Wednesday, August 29, 2012

College Students Research Companion

Arlene R. Quaratiello with Jane Devine, The College Student's Research Companion: Finding, Evaluating, and Citing Resources You Need to Succeed. 5th ed. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2011. 183 pages. ISBN: 9781555707293

Most students do not know where to begin when required to do a research paper. Many students will just do searches in Google or some other search engine. We have many students who come to the library not sure where to begin their research. Several years ago I began to see research as a process more than a product. I began to break of the research paper into different steps for my students. The students found this helpful.

Arlene R. Quaratiello's The College Student's Research Companion does something similar. The book contains eight chapters: Chapter 1 discusses coming up with a "research plan." This includes choosing a topic and narrowing it. Chapter 2 emphasizes evaluating resources. The author describes her PACAC Method: purpose, authority, currency, accuracy, and content. Searching the Web is described in chapter three. The author offers good advice in this chapter. For example, she emphasizes the importance of evaluating websites and the problem of using sources from the web. Chapter four covers the basics of all databases and how to search them. The next two chapters teaches how to search for books and articles. Chapter seven discusses how to use reference sources, both print and non-print. In this new edition, tha author has added new information. For example, in chapter eight she describes how to take different types of notes and provides a reference guide for citing in the three most popular formats: MLA, APA, and Chicago.

Quaratiello has made a good book better. It is a good introduction for senior high students and beginning college students. It would be also useful for the beginning adult researcher. It emphasizes the importance of libraries and how to use them most officially. It also includes helpful information on how to search databases. In addition, she provides information on how to get the most use out of websites. The author  also stresses the importance of evaluating resources. I recommend this book for beginning researchers and those who need a refresher. The good thing about this book is that it can be read in a few hours and it is easy to read.

Books to Read

James V. Schall in his book, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, lists twenty-five books everyone should read:

1. Josef Pieper: An Anthology
2. G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
3. Yves Simon, A General Theory of Authority
4. Dorothy Sayers, The Whimsical Christian
5. E. F. Schumacher, A Guide to the Perplexed
6. Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, a Novel
7. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
8. James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
9. Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World
10. Leon Kass, The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfection of our Nature
11. Karol Wojtyla, Crossing the Threshold of Hope
12. J. M. Bochenski, Philosophy: An Introduction
13. Hilaire Belloc, The Four Men
14. Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History
15. Hans Urs von Balthasar, A Short Primer for Unsettled Laymen
16. J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories," The Tolkien Reader
17. Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource II
18. Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason
19. Hadley Arkes, First Things: An Inquiry into First Principles of Morals and Justice
20. Stanley Jaki, Chance or Reality and Other Essays
21. Henry Veatch, Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics
22. Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture
23. Christopher Derrick, Escape from Skepticism: Liberal Education as if the Truth Mattered
24. E. L. Mascall, The Christian Universe
25. Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue

I have read most of these books and highly commend them. If these books are not available through your library, you can order them through Inter-library loan, a service provided by most libraries.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Perennial Tradition

John W. Carlson, Understanding our Being: Introduction to Speculative Philosophy in the Perennial Tradition. Washington, D. C. : Catholic University of America Press, 2008. 319 pages. ISBN: 9780813215181.

What is the perennial tradition? It is often referred to as the Great Tradition. It is the school of philosophy that follows the follow of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. In Understanding our Being: Introduction to Speculative Philosophy in the Speculative Philosophy in the Perennial Tradition, John W. Carlson describes and updates this tradition for 21st century students. Carlson has written a book that introduces us to this philosophical tradition in a way that is pedagogical sound. This book is intended primarily for use in college and university courses.

John W. Carlson is professor and chair of the department and chair of the department of philosophy at Creighton University. Carlson writes that this is a book of "speculative philosophy." He describes philosophy as a love of wisdom. The author note that wisdom "suggests an understanding of ultimate matters," particularly "the nature of our being, as well as concerning the choices proper for us, as individuals and as communities. Carlson notes that his focus will "be the school represented by the school of St. Thomas."

