How to Read Christian Poetry

Dear Lord Pay Attention to Me:

How to Read Christian Poetry

What do poetry and prayer have in common? In our contemporary world, poetry is often thought of as an art form of personal expression, or a meditation on personal identity. Prayer, on the other hand, describes the appeal a believer, or possible believer, might make to a deity larger than the self. The title of this seminar comes from Robert Frost’s definition of prayer: “Dear Lord – Pay attention – to me.” When we meet, we’ll try to figure out what poetry has to offer Christian thinking and practice, and, perhaps more radically, what Christian thinking and practice has to offer poetry. Our readings will come from “Christian” poems, and will also argue that there is such a thing – that art doesn’t have to be detached from faith, or, indeed, other Christian ideas, either in its composition or in its study.

The seminar is structured around four Christian “states of mind” and poems/prayers that have used those states of mind as occasions. We won’t have time to talk about all the readings for the week, but it’s my hope that they might lead you into further investigations. We’ll start with close reading a poem and maybe, if time permits, move on to another. Instead of reading towards a historical period, or a set of aesthetic qualities, we’re going to try to read towards these states of mind in an attempt to get familiar with them and see what they might have to do with both poetry and Christian thinking.

Dates: Wednesday evenings on 1.24, 1.31, 2.7, 2.14
Time: 5:30-7:00pm

Discussion Schedule:

1/24: Faith: From “Eleven Addresses to the Lord,” John Berryman; 373 (“This World is not Conclusion”) Emily Dickinson “Good Friday: Riding Westward,” John Donne; “After Apple Picking” Robert Frost; “The Raft,” Carl Phillips; from My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman.

1/31: Mercy: “Love III” and “The Collar,” George Herbert; a few poems by Fanny Howe; “To A Blossoming Pear Tree” James Wright; “The Only Animal,” Franz Wright; from The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Matthew 5:3-12.

2/7: Despair: “Eve’s Lament” an old Celtic poem; 320 (“There’s a certain slant of light”) by Emily Dickinson; from “East Coker” in Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot; “Carrion Comfort,” “No worst, there is none,” “My own heart let me more have pity on,” Gerard Manley Hopkins; “Litany,” Chiyuma Elliott.

2/14: Joy: “Holy Spirit,” Hildegard of Bingen; the “Hail Mary” and the “Magnificat;” “Spring,” Gerard Manley Hopkins; “A Blessing” by James Wright; “The Figure a Poem Makes,” by Robert Frost.

Location: Berkeley Institute, 2134 Allston Way

This seminar is free and open to all Cal, GTU, and St. Mary’s students. For more information or copies of the short readings, please contact

Theology Reading Groups

Catholic Theology Reading Group

Dates: Wednesday afternoons on 2.21, 2.28, 3.14, 3.21.
Time: 2:30-3:30pm
Student Leaders: Alexander Huber and Jule Coppa
Reading: Selections from Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism
Reading schedule:

2.21: God and Theology, Chapter One, focusing on pages 1-10, 17-22, 39-46
2.28: Creation and Humanity, Chapter Three, focusing on pp. 88-93, 98-109, 113-126
3.14: The Incarnation, Chapter Four, focusing on pp. 135-157, 168-172
3.21: Authority and the Church, pp. 180-186, 194-196, 203-210, 31-39

Protestant Theology Reading Group

Dates: Saturday mornings on 4.7, 4.14, 4.21, 4.28.
Time: 10am-11am
Student Leaders: Nathaniel Hodson and Bailey Farren
Reading: Selections from Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
Reading schedule:

4.7: Dogma and Doubt in a Pluralist Culture, chapters 1-2
4.14: Authority, Autonomy, and Tradition, chapters 3-4
4.21: Christ as the Clue to History, chapters 8-9
4.28: The Church and the Myth of Secular Society, chapters 17-18

Our student-led theology reading groups are open to students of all faiths, viewpoints, and traditions. No prior knowledge or study of theology is required. A free copy of the book will be provided to fully participating students from Cal, GTU, or St. Mary’s. For more information, please contact

Do We Have Free Will?

Do We Have Free Will?

It seems hardly possible to lead a meaningful life without assuming the freedom to choose and to pursue goals and purposes. Nevertheless, throughout history this assumption has been challenged, be it by Marxists, psychologists or, more recently, by neurophysiologists. Almost all of these challenges to free will are rooted in forms of materialism. Other challenges, however, are religious in nature (predestination). With the help of some key texts, which will be provided, we will see how free will is best understood, and what grounds we have for assuming its existence.

