Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Idea of a University

In 1386 the ruler of Heidelberg, Ruprecht I, founded the university in Heidelberg. It was the third university in the Holy Roman Empire, following after Prague (founded in 1348) and Wien (founded in 1365). It was modeled after the Sorbonne in Paris. It was inaugurated on 18 October 1386 with a mass in the chapel at the Marktplatz in Heidelberg. The first classes were held the next day, covering Paul’s epistle to Titus, Aristotle’s Physics, and Logic. The university had three faculty members, led by the Dutch scholar, Marsilius von Inghen. It was not unusual for students to be as young as twelve.

The founding documents of the university called for four faculties: theology, law (both civil and canonical), medicine, and the arts. What distinguished the university from other institutions of learning is that students were expected to study in all the subjects and to be universal in their knowledge rather than specialists in one narrow subject. Echoes of both the subjects and the approach can be seen in the opening lines of Faust in Goethe’s play by that name:
Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie!
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor!
(Goethe, Faust, 354-359) 

Modern universities have strayed rather far from the original intent of a university. It is typical to emphasize the students becoming specialists rather than generalists. That narrowness of vision is exactly the kind of thing that a university was originally designed (and designated) to combat.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Gems from Fast and Testimony Meeting III

From one brother's testimony at the end of the meeting:
Kehrt um!
What else is there to say?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gems from Fast and Testimony Meeting II

This thought from a sister who talked about her experience going to the temple for a couple of days during her time off from work:
If we are going to withstand the influence of Satan we need to hold fast to our covenants.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Gems from Fast and Testimony Meeting I

I took some notes of some of the things that were said in Fast and Testimony meeting on Sunday. I wish I could properly attribute the thoughts but I am still trying to learn names.

One insightful brother works fixing things. He talked about how when you first come into a situation, the problem could be a thousand different things. What you want to do is figure out the simplest solution, and you need some understanding of the laws of physics in order to figure out what might be wrong and how to fix the problem.
The only way to solve the problem is to follow the laws that govern it.
This can apply to many things in the gospel and in our lives as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


From the New York Times:
Viewed in the least charitable terms, academia is a small fraternity of ambitious backbiters engaged in the production of work so dense that only other members of the order can hope to understand it.
 The writer then goes on to praise those who reject this idea.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Jacob Neusner (1932-2016)

I was sad to hear that Jacob Neusner passed away last week. He was a remarkable man, and an extremely prolific scholar.

My parents once spent an enjoyable evening at the opera with Professor Neusner and his family.

Neusner's amazing output was the subject of a joke I first heard about thirty-five years ago:
A man called Jacob Neusner's office. The secretary answered the phone and told the man, "I''m sorry. Professor Neusner is writing a book and cannot be disturbed." To which the man replied, "That's okay, just put me on hold."
About twenty-five years ago, Neusner weighed in on an argument going on in Mormon Studies. At the time David Wright and others were arguing that the Book of Mormon was not historical but merely inspired fiction, but that that somehow made it "true" in some sense. Wright and others also redefined the term "prophet" so that a prophet was some sort of inspired leader of a community, but not that he actually spoke with God or received revelation that had any sort of actual specific content. Others were publicly espousing these views but it was to Wright that Neusner responded in a nice little piece called "Is Wright Wrong?" The BYU Administration of the time wisely decided that Wright should not be paid with tithing funds to spread his ideas.

I am grateful for Professor Neusner weighing in on the side of the Church in this controversy. He was a decent man.

Good Intentions

Last night I attended a fireside. One of the comments that was made by one of the people in the audience struck me as profound. He said that good intentions were the opposite of courage.

The context was a discussion was how it takes courage to reach out to a spouse who may be critical. It is so much easier to substitute our good intentions that things be better than to actually have the courage to do anything about the problem. We can talk all we want about how we want things to be better, and how it is our intention to be kind and loving, we can even make some half-hearted efforts in that direction, but if we never have the courage to actually do something to demonstrate that, then our good intentions and empty words do not do anything.

Of course having the courage to demonstrate love can be taken as being offensive (and often is), and it is thus safer to retreat to the cowardice of good intentions.

In this context the old saying about how the road to hell is paved with good intentions takes on some interesting nuances.