There are many strengths to this book. It takes the thinking of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and followers of their thought and makes it applicable to modern readers. It shows what is still applicable and what is not. Carlson is reader-friendly for people new to the tradition. This is a good book for beginners and it will be helpful to those already familiar with this tradition.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part discusses being. The author defines being in the glossary as: "that which is-- the natural world, substances with their features and accidents." The author has a helpful glossary that defines key terms in the book. I do think the first part of the book is the hardest part of the book to understand, but it lays the foundation for what follows. The second part discusses the human person, and particularly their intellect and will. He also describes the soul and places himself within the position of a modified dualism. This book's comes also from a critical realist position. The third part discusses what we can know of God philosophically. Carlson discusses Thomas Aquinas five ways or proofs of the existence of God which in some sense is one argument. People are contingent whose existence requires a necessary being. In the last part, he discusses the problem of evil. The author notes in this section that a full defense of the perennial tradition's defense of God in regards to evil "may require the resources of religious faith."

The last part of the book covers religious faith. In some sense, this was my favorite part of the book. One of the question he asks in this section, Is it reasonable to accept revelation? The author shows how it is reasonable to accept revelation. I like how he describes faith as a commitment of the whole person. It requires both the will and the intellect.  Carlson notes how "Aquinas pointed out long ago," 'faith is compatible with some degree of contrary spiritual motions, questioning, doubt, and interior struggle.'

This book is recommended for those who are interested in learning about the perennial tradition, the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas. This tradition has been enriched by many Christian thinkers. Even Protestants can learn alot from this tradition.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

God and Evolution

Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote an excellent essay on Catholicism and evolution in First Things in October 2007 issue. See link below to read the article.

The first part of the article narrates the history of the interaction between evolution and Catholic teaching. Pope John Paul II said the Galileo case led the church "to a more mature attitude and a more accurate grasp of the authority proper to her enabling her better to distinguish between essentials of the faith and the scientific systems of a given age." In addition, he discusses how the pope's comments were misinterpreted to mean that he "accepted the Neo-Darwinian view that evolution is sufficiently explained by random mutations and natural selection without any kind of governing purpose or finality." Of course, this wasn't the pope's position. He also addresses the controversy of some of the comments of Cardinal Schonborn concerning evolution. Schonborn disagrees with the position of "excluding formal and final causes."

Dulles describes the positions of three different groups of evolutionists: Classical Darwinism, Theistic evolutionism, and a third group represented by such philosophers like Michael Polanyi "who agree that biological organisms cannot be understood by the laws of mechanics alone." Dulles situates himself in this third group.

Dulles makes some good points about the limits of science. For example, Dulles asserts, "science and technology are totally inadequate in the field of morality." Science might be able to tell us what we can do, but not what we should do. There is a difference between science and scientism. For example, Dulles tells us "science performs a disservice when it claims to be the only valid form of knowledge." There are limits to what science can tell us. The scientific method is not the only avenue to truth.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Read Books

There is an interesting character in the movie, Sabrina, the one produced in the 1990's which stars Harrison Ford. Sabrina's father became a chauffeur to have time to read books. It is interesting that a person would plan their career choices to provide time for reading books. Why would someone do this?

I went to college with the idea that it would be a means to a career. I discovered, however, that learning is an end in itself. I fell in love with learning. I like to think I earned two degrees while attending college, one while attending classes; the other while reading whatever I wanted to read. This makes me think of Louis L'Amour's wonderful book, The Education of a Wandering Man. L'Amour describes how he read hundreds of books every year. It shows that everyone can pursue truth if they have a thirst for it.

I am often asked how I can read so many books. I have no answer for this question. I just find the time. Like the character in the book, we need to plan our life to make times for books. Marilynne Robinson says she does not know why people read novels or write them, but they do.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Whe I Was a Child I Read Books

Marilynne Robinson has written a book of essays, When I was a Child I Read Books (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2012, 206 pages.) Robinson is the author of three important novels, Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home. Gilead won the Pulitzer. She is also the author of two other books of essays, "The Death of Adam" and "The Absence of God." When I was a Child I Read books includes some well-written essays on economics, American history, American Literature and culture. She also draws from the thinking of nineteenth Century American authors, the Bible, and Reformed tradition. The reader can see from these essays that Robinson is well-read and an excellent thinker and can write in excellent prose that is intelligible to the general reader. See below for a link to a review of the book and a five minute audio of the author reading from her essay, "When I was a child I read books."

