While the Jefferson Center’s primary purpose is undergraduate education, we believe that the study of the great books is valuable throughout one’s life, and that by spreading that study more broadly, we can help people to become more thoughtful citizens and to experience the joys of studying the great books. The executive seminars seek to realize that goal through regular classes, available at a minimal cost, in which adults from the community read and discuss core texts under the guidance of an affiliate of the Jefferson Center.
This fall, the Jefferson Center is hosting executive seminars in San Antonio and Houston. Each seminar will meet once per month from September until December. The San Antonio seminar is being hosted with the collaboration and support of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation.
Both seminars are on the same topic: religion and politics, and especially, the role of religion in America. This is of course not a mere historical curiosity, but an issue with immediate and obvious importance today. In the seminar, we will be reading great texts that raise and address the most basic questions about religion’s place in our society: What is the proper role of religion in a free society? Is it good, or even necessary, for there to be some kind of civil religion? Does religion pose dangers to our political health? What happens when people with diametrically opposed beliefs about God are members of the same society? And, taking the other point of view, what effects has the American political order had on religion? Have they been beneficial or deleterious? We will also consider the origins of the ideas of tolerance and religious freedom as political principles.
The texts we study will be both works that deal specifically with America and ones which reflect generally on the place of religion in modern life. First, we will consider the religious views of the American Founders, including such figures as Madison, Jefferson, and Washington. We will then study some of their philosophic predecessors, by reading John Locke’s “Letter Concerning Toleration,” and then Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous treatment of civil religion in The Social Contract, together with excerpts from some of his key letters. We will end the semester by reading Hugh Heclo’s Christianity and American Democracy, a contemporary work that makes extensive and thoughtful use of great texts from the American tradition in order to examine the mutual influence of religion and liberalism in American history.
If you have questions about the seminar, or if you are interested in participating in it, please contact the program office at: email@example.com.