CHAPTER III

 

UNIVERSITIES, SCHOLARS AND THE SEARCH FOR UNDERSTANDING

 

GEORGE F. McLEAN

 

Since shortly after Vatican II, beginning perhaps in 1970, there has been increasing interest in developing the work of research in Catholic universities. Under the auspices of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (I FCU) this issue was addressed at meetings in Pa ris in 1970, in Sal amanca in 1973, and in Grottaf errata in 1974. In 1975 a meeting at The Catholic University of America by the United States member universities of IFCU studied intensively the need for research and founded the Inter-University Committee for Research and Policy Studies (ICR) as a means for a more adequate response. A parallel step was taken by the Catholic learned societies in founding The Joint Committee of Catholic Learned Societies and Scholars (CLS). What follows reflects in part the ideas which inspired those structural developments, the research agendas drawn up, and some of the continuing work.

THE NATURE OF RESEARCH

Resea rch may be described as a comprehensive, controlled and critical attempt by man to attain truth. It is an essential evolution of the effort by the human mind carefully to coordinate and apply its capabilities to the task of extending man's comprehension of reality. An understanding of the nature and requirements of this work must take account, not only of the richness of reality and of the many modes of the activity of the mind, but especially of the many complex relationships which can be established between the two as one responds creatively to the given which he or she interprets and transforms.

Research as Critical Interp retation

The mind of man is invited to knowledge without limit, for the first reality is Truth and all is created through His Word. In this invitation, however, there lies a double challenge. God, as infinite, remains an object of contemplation without end; the many creatures, in their internal complexity and external interactions, manifest His truth in a partial and elusive manner.

To this challenging invitation man responds with limited powers; he can only interpret a reality by which he is in principle surpassed. He does this by an ingenious, if complex, process interrelating restricted acts of knowledge concerned with partial sectors of reality. The dialectical procedures of Plato's dialogues were prime instances of carefully pyramiding ideas in order to probe deeply into the meaning of reality. Subsequent clarification of the nature and implications of formal abstraction made it possible to establish precise control over the processes of conceptualization and reasoning and to elaborate the classical sciences as bodies of certain, necessary and comprehensive judgments concerning specific subject matters. In the modern period, the increasing consciousness of the work of the mind itself and of the role of hypotheses has shifted the emphasis in scientific research from that of probing into a given reality to that of constructing theories as interpretations of reality. These have become the content of man's conscious life, his techno logical capabilities in the physical universe and his ideological structures in the socio-economic order. Thus, research, in interpreting the universe, has come to share in the creative and transforming dynamism previously reserved for the arts.

Moreover, as the propositional constructs which constitute theories must constantly be sustained and evolved by ideas derived from new confrontations with reality and with each other, the directive choices of the will are essential. Reflecting--hopefully not altogether uncritically--the values of his culture and age, researchers must choose certain areas and avenues of study from a large number of possibilities; they must develop and test hypotheses by the simultaneous interaction of imagination, reasoning and experience; and th must determine the comparative desirability of following up and/or modifying certain of their hypotheses. In actively searching out, evaluating and choosing alternatives they assume responsibility for determining the content and direction of our physical and conscious future.

Interdisciplinary Cooperation in Research

This combined role of the imag ination, inte llect and wi ll in elaborating theories makes it possible to understand more cohesively a number of dimensions of research. First, historical research is not merely a survey of past facts, but a precise identification of the combination of circumstances, experience, insight and choice through which mankind has shaped its understanding and its institutions. As such it is an integral factor in the effort of mankind to open itself more fully to truth and to construct its future. Secondly, without losing their real content, facts are no longer unrelated to consciously chosen values and to the creative work of man's mind and will. Thirdly, pure research as the search for truth wherever this might lead is removed from isolation and placed within the full context of human life by the unity of reality, the mutual implications of truth and the role of the will in the steps of the research process.

Fourthly, it becomes possible to appreciate better the special strength which the single disciplines derive from their concentration upon a distinctive subject matter by means of an appropriate method and theoretical structure. Work in these specified areas of understanding requires a corps of specialized researchers, appropriate instruments and reference works, and a social structure for internal communication and for training new members. These are indispensable for understanding the world for whose recent development they have been notably responsible, and for identifying, evaluating and implementing alternative futures.

At the same time, the extent of this work, when combined with the abstractive and highly specialized nature of its method, has had an isolating effect which creates a need for interdisciplinary work. It would be no solution if interdisciplinarity meant an attempt of specialists in one field to do work in another for which they are not prepared, for this would but supplant work that is apt, if limited, by work that is inept and misguided. Nor would it be sufficient to consider as interdisciplinary the juxtaposition of contributions from many quarters in order to resolve a complex problem, for this could do violence to the scientific quality of each contribution and would leave uncontrolled the process of drawing conclusions.

