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Thomas Pfau, the Alice Mary Baldwin Professor of English at Duke University, has written an incisive evaluation of Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation at The Immanent Frame . I pass the piece on given interest in Gregory’s work among First Things’ readership and Ephraim Radner’s review of it in First Things’ pages.

Radner faulted Gregory’s work for failing to identify a failure of love as a root cause of the fracturing of Western Christianity that is the Reformation. Pfau is much more appreciative of much of Gregory’s work (“a book whose courage and ambition I applaud, if for no other reason than that it exemplifies what an engaged form of historiography [and humanistic inquiry more generally] can and should do”); what makes his piece especially worthwhile is its trenchant engagement with critics of Gregory’s work and their often uncritical allegiance to the modernity of the modern academy. For those interested in Gregory’s book, the emergence of modernity, and the modern academy, Pfau’s piece is well worth reading. Excerpts:

Ironically, some of the more severe polemics against the The Unintended Reformation thus end up confirming one of Gregory’s central claims, namely, that “the secular academy is the domain of Weberian facts, not values—except, contradictorily, for the one hegemonic and supreme value that no judgments about competing truth claims pertaining to values or morality should or can be made.” Indeed, the disagreement between Gregory and his (il)liberal critics seems to be less about whether “religious truth claims made by billions of people are excluded from consideration on their own terms in nearly all research universities” (italics mine) than whether they should be.

Part of what makes The Unintended Reformation such a courageous and intriguing, if also a deeply vulnerable work is that its author has extended his indictment of modern (Western) “hyper-pluralism” and its deeply impoverished and fragmented idea of community into a critique of the modern university; and here, Gregory is surely not alone. For the past two decades or so, the majority of those working in the humanities and the interpretive social sciences have witnessed the value of focused and sustained learning and the integrity of fields be progressively diluted and frittered away by an increasingly separate class of professional administrators. The prevailing impression is one of administrative hubris and a top-down, micro-managerial approach intent on fitting academic research on the Procrustean bed of donor-driven funding models and neo-utilitarian criteria of “relevance.” Is it not, then, at least plausible that one should want to inquire into the deep genealogy that has caused higher education to be redefined as a corporate endeavor, and knowledge as some amorphous “experience” pragmatically peddled in the academic marketplace? Has not the conflict of faculties identified by Kant expired amid the sheer indifference and parallel trajectories followed by countless fields and sub-fields of specialized inquiry? And is Gregory not right to worry “how the kinds of knowledge thereby gained in different disciplines might fit together, or whether the disciplines’ respective, contrary claims and incompatible assumptions might be resolved”? Can we really afford not to ask any questions concerning the ends of knowledge? Do we not ignore at our own peril Augustine’s distinction between the intrinsically normative intellectual virtue of studiositas and a strictly procedural, agnostic quest for new information ( curiositas )?

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