Spring ’17 Faculty Dinner Talks

Tuesday, February 14th: “The Origins of the Big Bang” by  Prof. Karl van Bibber (UC Berkeley – Nuclear Physics)

Tuesday, March 7th:  “Citizenship and the Limits of Empathy” by Prof. Kathleen Peterson (UC Davis – English)

Tuesday, April 18th: “The Fate of Beauty in Modern Music” by  Prof. George Barth (Stanford University – Music)

The Metaphysics of Goodness

How might assuming the best help us understand the world? According to Gottfried Leibniz, the world is most rationally explained by assuming that all things are ordered with an eye towards what is good and even best. Things happen for a good reason—not only human actions, but events in the natural world as well. This seminar will introduce students to the metaphysics of Leibniz, a field of study that seeks to explain the ultimate nature of reality. We will read selections from his Discourse on Metaphysics and his Monadology. Our goal will be to see how Leibniz’s approach to the deepest questions of philosophy might help us better understand the nature of God, the world, and our place in it.

Dates: Wednesday evenings on 4.5, 4.12, 4.19, 4.26.

Time: 5:30-7:00

Readings: For a free copy of the book, please contact director@binst.org


April 5: Discourse on Metaphysics, p. 1-21 (sect. 1-18)
April 12: Discourse on Metaphysics, p. 21-41 (sect. 19-37)
April 19: Monadology, p. 68-81
April 26:  Discourse, paragraphs 10, 17-22, 32-36. Monadology, paragraphs 8-12, 56-62.


The Problem of Identity

We often talk about identity to get at questions about being ourselves–who am I, what am I, and what makes me this person I am? But when we start to press these questions, we can find it hard to capture the most basic experiences of selfhood–the values, intuitions, hopes, and predicaments that shape our identities. This seminar will take up the problem of identity from a variety of religious perspectives. Its goal is to see how religious thought might offer conceptual resources that deepen and enlarge our ability to think clearly our own identities. This seminar will be co-taught by Prof. Steven Justice.

Dates: 1.26, 2.2, 2.9. 2.16, 2.23, 3.2, 3.9. 3.16, 3.23.

Time: Thursdays, 6:00-7:30pm.

Reading Schedule:

1.26: James K.A. Smith, How Not To Be Secular (excerpt)

2.2: Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith (excerpt)

2.9: Simone Weil, “A Spiritual Autobiography”

2.16: Pascal, Pensees (selections)

2.23: Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian (excerpts)

3.2: John of the Cross, The Dark Night (selections)

3.9: Dante, Divine Comedy 

3.16: Augustine, Confessions, Book One.


What Christianity Offers the University

What Christianity Offers the Secular University

What place do assumptions that are distinctly religious have in the contemporary, secular academy?  Often, when people are asking this question, they want to know whether there might be some conflict between being a committed adherent of a religion and the enterprise of seeking knowledge.  But we want to ask a bigger question, and one that should be of special interest to Christians: is there something positive and distinct that religious views can offer the academy? In this seminar we will see how religious assumptions—about what the world is like and what we ought to do—make an important contribution to the university’s pursuit of knowledge.

Dates: Monday evenings on 3.13, 3.20, 4.3, 4.10
Time: 6:30-8:00 PM

Reading schedule:

3/13: Kyla Ebels-Duggan, “Autonomy as an Intellectual Virtue”
3/20: Alvin Plantinga, “Advice to Christian Philosophers”; Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Advice to Those Who Would be Christian Scholars”
4/3: J. Aaron Simmons, “The Strategies of Christian Philosophy”



Fall ’16 Faculty Dinner Talks

Monday, September 26th: “The Devotional Life of Animals” by Prof. Joanna Picciotto (UC-Berkeley – English)

Thursday, October 20th: “What is Liberal Education and Why Does It Matter?” by Dr. Peter Berkowitz (Stanford University)

Monday, November 14th: “The Christian Mandate for Space Exploration” by Prof. Brian Green (Santa Clara University)

The Character of Work

The Character of Work: Finding Meaning in Your Vocation

The relationship between our professional lives and moral identities is by all accounts conflicted.  We are unsure how much personal fulfillment our work should provide.  We are unsure whether our jobs ought to reflect our deepest commitments.  Matters are made more difficult if we lack the ability to think clearly about the nature and character of work itself. How should we decide which vocation to pursue? How will that choice shape our understanding of time, place, and identity? How much money is enough? Are there hidden dangers to working with technology? This seminar will be taught by Matthew Rose.

Reading List:

L.A. Paul, Transformative Experience (excerpt)
John M. Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”
Matthew Crawford, “Shop Class as Soulcraft”
Dorothy Sayers, “What is Work?”
Jacques EllulThe Ethics of Freedom (excerpt)
Gilbert Meilaender, “Working: Its Meaning and Its Limits”