. John Paul II Fellow in Social Thought and the American Public Philosophy Institute (APPI). The conference was co-sponsored by UD’s Provost’s Office and Liberal Learning for Life. 

The conference was originally scheduled for April 2020, before COVID-19 closed the campus. 

The conference featured well known intellectual speakers such as Drs. Patrick Deneen, Joseph Capizzi and Chad Pecknold along with UD’s own Drs.Christopher Wolfe, Gladden Pappin, and Daniel Burns. Each professor debated the merits of liberalism and Catholicism in America. 

Ross Douthat, an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, delivered the annual APPI Scherer Lecture entitled “Catholic Ideas Versus Catholic Realities?” on Thursday night, and Dr. Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, closed out the conference with a few concluding remarks. 

Anderson explained that the topics were influenced by the current political landscape. 

“It’s a perennially interesting topic that Catholics have been discussing for as long as America has existed. Recent developments in both politics and scholarship brought renewed attention to the topic and we thought it a perfect topic for UD’s first conference associated with the JPII teaching fellowship,” Anderson wrote.

In an email interview with The University News, Dr. Gladden Pappin, Associate Professor of Politics, further explained the importance of this topic.

“As the liberal order grows fragile and sclerotic, more people are beginning to ask what comes next. Catholics have a strong role to play in that discussion, with their robust tradition of the common good as well as of the Church itself.”

In an adaption of Anderson’s opening remarks to the conference, published online at Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute, Anderson offers a few words of advice for those interested in viewing the recordings online when they are posted on UD’s Youtube channel later this week.

“You’ll want to be attuned to how terms are being used…. So, when we have these debates, we ought to clarify the meaning of “liberal” and “liberalism” we have in mind when using that word—and, most importantly, we ought to think in terms of what is sound, true, good, reasonable, etc.”

“We should consider all of this in light of three big questions: What is the nature of the American regime? How should we evaluate it? And what should we do now?” Anderson wrote. 

“Resist the temptation to outsource your thinking to a team or a party. Rooting for a team is appropriate in sports, and partisan politics may be a necessity of a political system like ours, but both are detrimental to the intellectual process.” 

As a Catholic university, UD is the ideal forum in which to have these discussions, Anderson explained.

“This is why the Catholic Church throughout the ages has taken university life so seriously, and the intellectual give and take of arguments, reasons, evidence, so seriously,” Anderson wrote.

Anderson believes that UD should continue to be “at the forefront of the scholarly discussions that matter most,” and he hopes to plan another conference in the future. 

In an email interview with The University News, Dr. Daniel Burns, Interim Associate Dean of Constantine College explained why UD was the perfect place to hold this conference. 

 “I don’t think there’s any better place in the country for Catholic intellectuals to discuss and debate the relationship between our faith and our civic allegiance. As John Alvis’s famous King lecture in 1989 emphasized, Catholicism and American patriotism are both essential to making our school what it is. We should also never be afraid to discuss possible tensions between the two, particularly in a moment like ours,” Burns wrote. 

Pappin agreed with Burns’ assessment. 

“UD stands out in the present academic environment as a university whose commitment to the truth frees it to host the best and most important conversations on the issues now facing us,” Pappin wrote.

As the host of this conference, UD further realizes its place in the long tradition of Catholic university life and embodies the intellectual community necessary to “share and discuss ideas with, to think together, if we are ever to make intellectual progress,” Anderson wrote.

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