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  • The Place of Modern Scientific Research in the University According to John Henry Newman
  • David Fleischacker (bio)

In 1852, the year in which he delivered his famous lectures in Dublin, which would form the first half of The Idea of a University, Newman had conceived of scientific research as an enterprise distinct from the university and from a university education. There were a variety of non-university research institutes in Newman's day, as there are today. These research institutes promoted modern science in service to modern industry. Up to the nineteenth century, the modern paradigm of science had not made its way into the universities, but during that century this changed. Modernity was the emerging cultural trend of Newman's day, and the revolutions of the eighteenth century helped to forge the way for its entrance into the universities. London University, founded in 1836, had modern research and science as its archetype of knowledge, a knowledge that had value because of its industrial and social utility. Oxford had been pushed in this direction, but it did not immediately capitulate because the Oxford movement in the 1830s slowed its development.

By 1858, Newman himself seems to have moved a bit closer to the advocates of the new modern scientific and industrial university. [End Page 101] He argued that research belonged in the university. Yet, he accepted neither modern science as the primary archetype of knowledge nor modern utilitarian industry as its reason for being. So, something had changed for Newman between 1852 and 1858.

The Development of Newman's Idea of a Modern Catholic University

In the fall of 1851, at the request of Archbishop Paul Cullen, Newman began to put together his discourses that would be delivered in Dublin the next spring.1 These discourses needed to explain the rationale for a Catholic University in Ireland. He had to deal with some of the pressing debates of the day, especially the question of mixed education, which professed the acceptance of all religions by professing none. Newman also had to argue for the place of theology within the university. The significance of theology had been degraded for many years within England because it was not understood as a discipline capable of upholding the standards of modern science. Many questioned whether theology was a legitimate form of knowledge, and, thus, whether it should hold a position in the university.

In May and June of 1852, Newman addressed these questions on mixed education and the place of theology in the university in five public discourses. In the following months, he wrote five more, which would then complete the Discourses on a University Education that was published in February 1853. At the beginning of this collection is a preface in which Newman identifies scientific research as an activity outside of the university:

The view taken of a University in the Discourses which form this Volume, is of the following kind:—that it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge, rather than the [End Page 102] advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of philosophy and science. Such is a University in its essence.2

Intellectual training was the primary duty of a university. Research is not training, but rather it is philosophical or scientific discovery or "advancement."

This separation of "scientific and philosophical discovery" from the university would change in Newman's writings by 1854, arguably as a result of writing essays explaining the nature of a university to the public.3 It had become clear to him during the previous two years that much of the public and many benefactors of the university did not really understand the nature of a university.4 If a Catholic university was to thrive, Newman knew that this had to change. Hence, starting in June 1854, he published the University Gazette, which included a number of essays explaining the university using historical and concrete examples...


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