Today was a day of running around. I met with Bryan Massingale around lunchtime to get plans together for his Introduction to Theology classes. He has a pretty good plan, mostly centered around the very very basic issue of having to get the students to understand why the theological questions are important. It's bizarre, but I admit that I also find it fascinating in dealing with secularism as a philosophy, particularly as philosophy most people don't even realize that they have embraced.
Related to that I've moved from John Adams kind of sideways in the eighteenth century. I'm reading a book on the Enlightenment itself, an older book (1966, I think) by Peter Gay, then a Yale Professor and a winner of the National Book Award. I'm sure that in this space of time The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism has probably become a bit dated in historiographical circles--I can certainly see some sentences that might not go over quite so unchallenged--but it seemed a prominent, well-received and readable study. Although I live in a nation that is one big ongoing Enlightenment experiment, I've long had huge problems with the philosophies that these philosophes have injected into the American psyche. Combining that with the fact that this is probably the area that I'm most critically under-read in, is making the read an interesting one. Notably, at this point, I've been most intrigued to read of the slide in the space of a century for the philosophes to move from deism and natural law to atheism and utility, as well as Gay's description of the philosophes' identification of themselves with the Romans. This is a place where I'd challenge Gay today, arguing that you cannot allow such an identification, no matter how strongly they felt an affinity. The philosophes' paganism is entirely a post-Christian, reactive phenomenon, like that of the self-described neo-pagans of today, and cannot be equated with a pre-Christian phenomenon. Even if they are centered around the same authors, everything is changed by that huge paradigm shift in context. The Enlightenment philosophes are no more "Romans" than the people marching around Stonehenge in sheets blowing horns are "Druids." They cannot be. Their contexts, their motivations, their lack of real rootedness in what they imagine to be their past will not allow it.
Anyway, I handled some basic TA stuff for Bryan, putting things on reserve and such, and moved on to my appointment with Dr. Telford at Froedtert. He confirmed that the bump that I felt tearing like a fishhook in me was indeed my central knot in my permanent sutures and that this kind of thing would happen while I was still healing and building scar tissue. So I keep going slow and guarding it like a muscle tear. I actually only got one slight potential twinge from it today, so perhaps I'm moving along.
And then the day ended with a large dinner party over at the Jesuits' Arrupe House where we welcomed the new grad students to the program. We (the board of AnGST--The Association of Graduate Students in Theology) threw a splendid party, if I say so myself, although I did squat because of the tear. Tony Bonta, Bill Oliverio and Shawnee Sykes put together a great grill and plenty of other fare and the enthusiasm was the best of the three years we've done this: people stayed a long time talking and getting to know one another, both students and spouses, and finally a lone Jesuit was left with polite strain shooing us out with actually shooing. Good times.
Last random news: 1) ran into one of my former students, my clanswoman Christine Sweeney, on campus yesterday. I didn't recognize her at first, as I glanced at her and thought, "Cool hair!" and then she said, "Hi Mr. Novak!," making me blink. I caught a slight bit of news from her before we both had to dash. 2) Fellow theologian and former pro beach volleyball player Aaron Smith asked me to come along to a pro tournament in Chicago next weekend after we were talking about the Olympic beach volleyball games before dinner. I might actually do that, having enjoyed both the men's and women's competitions immensely, even though I'd never seen it before. It would be interesting to go with a pro and have his insight to the game right there.