Past Seminars

2017-2018: What does it mean to be a Humanist?

Paideia returns for another year of intercollegiate discussion to explore: What does it mean to be a Humanist?  Together we will explore varieties of humanism — including models from antiquity, the Renaissance, the Christian Tradition, secular humanism, scientific humanism, trans humanism, and anti-humanists — in order to compare competing accounts and evaluate which are compelling.   Over the course of a year, we hope to bring some clarity and precision to a term that has been, for most of the last 5 centuries, almost universally embraced though without any stable meaning.

This monthly seminar is an intercollegiate community of Penn, Villanova, Swarthmore, Eastern, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford students who together address the question, How can the Humanities actually humanize us? through the lens of various topics and approaches.

This year, Paideia will explore will explore these questions about “humanism” through a series of dinner seminars and excursions focusing on various versions and reiterations of humanism through time.

Our final session took place on Friday, April 20 at the University of Pennsylvania, with Professor Etienne Benson (UPenn) on Environmental humanism and anti-humanism.  

Previous Seminar Topics this Year

September 15th: Renaissance Humanism, with Prof. Eva Del Soldato (UPenn) on Petrarch, the “grandfather of humanism” and the influence of the Italian Renaissance thinkers.

October 20th: Italian Humanism, with Prof. Mark Shiffman (Villanova) on the humanism of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, his historical context in relation to the development of the university, and Machiavelli’s response.

November 10th: Seneca and Humanism, with Prof. William Turpin (Swarthmore) on Seneca, Stoicism, and the role of exempla in our lives.

January 26th: Humanism, Feminism, and Second-Person Ethics, with Prof. Amy Richards (Eastern) on the work of Simone Weil and the role of the personal, impersonal, and rights language.

February 16th: Transhumanism & Futurism: A Humanism for the Digital Age?, with Prof. Mark Shiffman (Villanova) on the transhumanist movement and its critics.

March 16th: The Erasmus Option, an Agora Institute Lecture featuring Gregory Wolfe relating to Christian Humanism.

2016 - 2017: Enchantment and Disenchantment in the Modern World

In the last 500 years the Western World has gone through a process of “disenchantment” with tremendous consequences for the way we live and experience the world, society, and ourselves. Meaning, which used to inhere in things, is now often seen as purely subjective, projected by us onto the world. Time and space are flat and communities mere aggregates of individuals.  Yet paradoxes remain: while evil becomes impersonal and natural it becomes both more and less threatening; genuinely scientific knowledge is supposed to require critical distance while data-driven policy making is routinely criticized for lacking personal contact and familiarity with the human beings it affects.  And the enchanted world endures in the small things. Family heirlooms still have meaning inhere in them, we pause at select moments and spaces to commemorate past greatness, and throughout the modern world the cry resounds for closer connections among the solitary individuals we have become. Can we really dispose of enchantment, and should we try to?  Would it make sense, on the contrary, to recultivate “enchantment” in the modern research university – the very place that was supposed to disenchant the rest of the world?

This monthly seminar is an intercollegiate community of Penn, Villanova, Swarthmore, Eastern, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford students who together address the question, How can the Humanities actually humanize us?

This year, Paideia will explore whether we ought to recultivate enchantment in the modern research university—the very place that was supposed to disenchant the rest of the world.  We will explore these questions through a series of dinner seminars and excursions focusing on themes like the modern texture of time and space, the way we deal with evil, how and where we find meaning, the bonds of voluntary community, the relationship between knowledge and love, and the desire for transcendence.

Previous Seminar Topics this Year

Friday, September 2: Magic in the Ancient World: discussion and tour of the Penn Museum’s special exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania

Friday, October 28: Enchantments of Mammon: Special guest, Dr. Eugene McCarraher on the enchantments of mammon / modern capitalism at Villanova University

Friday, December 2: (Dis)enchanted Reading?: Special guest, Dr. Jeffrey Dill on disenchantment in the modern academy and literature at Eastern University

Friday, February 24: Enchantments of Modern Science: Special guests, Dr. Joshua Schrier (Chemistry, Haverford) and Dr. Marisa March (Physics, UPenn) on science’s role in enchanting and disenchanting the modern world at Haverford College

Friday, March 24: Conversions: a discussion of Augustine’s Confessions and conversion in the Western Tradition, with Special guests, Dr. Phillip Cary (Eastern University) and Dr. Erika Kidd (University of St. Thomas and current invited fellow at the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University)

Friday, April 21: Poetry as Enchantment: Collegium’s Annual Humanities Symposium.  Special guest, Dr. James M. Wilson (Villanova) presented the methods which poetry uses to enchant and set the stage for students for an evening of dinner and poetry recitation.

2015-2016: How can the Humanities Humanize Us?

This year the Collegium Institute has partnered with universities from multiple faith traditions to launch The Paideia Seminar. It will summon the most diligent students from Penn, the Villanova Humanities Department, and the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University to explore the full promise of the liberal arts. The seminar convenes monthly and alternates between seminar feasts at each university and cultural excursions in the Philadelphia area.

The central question that the seminar will address this year is “How can the humanities humanize us?” Sub-themes include the role of leisure and contemplation in a life of service, the relationship between contingent cultures and transcendence, the connection of suffering with knowledge and beauty with wisdom, the centrality of friendship in the pursuit of truth, and the prospects for the humanities in the modern research university.

If you would like to participate, please send a brief letter of interest (150-250 words) describing what you expect to bring to the seminar and what you hope to draw from it to Michael Vazquez at The opening reception will take place on Friday, September 11th on Penn’s campus.