Taking Your Soul to Work

Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace, by R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010. 200 pp. $14.00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6559-9.
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
The Christian Librarian, Vol.55, no.1, 2012, p.37
Many Christians separate their Christian lives from their work lives. Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace by R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung show that this is not a good idea. Instead, God is Lord of all areas of our life, even our work life. Stevens is professor emeritus of marketplace theology and spirituality at Regent College in Vancouver. Stevens believes that work is a life-long calling. Ung—a former student of Stevens— is a Fellow at a national investment agency in Malaysia and workshops for CEOs on the integration of faith and life.
Taking Your Soul to Work includes three parts: The nine deadly sins of the workplace—pride, greed, lust, gluttony, anger, sloth, envy, restlessness, and boredom; the “ninefold” fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23); and the nine positive outcomes of integrating faith and practice. Each chapter begins with a dialogue between Stevens and Ung on the chapter’s theme which is followed by discussion and application of the theme.
Ung asks the question “How do I grow spiritually at work ?” (2) This book is a result of this question and conversation between Stevens and Ung on spiritual work in the workplace. Taking Your Soul to Work provides many excellent ideas on how to apply one’s faith in the workplace. For example, one of the deadly sins is restlessness. This is the temptation of thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. One of the consequences is that when things get difficult, we want to look for another job which prevents us from growing in tough times. Taking Your Soul to Work will be helpful for all Christians seeking to live out their faith through their work.  
The following is new to the earlier version: I believe the idea of work is very important to the Christian. We spend most of our time at work, but very little is spoken about work from the pulpit. I believe God wants to use our work to shape us into Christ-like character. Since this idea is important, I will discuss more ideas about this book in future blogs.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fighting the Noonday Devil

Fighting the NoonDay Devil: and Other Essays Personal and Theological
R. R. Reno, Eerdmans, 2011, 108 pp., ISBN 978-0-8028-6547-2, $16.00 (paperback).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World, Mar 2012, Vol.82 Issue 3, p210.
Reno, professor of theology at Creighton University, senior editor at First Things, offers a collection of essays ranging from attending his daughter’s bat mitzvah, working in the oil fields of Wyoming, climbing the mountains in the Alps to engaging Pope Paul John II and Pope Benedict on the crisis of modern education. The common theme is the emphasis on the particular and material nature of life. For example, the first essay, “Fighting the Noonday Devil,” Reno disputes the idea that pride is the “cardinal sin and primary barrier to faith” (1). Instead, he asserts that the Christian tradition often thought that “acedia” (sloth) was the more dangerous sin. Reno notes that sloth is not “mere idleness or laziness;” it can be also “a dullness of the soul that can stem from restless, distracted activity” (3). Reno applies this idea to the “intellectual spirit of dispassion and coolness that grows out of the idea of critical distance”(5). This idea describes how modern man does not want to make a commitment. Father James V. Schall has spoken on modern’s man despair of truth itself.
Reno’s experience at his daughter’s bat mitzvah also emphasizes the materiality of life. The practice of circumcision is physical. The person bears the marks of commitment in their own body. Living out this commitment also separates. Reno speaks of his daughter’s trauma of not having her father at her side. He was on the outside because he was not Jewish. Reno emphasizes in this essay that God took on human flesh in Jesus Christ. He also notes the dangers of dualism and Gnosticism.
These essays are thoughtful, well-written essays that have something important to say. They are both autobiographical and reflections on some of the author’s experiences. It is recommended for college and seminary libraries.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Teaching and Learning

One of my favorite modern authors is James V. Schall, professor of political science at Georgetown university and author of many wonderful books. He has written an excellent essay on teaching and learning in his book, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, writing, playing, believing, lecturing, philosophizing, singing and dancing. The title of the essay is "On Teaching and Being Eminently Teachable."
Schall begins the essay by noting a remark by Leo Strauss: "We are lucky if our lives coincide with . . . one or two of the greatest human thinkers to ever live." The point of this statement is that most of the great thinkers will be encountered in their writings. Schall notes, "If we are to confront the greatest minds, we must do so in their books, to which we must be attend with the greatest care and respect" (15). This is an important point. With a little effort on our part, we can attend the classroom of the greatest thinkers who ever lived. We can converse with Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and many others. I would recommend reading Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book on knowing how to converse with these authors. Father Schall is a great teacher of these major thinkers. Another good guide would be Peter Kreeft.

Another important point that Schall makes is that our mind "is capable of knowing all that is" (15). We can know the truth that is contained in all these authors. We can achieve know of the good, truth, and beauty. We have the ability within us to obtain truth. Aristotle said we "should strain every nerve to live with the best thing in us" (16). We should not settle for scientific reductionism which says that we cannot know universal truth. Schall notes, "No one will seek the highest if he believes that there is no truth" (17). We must stand with Augustine and affirm as our creed, faith seeking understanding. We can know the truth about ourselves, God, man, and many other Great Ideas. We are capable of knowing all that is.

