The title of a recent book on Catholic higher education by Rev. John C. Haughey, SJ, poses an important question: Where is Knowing Going?1 The question at first glance would seem to be the familiar modern question seeking to identify intellectual trends in an effort to extrapolate into the future and establish a measure of value for current practices by assessing which seem to have the strongest stake in that imagined future. But the subtitle—The Horizons of the Knowing Subject—interrupts that supposition: the question posed by the title intends to break into the intellectual habits of the faculty practitioners of academic disciplines by calling upon anyone engaged in the pursuit of knowledge to consider the dynamism inherent in the act of knowing and to become more fully cognizant of the sources, the implications, and the suppositions that each academic discipline requires to sustain its established practices. The book proposes a path to renewal of the Catholic identity of Catholic universities that originates from within the core of the university. If faculty, while pursuing their discipline-based programs of teaching and research, can also engage one another to consider the intellectual whole in which they all participate, even if only implicitly, then the catholicity [End Page 5] inherent in the drive to know will become manifest, and a path to the Catholic intellectual tradition and to the Catholic identity of the university will unfold.
This concept need not be credited with novelty to be recognized as potentially helpful. Haughey cites Blessed John Henry Newman near the conclusion of the first chapter, and points to Newman’s concern that scholars who neglect the importance of the whole circle of knowledge while establishing expertise in a particular academic discipline thereby engage in idolatry by regarding a part as though it were the whole. The book brings a hopeful openness of inquiry and engagement in its encounter with faculty at Catholic universities, as Haughey intersperses his analysis with material drawn from more than twenty workshops with a large number of faculty members from various disciplines.
His extensive experience with the contemporary American university leads him to identify what he calls two theological poverties. First, there is a lack of insight into the source of the good. He thinks that faculty, when engaged in the subject matter of their disciplines, should be able to realize that “finite good comes from infinite goodness,” (6) and argues that such a realization emerges more from wide-ranging testimony to this understanding than from demonstration or proof. Second, he thinks there is a poverty of insight into the concept of catholicity in its sense of the universal, pointing here specifically to the problem of fragmentation identified by Newman when scholars pursue knowledge within the boundaries of an academic discipline while neglecting to consider the connections to a larger whole implicit within knowledge. It would be fair to say that this kind of poverty is analogous to the phenomenon in relatively wealthy nations of a poverty that is connected to the particular kind of richness that is on display in such nations. Just as a cultural emphasis on the activities and habits that are materially productive can, by its success, cast a shadow over spiritual pursuits, so also the impressive productivity of the leading academic disciplines can induce neglect of other questions [End Page 6] and pursuits that might be fruitful in a manner not recognized and valued by prevailing concepts of academic success.
In a tone that exemplifies the core values that the book proposes, Haughey extols the value of hospitality as one way to strengthen an understanding of the academic promise of Catholic identity within the university. This concept and cultural practice with deep historical roots and a rich Christian heritage gathers within itself many elements that are fully at home in the contemporary university. Each academic discipline can recognize a kind of intellectual hospitality reflected in openness and receptivity to the data that are the material of each discipline. Scholars know they must be ready to welcome facts, information, and theories that perhaps do not confirm the established conventional wisdom, and it is a familiar academic practice to challenge...