I invite my students to ponder the great questions of life through immersion in the best texts that the West has to offer. The majority of our class time is spent slowly and carefully reading a primary text together, which acts as a springboard for conversation. Through Socratic dialogue, I prompt my students to think about topics they may have never contemplated before: how do we know what we know? What is evil? Do we have free will? What are the limits of language? I want them to realize why metaphysical questions are relevant, so I often say to them that “how you think about the world is intimately connected to how you act in the world.”
Students often dismiss Christianity as a superstition that was founded on the ridiculous myth that a man and a woman ate a piece of fruit. My second objective, therefore, is for all of my students to take Christianity seriously, and see how deep and rich it is intellectually. I attempt to accomplish this by sharing with them great thinkers such as Basil of Caesarea, Bernard of Clairvaux, and John Henry Newman.
Third, I help my students develop the skills of thinking critically and analytically. In order to encourage this type of reflection, I ask them questions such as “why is this theologian saying x, y, and z,” or, “what is at stake here?”
Fourth, I want my students to learn the skill of how to read a text. I tell them that reading a text does not mean that you know the definitions of all the words in a given sentence. Especially when dealing with a text that is over a thousand years old, it is imperative to understand its many levels. I ask them questions about audience, genre, the assumptions that the author has compared to assumptions we have in the 21st century, and how this text relates to ones we have read previously in class.
Finally, I want my students to become lovers of wisdom. It is important for my students to recognize that studying Christianity is not fundamentally about memorizing names, dates, theologians, or councils. Rather, Christianity, at the very least, offers young men and women an interlocutor that can help them as they venture into the task of crafting their own lives. As Pierre Hadot said in his Philosophy as a Way of Life, “the philosophical act is not situated merely on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a conversion which turns our entire life upside down, changing the life of the person who goes through it.”