Schall drawing from Plato says we must have an intellectual curiosity if we will seek after truth. Plato wrote, "the one who is willing to taste every kind of learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with delight, and is insatiable, we we shall justly assert to be a philosopher" (18). A philosopher is a lover of wisdom. We must have an eros for truth.Schall says that Socratic eros is a fascination with reality.  The author speaks truly when he says that education "is today largely a matter of private enterprise, good fortune, and reading things that few assign or praise" (20). In other words, education requires effort on our part. A good book to explore this subject further is Schall's Another Sort of Learning.

Schall makes other important points in this essay. For example, the importance of virtue in seeking truth. But I hope enough has been said to motivate you to read this essay. Father Schall is a good teacher for those who want to learn but do not know how to go about it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Rhetoric of Rhetoric

Wayne, C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Rhetoric: The Quest for Effective Communication. Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. ISBN: 1405112379.

Wayne C. Booth, who died in 2005, spent his life studying and arguing for the importance of rhetoric. He was also one of the writers for the popular book on research, The Craft of Research. In The Rhetoric of Rhetoric Booth argues for the importance of rhetoric and why it must be taught. He shows how the neglect of rhetoric causes negative consequences. For example, he shows how the general public and even scholars are unable to distinguish between the good and bad rhetoric. Who hasn't heard the term, "that's just rhetoric." He also shows how even scientists use rhetoric to communicate its ideas.

The Rhetoric of Rhetoric is divided into three parts. The first part is the history and background for rhetorical studies. Chapters one and two seeks to clear up misunderstandings of rhetoric and misjudgments of rhetorical studies. Booth in chapter three analyzes different types of rhetoric: "Win-Rhetoric," "Bargain-Rhetoric," and "Listening Rhetoric." Booth favors a listening rhetoric, he says this is the type of rhetoric that he seeks to "celebrate" and "practice(46)." This is the type of rhetoric that is truly listening to the other side. Chapter four celebrates a small group of thinkers "who have labored to rescue the study of rhetorical issues and methods" (55). Booth argues against "positivism" and "scientism" in this chapter. He shows there are multiple ways of knowing. He thinks that positivism and relativism are not the only two options.

The second part of the book looks at the practice of rhetoric in particular fields: education, politics, and media. In chapter five Booth argues for the importance of rhetorical education. Students need to know how to distinguish between good and bad rhetoric. They need to know how to distinguish truth from error. In chapter five and six, Booth gives many examples of how both politicians and the media mislead people. Chapter eight seeks to find common ground between religion and science. Booth provides seven principles for religion and science to agree. Some of these are: we live in a "flawed" world; "standards of judjment of the brokenness exist somewhere;" "there is some supreme order or cosmos or reality."

This is a book worth reading. Rhetoric is a liberal art and it should be studied and practiced. We have to sift through increasing amount of information each day. We need to be able to distinguish between truth and error. We need to cultivate a listening rhetoric. We need to be able to listen to the arguments of the other side. It might lead us to the truth. Everyone should be saddened by the lack of civility in public discourse. It has only increased since the publication of this book.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind
By Mark A. Noll, Eerdmans, 2011, 180 pp., ISBN 978-0-8028-6637-0, $25.00 (cloth).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World, Jun 2012, Vol. 82 Issue 4, pp.285-86.
Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, is a well-respected scholar of North American Christianity. In 1994, he published The Scandal of the American Mind. In this earlier work, Noll asserted that “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” (3). Nearly twenty-five years later, Noll has written the sequel, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. The latter work is the polar opposite of the earlier work. While the earlier work was critical and despairing; Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is positive and hopeful. What caused this change of focus? Have evangelicals become more intellectual and supportive of intellectual life? Noll does see improvement in the intellectual life of evangelicals in the last twenty five years; however, his hopefulness comes from another direction:  “Whatever may be the actual intellectual practice of Christian believers, the Christian faith contains all the resources, and more, required for full-scale intellectual engagement. And this engagement, as I have tried to argue, is fully compatible with the most basic beliefs and most essential practices of the Christian faith” (153).
            Noll’s method is to show how Christology can enhance humane learning. He believes that the early Christian creeds—Apostles’ Creed, Nicene, and Chalcedon—are a good summary of the essential teachings of the person and work of Christ. Noll asserts that “The specific requirements for Christian scholarship all grow naturally from Christian worship inspired by such love: confidence in the ability to gain knowledge about the world because the world was brought into being through Jesus Christ; commitment to careful examination of the objects of study through ‘coming and seeing’; trust that faithful discipleship cannot ultimately conflict; humility from realizing that learning depends at every step on a merciful God; and gratitude in acknowledging that all good gifts come from above” (149).
 The book is divided into two parts. In chapters 1-3, Noll develops “A Christ-centered framework for learning” (x). For example, in chapter 2, Noll points out how the full-deity and the full-humanity of Jesus Christ can be applied to human learning. For example, he asserts, “If it is true that the Word became flesh, it must also be true that the realm that bore the Word, the realm of flesh, is worthy of the most serious consideration” (34). In chapters 4-7, Noll applies the Christological framework to the academic disciplines in general and to the specific disciplines of history, science, and biblical studies. In chapter 4, Noll shows how the atonement can shape Christian scholarship. For in it you have the great narrative of Scripture: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. This great narrative shows both the sinfulness of man, but also provides hope in the redemption of Christ. He also shows how the teaching of providence, God’s two books, and both the transcendence and immanence of God supports human learning.
Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is written primarily to evangelicals. However, by tying in human learning with the historic creeds accepted by Catholics, Orthodox, and many Protestant believers, it is applicable to all Christian believers. It would also be helpful to nonbelievers in helping them to understand “why at least some Christian supernaturalists are wholeheartedly committed to the tasks of learning” (x). This book is written in excellent prose that would be understandable to the general reader.

