A few years ago, the Ogre and I attended an Interdisciplinary Studies conference at the University of Tulsa. At the time, the Ogre was wrapping up his coursework on his Master’s degree from the University of Dallas. We had both recently completed a class on Joseph Conrad, so the Ogre chose to present a paper on Kurt’s cry at the end of Heart of Darkness…not his area of specialty per se, but his research has always circled back around to the peculiar despair of the postmodern man. Man without Truth. Man without God.
The conference was a new experience for us. He’d presented papers and participated in panels at two other larger and explicitly Catholic conferences, but he was hoping to get some diversity on his CV before sending out applications for PhD programs. We knew of course that an “Interdisciplinary Studies” conference would include numerous presentations about literature which had been overlooked for a variety of reasons — race of the author, gender of the author, post-colonial oppression of the author, sexual orientation of the author — and that no one would dare state the truth, that much of this literature had been overlooked because it simply wasn’t great literature. It was all basically as we had expected. Some unexpected gems, lots of talk of oppression, and the obligatory panel on queer theory.
What we weren’t prepared for was the welcome speech. It was delivered by the chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies department, previously the chair of the Women’s Studies department. She began by welcoming us all and then posing the question, “What is Interdisciplinary Studies?” After a long, meandering discussion of different areas of study and one exciting tangential attack on then-President Bush, she finally came to her conclusion.
“Interdisciplinary studies is the collective search for truth. NOT White Male, Capital-T Truth, of course!” she declared derisively, to the raucous laughter and applause of everyone except the Ogre and I. “No, we search for truth as we see it. There is no one truth that we seek. There is your truth and there is my truth. That’s what we try to find. Anyone’s truth as they understand it.”
When I began college at the University of Dallas, I was not a Catholic. Neither were many of my classmates and several of my professors. What united us was not Catholicism, it seemed to me then. But neither were we united in pursuit of a degree. We weren’t at that school to earn a piece of paper as a stepping-stone to a lucrative career path, else why would most of us have majored in English Literature, Philosophy, Theology and Classics? Before we could articulate it, before we even understood it, our professors at the University of Dallas had set us upon a path to discover Truth. Not their truth, not our truth, but The Truth. The horrifying “white male, capital-T truth” and its apocalyptic companions, the Good and the Beautiful.
During the course of my time there, a transformation took place within me. By learning to seek objective truth — within Eliot’s “The Waste-Land”, Plato’s Republic, the French Revolution, even in Euclid’s Fifth Postulate — I began to internalize the idea of Truth. I began to understand, unconsciously at first, that there is an objective Truth, accessible to the human intellect and revealed to us in a myriad of ways, and that my duty as a human being is to seek that Truth. I began to realize that I was a slave to my desires, and that I would only really be free to live when I broke free from that slavery and instead began to discipline myself to pursue Truth, Goodness and Beauty.
Once I learned to seek them, it was only a matter of time before I recognized the ultimate bastion of Truth, Goodness and Beauty — the Catholic Church. Once my mind had been freed to see true Beauty, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Church. One I understood what Goodness is and that humans are capable of choosing it, I knew that the best path to it lay through the Sacraments. Once I could see that there is Truth, objective, immutable Truth, I could also see that Catholicism is the highest realization of that Truth.
I can’t say whether I would have come to the Catholic faith if I hadn’t first learned to seek Truth itself. I had too many prejudices, too many pre-conceived ideas, and too much pride to re-examine them. I was content to believe that the highest truth lay in what I thought, felt and desired. It wasn’t until I was shown that there is a greater truth beyond myself that I even began to question why I held the beliefs I held, and it was some time later before I moved on to examining whether or not they were true.
Many of the people I know who went the University of Dallas either converted to Catholicism or reverted to the faith of their childhood. I’ve heard accusations that the school indoctrinates its students, that the faculty (a substantial number of whom are not Catholic) brainwashed us, and that the only education going on is a cunning type of forced catechesis. The same accusations were leveled at a great books program at the University of Kansas, which was shut down after only a few years because of the huge number of Catholic converts.
These programs are not religious indoctrination. They simply set out to teach students what the modern world has forgotten — that there is Truth. A Truth. And once a person begins to seek it with a free mind, it’s nearly inevitable that he or she will find the ultimate Truth of the Catholic faith. That is the great value of Catholic higher education.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/calah-and-girls-e1313149120343.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Calah Alexander was born and raised Evangelical Christian and converted to Catholicism in August of 2007. She is a married mother of three whose husband is finishing his doctorate in English Literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, while she is homeschooling, writing, changing diapers and remembering to turn the oven off. Her website is Barefoot and Pregnant.[/author_info] [/author]