The Crisis of Transcendent Values: Higher Education at a Crossroads

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The Crisis of Transcendent Values: Higher Education at a Crossroads
Termin: 03.07.2023
Beginn: 19:30 Uhr
Ort: Katholische Akademie in Berlin, Hannoversche Str. 5, 10115 Berlin

Der Vortrag findet im Rahmen der Konferenz The Role of the Intellectual in Times of Turmoil: Ways of Looking at Europe’s Troubled Geist statt.

According to Laurie M. Johnson, the question of “intellectual diaspora” does not affect our interfaith and intercultural dialogues only, but has become vital for sustaining the very core of Western education. She writes:

The faith in progress that propelled the West for over four centuries is in decline due to its own success. Neoliberal individualism and secularity have left people feeling isolated and without a sense of higher meaning and purpose, leading some to reject Enlightenment values in favor of various forms of traditionalism and even neofascism. As professor for political science at an American state university, Laurie M. Johnson experiences the crisis of higher education in her daily work and copes with it on many levels. Faculty struggle to prove their utility and relevance, as taxpayers sense that universities cannot guarantee their graduates a decent living in a world of automation and globalized production. Students, Johnson says, are largely inured to appeals to transcendent values because they have heard nothing but calls to be “practical.” A student who is genuinely interested now stands out as very special. Faculty are no longer encouraged to care about the character-building nature of a liberal education. In their research, they are urged to emphasize those projects through which they can obtain funding, often from corporate and government sources. Furthermore: in the United States, ideologically based harassment and censorship of unpopular ideas takes place regularly and is a major deterrent to pursuing a career in higher education. As a result of these trends, the West’s ability to produce responsible and effective democratic citizens is in question.
Given these challenges and more, can intellectuals still make a difference within a university setting? Many faculty have taken to social media and other ways of getting their ideas around the increasingly steep paywalls of academic publications and the de facto censorship of real discussion in their institutions. Some of the most vibrant exchanges of ideas are now happening in alternative settings, largely online. These venues draw in people who are interested and trying their best to learn something they are unlikely to learn at universities. But are such alternatives truly sustainable or good enough? Higher education is at a crossroads in which even this “retreat and regroup” strategy is highly problematic. The question how far to go in order to reach the hearts and minds of future leaders is one we share all over the Western world.

Dr. Laurie Johnson is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Primary Texts Certificate at Kansas State University, USA, and Associate Faculty Editor of Live Ideas Undergraduate Journal. She is the author of seven books and numerous book chapters and articles. Most of her work has involved developing a thorough understanding and critique of classical liberal theory, and includes works on Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Tocqueville. Her most recent book, Ideological Possession and the Rise of the New Right: The Political Thought of Carl Jung, was published in 2019 by Routledge. She is currently working on a new book, Can Anything Fix This? Towards Repairing Our Rural/Urban Divide, which will be published by Wipf & Stock. Her teaching includes courses on the history of political philosophy, ideologies, and environmental political thought. She also provides political philosophy and political theology content weekly on her Political Philosophy YouTube channel, currently with 14,000 subscribers and over 100,000 hours of watch time, and its associated podcast.

Prof. Dr. Laurie M. Johnson
Kansas State University
Dr. Gesine Palmer
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