Notre Dame junior sits down with Program founder
The Tocqueville Program for Inquiry into Religion and Public Life, since its inception six years ago, has grown from a mere two undergraduate students to over thirty. Its founder, Professor Phillip Muñoz, jokes that he is worried the program is becoming “too big.”
One of the goals of the program, Muñoz said, “is to allow undergraduate students to engage in conversations with the distinguished visitors that the program brings to campus.” Speaking about why he wanted to create the Tocqueville Program, Muñoz said that, “Often, because Notre Dame is a research university, graduate students are rightly privileged. I wanted to make sure that Notre Dame’s undergraduates had a space to enhance the life of the mind. What the Program is all about is enhancing the undergraduate experience beyond the classroom.” This is especially important, he said, for students in colleges outside of Arts and Letters, as many are not exposed to “philosophical questions about politics that they want to have and should have.”
The Program’s student fellows and events have both grown in number. When the Program first began, the fellows would engage with speakers over a meal. In the last few years, the program has expanded to include panels, debates, and weekend seminars. Muñoz said that one of the most important areas of growth for the program has been to connect the events and speakers it hosts to the interests of the undergraduate fellows.
Muñoz attributes much of the program’s success to the support it has received from the College of Arts and Letters and Dean Sarah Mustillo. Muñoz said that Mustillo has been “very enthusiastic about enhancing the intellectual life of Notre Dame’s undergraduates beyond the classroom.” Muñoz also said that the University has granted significant autonomy to the program, and by supporting the Constitutional Studies program, has supported the Tocqueville Program as well.
Muñoz is “eager to welcome a diverse set of Fellows,” as one of the biggest challenges that the program has faced has been connecting with different types of undergraduates. Specifically, He would like to reach out to students in the Holy Cross and Saint Mary’s communities as well as those in majors outside of the College of Arts and Letters. It has been that has been particularly difficult to reach students outside of Arts and Letters, he notes, because he does not have them in class.
He also stressed the need for ideological diversity in the program, as one of the primary goals of the Tocqueville Program is to expose students to viewpoints other than their own in order to challenge them and develop civil discourse. In addition to hosting speakers who may offer different perspectives, a key component to enhancing debate and discussion is having an ideologically diverse set of fellows.
The Tocqueville Program also plays an important role in the larger Catholic identity of the University. Muñoz, speaking to this role, said that “one of the things we do, because the mission of the Tocqueville Program is creating discussion about religion and public life, is fostering conversations of what it means to be a preeminent Catholic research university.”
Muñoz believes it is vital for students to engage in debates and conversations with some of the world’s greatest Catholic intellectuals. A notable speaker this semester is Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, who will deliver a lecture next month titled “Things Worth Dying For: The Nature of a Life Worth Living.” Tocqueville Fellows will have a chance to have a 90-minute private conversation with an archbishop about the Catholic faith and “things worth dying for.”
Another hallmark event will be two concurrent seminars with Judges Thomas Hardiman and Amul Thapar, both of whom are Catholic and are on President Trump’s shortlist for the Supreme Court. The Tocqueville Fellows will have the opportunity to listen to the judges and ask questions.
Generally speaking, the events are meant to expose students to pressing issues that may challenge their current views. Muñoz says that he is incredibly excited for the fellows to “engage in challenging conversations that allow them to ask questions of the speakers and engage one another in discussion and debate.”
David Bender is a junior studying economics and pursuing a minor in history. On campus, David is actively involved with the Knights of Columbus and the Center for Ethics and Culture. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.