Dates: Thursday evenings on 4.5, 4.12, 4.19, 4.26.
Time: 5:30-7:00pm
Location: Berkeley Institute, 2134 Allston Way

Reading Schedule:

4/5: Jean-Paul Sartre, “Freedom and Responsibility“; B.F. Skinner, “Walden Two” (excerpt). First part of Timothy O’Connor, “Conscious Willing and the Emerging Sciences of Brain and Behavior”.

4/12:  Timothy O’Connor, “Conscious Willing and the Emerging Sciences of Brain and Behavior” (cont); Robert Albritton, “Freedom of Will and Freedom of Action”.

4/19: St. Augustine, Confessions, book 8 (excerpt); St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, qq. 9-10 (excerpt).

4/26: St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, q. 22, article 8.

**This seminar is free and open to all Cal, St. Mary’s, and GTU students.

Science and Value

Science and Value

Some think that good science is, or should be, free from the influence of values. Drawing from contemporary philosophy of science, in this seminar we will explore questions like: what does it mean for science to be free from values? Can science be free from values? If science can’t be free from values, is it still objective, reliable, trustworthy, etc.? What roles should science have in society if it is not value free? We will discuss and evaluate arguments for the claim that scientific practices cannot be insulated from the influence of values, as well as examples from various scientific disciplines. Then, we will draw implications from the claim that science is not value free. We will consider what properties such a science might have (e.g., is it objective? Is it reliable?), and how the general public and policy makers should interact with it.

Dates: Tuesday evenings on 3.6, 3.13, 3.20 and 4.3.
Time: 6:30-8:00pm

Reading Schedule:

3.6: The Value Free Idea

  • Hugh Lace, “Introduction” in Is Science Value-Free?, pp. 1-19

3.13: Values in Engaging with Evidence

  • Heather Dougals, “Bullshit at the interface of science and policy”, pp. 219-225 (“Bullshit of universal standards”)
  • Kathleen Okruhlik, “Gender and the biological sciences”, pp. 21-31

3.20: Values in Theoretical Virtues

  • Helen Longino, “Cognitive and non-cognitive values in science: rethinking the dichotomy”

4.3: What if Values are Inherent to Science? 

  • Helen Longino, Science as Social Knowledge, pp. 66-80
  • Philip Kitcher, Science in a Democratic Society, pp. 110-125

Location: Berkeley Institute, 2134 Allston Way

For copies of the readings, please contact

This seminar is free and open to all Cal, GTU, and St. Mary’s students.

Love and Friendship

Christian Love vs Friendship:

How to Treat Ourselves and Others

What does it mean to love? How is the Christian commandment to love one’s neighbor di.ferent from loving one’s friends or partner? What does love require one to believe, do, and hope for? We will read selections from Soren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, and the discussions will emphasize practical wisdom, that is, how we should live our lives. A free copy of the book will be provided all participating students from Cal, GTU, and St. Mary’s.  For more information, please contact

Dates: Thursdays on 2.15, 2.22, 3.1, 3.8
Time: 5:30-7:00 PM

Reading schedule:

2/15: Who should I love?  – “You Shall Love the Neighbor,” pp. 58-72.
2/22: How should I love? – “You Shall Love the Neighbor,” pp. 73-98.
3/1: Why is love good? – “Love Builds Up,” pp. 199-212
3/8: What should I believe about people I love? – “Love Believes All Things–And Yet is Never Deceived,” pp. 213-230

All readings from Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love. Trans. Howard and Edna Hong. New York: Harper, 2009.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

When Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientifc Revolutions appeared in 1962, it offered a radically new perspective on the history of science. It challenged the prevailing view that science develops by “accumulation” and argued instead that the history of science is marked by revolutionary “paradigm shifts.” In this seminar we will read selections from Kuhn’s seminal book, meeting to discuss its implications for the practice of science and the evolution of scientific knowledge. The readings will develop a model for scientific revolutions from historical developments in the physical sciences, which will be discussed in relation to on-going revolutions within a variety of scientific disciplines, including geology, cosmology, genetics, and neuroscience. Together, we will examine the stages in the “life” of scientific ideas alongside a brief history of the scientists who shaped them. For a free copy of the book or to receive more information, please contact

Dates: Monday evenings on 11.6, 11.13, 11.27, 12.4

Time: 6:00-7:30pm

Reading Schedule:

Week 1: Kuhn chapter 1 and Karl Popper “Conjectures and Refutations” sections 1-3,5,7.
Week 2: Kuhn chapters 2-4
Week 3: Kuhn chapters 6, 8
Week 4: Kuhn chapters 10, 12. *This meeting will be held in Stephens Hall, Room 470*