C.S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge
July 26 — August 3, 2011
Paradigms of Hope
Transcending Chaos & Transforming Culture
In some seasons of human history, there has been widespread recognition within a society that it is traversing a period of grave crisis. For our contemporary society, the present is such a season, but not because we have wars, serious economic trouble, and heightened political acrimony.
These conditions are fairly common. What is very unusual and profoundly disturbing is the fact that, within the intellectual class that sets the agenda for the society, there is no longer anything remotely resembling a consensus on a vision for the future. The secular ideologies of salvation—socialism, Marxism, progressive idealism, etc.—are sufficiently shop-worn to offer little hope to all but the most ardent enthusiasts.
The stunning and welcome advances of the natural sciences are no longer widely thought to offer insight into the questions of our identity as humans or our reason for existence. And most tellingly, we have lost a consensus on the basis for moral discourse. The intellectual fragmentation and dissolution of the West has removed the intellectual basis needed to support even the drive for human rights or social justice. In short, we have grave difficulty in expressing and marshalling widespread support for moral stances beyond the very most basic social sanctions.
Perhaps the best evidence of this cultural failure of vision is the recent publication of Anthony Kronman’s Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale and former Dean of the Yale Law School, chronicles the disarray of the contemporary university in its abandonment of the question of the meaning of life. His book constitutes an impassioned plea for secular academics to once again pick up these questions in order to provide guidance to both their students and the culture.
Now, given that the academy is the primary source of the culture’s defining ideas, what is true of the academy’s paucity of vision is also true for the culture as a whole. The dissolution we see playing out before our eyes is a vindication of the biblical warning: Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Ironically, the decades which saw the rise of our culture’s crisis of vision were precisely the decades in which Christian faith was increasingly marginalized as a meaningful source of wisdom and guidance for the culture. Historically, from the time of Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christian faith in 312 AD until just 50 years ago, the vision and values that had distinctively shaped and inspired the West had been derived from Christian faith.
Now, given the culture’s present crisis, this is a critical time for those who follow Christ, especially for those who serve within the world of ideas and the arts. It is crucial that those who follow Christ understand and embrace the implications of faith for the question of vision, meaning, and hope for our society. But further, both courage and love are required in order for Christian visions of meaning and hope to be articulated in ways that are powerful, thoughtful, creative, and winsome.
2011 Summer Institute at Oxbridge — Paradigms of Hope: Transcending Chaos & Transforming Culture—is designed to address precisely this concern. On this special occasion, marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute, we will bring together leading Christian thinkers and practitioners (from the fields of history, the natural sciences, cultural studies, mathematics, theology, the arts, philosophy, business, literature, education, law, medicine, and the social sciences) to assist Christians in positions of influence to speak lovingly but prophetically to the culture about “the reason for the hope that lies within us.”
As a beginning, we will address the question whether, and to what extent, cultural transformation is desirable or possible. Then, more specifically, in mathematics and the natural sciences, we will explore the implications of contemporary physics and quantum theory for the Christian message of hope and meaning.
In literature, philosophy, history, and theology, we will examine the origins and significance of the crisis of vision in order to engage the mainstream culture from an understanding characterized by genuine sympathy and integrity.
Our leaders from the social and behavioral sciences and cultural studies will consider the roots of chaos and dysfunction in our families, cities, and culture, and will explore paradigms based on Christian themes that hold hope for the transformation of lives and culture.
Our colleagues in theatre, dance, music, visual art, and film will lead us in understanding the dimensions of the crisis of the loss of vision, and they will also help us palpably sense the power of transforming vision.
Finally, in worship throughout the Summer Institute, as well as through active prayer, we will own the crisis in our own lives that leads us to Christ, and celebrate the hope that springs from both acknowledging and appealing to the transcendent source of all goodness and beauty.
The crisis of vision that paralyzes our culture is truly lamentable. But this lament is also the evidence of a goodness that is absent. At Oxbridge 2011, together, and in one hope, we will seek the restoration of that goodness in both our personal lives and in the broader life of our society and culture, as we engage and celebrate the very author of that goodness, namely Jesus, “the hope of the world.”