To sum up what took place at Acton University last week, it can be described as a magnificent forum where all those things that really matter were discussed by those who really care.
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The June 16th-19th annual event held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, gathered over 1,000 participants from over 80 countries. The course is a special project of the Acton Institute, an organization dedicated to the defense of free markets and moral values.
The curriculum was certainly unique. Things that really matter are those that have always mattered. Thus, the discussion centered on a return to fundamentals that have been lost in the present post-postmodern world, which one speaker termed more accurately as a “post-reality” world. Professors dealt with topics long gone from many a university syllabus. They discussed what it means to be human, how humans might prosper and moving toward a final end in God.
Participants could choose between all sorts of thought-provoking topics that included natural law, Christian anthropology or the transcendentals of the good, true and beautiful. Names like Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Augustine and Aristotle were frequently heard during classes. Four brilliant fundamental talks were required courses for incoming freshmen, while alumni could choose among many more.
However, these always relevant topics were discussed in the context of a profound moral and economic crisis. Those who gathered in Grand Rapids were not just curious truth-seekers, but those who care about the direction of the world. They were not concerned only with themselves as is so common in an age of extreme individualism, but in the future of society as a whole.
The faculty cared. They prepared their lectures well and answered endless questions. Chief among them were such luminaries as Dr. Samuel Gregg, Dr. Michael Matheson Miller, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Dr. Peter Kreeft and others. Nightly plenary speakers delivered evening addresses during dinner with figures such as Dr. Gregory Thornbury and culminating with Acton’s own Father Robert Sirico.
And the students really cared. It was hard not to be impressed by the unified “diversity” that characterized those in the course. Dispelling the myth that diversity is only on the left, some eighty countries were represented, including sizable delegations from Africa and Latin America. At the same time, people from all ages were enrolled providing that delicate balance between wisdom and enthusiasm. Acton proves year after year that young people are attracted to free markets and moral values.
The forum focused on providing time for discussion and questions – as all real university should. This focus helped create an atmosphere of inquiry and participation. Nightly conviviality over wine and local micro-brews reinforced a spirit of camaraderie that is a hallmark of the course.
Well-organized events like those found at Acton University are so necessary in these uncertain times. Indeed the debate over the nation’s future is intense. The Acton experience helps give participants elements to win.