Speakers and attendees explore creation, goodness

The Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture (dCEC) hosted its 22nd annual Fall Conference from November 10–12. The conference’s title and theme was “‘And It Was Very Good’: On Creation.” 

Margaret Cabaniss, Scholarly Research and Publications Program Manager for the dCEC, has overseen the conference for the past nine years. Cabaniss told the Rover, “This year, we had the opportunity to partner with renowned bioethicist Bill Hurlbut at Stanford University, in collaboration with the “Boundaries of Humanity” project.”

According to dCEC Director Carter Snead’s Fall Conference program letter, “The Boundaries of Humanity project seeks to deepen dialogue on human place and purpose in the cosmos, particularly with respect to conceptions of human uniqueness, human enhancement, and the potential impact of advancing biotechnology on the human future.” Cabaniss added, “To embed [the project’s] ideas within the broader theme of “creation” allowed us to step back and consider broader questions about man’s relationship to the Creator and the created order.”

The dCEC website boasts that the conference is “the most important academic forum for wide-ranging conversations that engage the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition from a variety of disciplinary points of departure.” This year, 147 speakers, both Catholic and from other faith traditions, gathered to discuss a myriad of the topic’s facets, including approaches through philosophy, theology, science, and the arts.

Since its inception in 2000, the conference has steadily grown in size. This year, the dCEC had to cap registration at 1,001 participants, but it additionally allowed some non-registrants who emailed in advance to sit in on some sessions. To accommodate those who could not attend, livestreams of all major addresses were available on the dCEC website and Notre Dame Mobile App.

The conference featured four keynote addresses, including a discussion of phenomenology from Stanford University Robert Pogue Harrison, an account of the oddness of the universe from Notre Dame Professor of Philosophy Emeritus Alasdair MacIntyre, and thoughts on humans’ path to transcendence delivered by University of Cambridge Paleontologist Simon Conway Morris.

The closing keynote address was delivered by Elizabeth Lev, an art historian, author, and tour guide. A summary of Lev’s lecture titled “Creation, Complementarity, and St. John Paul II in Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling” can be found here in this Irish Rover’s Culture section.

Invited speakers included scholars of Notre Dame, Harvard, Villanova, and University of Saint Thomas, Houston, among others. The conference also reserved six different times for colloquia, and each time slot offered six or seven different colloquium options. The dCEC chose the colloquium presenters from among submissions to its Call for Papers. 

Fall Conference organizer Margaret Cabaniss told the Rover, “The Fall Conference provides a unique place for scholars and students to gather in friendship, creating an academic community that is known for its hospitality, warmth, and curiosity, as well as its intellectual rigor.”

Cabaniss added, “The annual Fall Conference is a great opportunity for students to engage with a wide network of scholars from across the country and around the world who are interested in pursuing important questions, giving them a chance to enter into a broader community centered on thoughtful discourse, true friendship, and intellectual inquiry.” 

The dCEC regularly offers grants to colleges and universities that express interest in bringing students. Cabaniss noted that hundreds of students from across the country registered, including from Notre Dame, Hillsdale, University of Dallas, Benedictine, Christendom, University of St. Thomas, and St. John’s College. 

All Notre Dame, Holy Cross, and Saint Mary’s students can register for the conference free of charge, and members of the dCEC’s student formation program, the Sorin Fellows, receive free meals throughout the conference. 

Notre Dame sophomore and two-time Fall Conference attendee Margaret Matthis told the Rover, “I always learn so much about current topics and how those relate to the Catholic intellectual tradition. I also love meeting leaders from around the world who are working for the common good.”

Recordings of all major addresses can be found on the dCEC YouTube page. The 23rd annual dCEC Fall Conference will be November 2–4, 2023. 

Madeline Murphy is a sophomore studying music and theology. When she grows up, she wants to be as eloquent and intelligent as all of the Fall Conference speakers. Please send compliments, complaints, or queries to mmurph64@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lev’s Twitter @lizlevrome