The Podium, The Pulpit, and the Republicans

The Podium, the Pulpit, and the Republicans: How Presidential Candidates Use Religious Language in American Political Debate
Frederick Stecker, Praeger, 2011, 229 pp., ISBN 978-0-313-38250-5, $44.95 (Hardcover).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World, Mar 2012, Vol. 82 Issue 3, p.232.
Charles Lemert, a noted sociologist, asks the question in the foreword of The Podium, the Pulpit, and the Republicans by Frederick Stecker, “Why is religion still so powerful a force in late modern social life such a long time after Marx declared it the opiate of the people” (ix). Despite ideas to the contrary, religion continues to be a powerful force around the world. Lemert notes that “from the rise of evangelical Christianity in the 1990s to the perplexing prominence of Islamic fundamentalism in the 2000s, few corners of global politics have not been assaulted by very often ill-informed commentary on the role of religion in society” (ix). The Podium, the Pulpit, and the Republicans by Frederick Stecker is both timely and informative as we prepare for another presidential election in the United States.
Stecker is an Episcopal minister and a scholar of religion and culture. He holds doctorates from Bangor Theological Seminary and from the Institute of the Study of violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. Stecker analyses two major topics in this book: “the convergence of politics, religion, and national identity” in this country since the 1970s. He also analyses “the ideological warfare conducted on the unconscious, using nuanced language by political parties in order to gain power” (xiii).  Stecker uses the conceptual model found in George Lakeoff’s “seminal” work, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, to analyze how conservatives and liberals use religious metaphors to engineer victories at the polls. Stecker also accepts and applies Lakeoff’s idea that liberals and conservatives have different parent orientations which affects how they govern politically. Lakeoff claims that conservatives hold to a “strict parent” orientation; while liberals have a “nurturing parent” orientation.
 Chapter one analyzes Lakeoff’s ideas and how it is helpful to analyze the writings and speeches of the New Right. It also “examines the distinction between critical and uncritical (literalist) interpretations of scripture and the impact of each” (xix). Chapter two “traces” the origins of the neo-conservatives and chapter three discusses the origins of the Religious Right. Chapter four examines why the Political Right and the Religious Right merged. The rest of the chapters examine transcripts from the presidential debates in 2000, 2004, 2008. Stecker uses the religious metaphors and parental orientation theories of Lakeoff to examine these speeches. It is illuminating how certain religious metaphors are used over and over by the political parties. For example, the number of times George Bush used the word, liberty, was enormous. Another important insight was how Bush/Cheney used fear to manipulate voters’ emotions. Reading many of the transcripts of the debates showed clearly how the presidential contenders used code words to manipulate the American people.
The Podium, the Pulpit, and the Republicans is a timely book that shows how political parties uses religious rhetoric to muddy the waters. Debates are rarely civil discourses that encourage engagement with the important issues of the day. They tend to consist of sound bites that appeal to emotions, instead of reason; and use negative characterizations that destroy their opponent. For example, the Republicans frequent attempt to portray the Democrat candidate as liberal and the Democrats ploy of identifying conservatives as fundamentalist. The book makes an excellent contribution to the continuing debate how politicians use religion for their political advantage.