Thinking in Public: Christian Philosophers as Public Intellectuals
April 29 - May 1, 2010
Prince Conference Center at Calvin College
Sponsored by the Midwest Regional Conference of the Society of Christian Philosophers
Jean Bethke Elshtain, Matthew Halteman
University of Chicago, Calvin College
Philosophers have often played a role as public intellectuals and social critics, reaching beyond the guild to speak to wider sectors of society. While the philosophical academy is an important “public,” philosophical research can also serve a wider public. The past century provides a plethora of examples of philosophers who have engaged in cultural conversations as public intellectuals: from Bertrand Russell and Hannah Arendt to Richard Rorty, Martha Nussbaum, Cornel West, and Charles Taylor. We find philosophers writing not just for Mind and Nous but also the New York Review of Books and The National Review.
This concern for other “publics” is both amplified and specified for Christian philosophers. As Alvin Plantinga observed in his inaugural address, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Christian philosophers “are the philosophers of the Christian community; and it is part of their task as Christian philosophers to serve the Christian community.” This impinges not only on the questions we ask, but the audiences we address. As Plantinga concludes, “The Christian philosopher does indeed have a responsibility to the philosophical world at large; but his fundamental responsibility is to the Christian community, and finally to God.”
This conference encourages Christian philosophers to re-value the importance of “public intellectual work”—both for the wider society as well as the more specific “public” of the church. Our keynote speakers provide examples of such work. Jean Bethke Elshtain is a widely-cited commentator on contemporary politics, including issues of war and justice. Matthew Halteman is an emerging expert on issues of animal ethics and has written an important booklet for the Humane Society of the United States.
Seminars in Christian Scholarship
1855 Knollcrest Circle SE
Grand Rapids MI 49546-4402