The basis for interdisciplinarity lies in the fact that, since reality is either the one God or his creation, in principle all dimensions of reality and of knowledge are related. Interdisciplinary work is done by scholars, working within their own discipline and according to the highest canons of its method, who identify the lines of continuity and implication which relate their work by nature to that of other disciplines. In this it is the interior norms and laws of one's own task which point out the need for complementary work from other disciplines and guide the coordination of the two.

Indeed, the long cultural tradition in the Church against skepticism, the careful attention to the structures of knowledge and to their relation to reality, and the concern for their implications for the deep human concerns of the religious man, all orient the Christian scholar to attend effectively to these relations at their deepest level. This mission of healing the greatest cleavages of the modern mind should be a distinctive contribution of Catholic scholarship and should direct particular attention to two points. One concerns the presuppositions and principles of the sciences where, e.g., economic principles need to be related to social and ethical factors and vice versa. Recent attention to the classical theories of hierarchy suggest that the long tradition of Christian scholarship could make a particularly important contribution to the process of transcending the notion of value-free science without substituting an arbitrariness destructive of the quality of scientific work. Another point of particular contact is action. As concrete, this draws the many abstractive considerations of the sciences into a complementary relation in which the interpretative work of research and man's striving for the good play their role.

RESEARCH NEEDS AND PRIORITIES

Research Needs

The realm of the researcher is not extensive. It is constituted of a limited population whose members have marked similarities in levels of education, income and personal aspirations. Conscious identification with the Church and with its broad membership and universal concerns for man's physical and spiritual welfare continually invites the researcher to transcend the limits of his own class, experience and culture. The various processes of consultation carried out by the Church, e.g., for the "Call to Action" the Bicente nnial, on moral va lues, on Catechetics, on arma ments, the econ omy and women, all constitute particularly rich articulations of human needs as currently experienced.

The identification of a need, however, is not yet a precise professional analysis and identification of its constituent elements, just as a patient's complaint cannot substitute for a doctor's analysis. Even when the problem has been analyzed with the knowledge available, unknowns may impede its adequate understanding or an evaluation of possible responses. Here, the technical competencies of one or more sciences are required. Especially when the problem concerns, not simply a physical interaction, but the quality of human life the full breadth of the humanities becomes essential.

Concern to identify and respond to these needs need not turn the researcher away from the proper work of his discipline. On the contrary, if the cutting edge of human progress lies in the advance of these organized bodies of knowledge, it might be expected that a generally experienced human need reflects a lack of such knowledge and signals a need for further research by one or more disciplines. Frequently, development of a fundamental conception in one science generates new research needs in others according to the natural connections between and within the sciences. In a still more general manner, the pattern of cultural development in each decade evolves its own concerns which are reflected in the object and approach of the arts and sciences.

Research Priorities

What has been described above is the pervasive pattern of research needs; this evolves with the culture and reflects basically the cognitive side of human nature. It did not reflect the element of responsible choice on the part of the scholar concerning which projects to undertake. When scholars make this choice without conscious relation to that of their associates at their own or related centers a simple diffusion of limited resources results. Rather than achieving the goals of their university or its constituencies, the resulting research may serve more the needs of the particular company or industry sponsoring the research. More is involved in making responsible decisions concerning research.

For this reason, and because not all can be done at the same time, some priorities need to be identified. These should not replace the initiative of researchers, but stimulate interest and provide points of convergence for cooperation by those interested and/or involved in a topic. Such priorities can enable a research center to attract and allocate resources, to provide incentives and to work towards its goals and the needs of its constituencies. Factors which enter into setting these priorities need to emerge from a number of symposia proceeding from diverse but related poles. One is the general consultations of the Christian community such as those noted above; these must be refined through the specialized capabilities of scholars in order to identify more precisely the nature of the crucial problem areas and the specific themes on which research is needed. The other pole consists of dialogues between scholars in the same discipline with a view to identifying what further research themes are emerging and what research needs these suggest in other fields.

If this complex series of reflections is to be carried out and its results effectively communicated and coordinated, such work cannot be left to chance. It can be realized only within a structure which can provide needed information concerning work presently available or in process, as well as stimulus, direction and coordination. Further, since not all the possible and needed tasks can be done at the same time, a structure will be needed by which the concerned parties can make their rational but free choices and by which a limited society shapes its future. This requires an evaluation of the results which can be expected from research in the light of both alternate uses of the resources in men and material and the future needs and alternatives for growth. This process must be a continuing one, for the determination of priorities must remain responsive to the changing patterns of needs, opportunities and concerns. This is a long term approach.

It has been suggested, however, that many need to see that effective cooperative work can be achieved. Moreover, the resources and interest for carrying out research will be forthcoming only in relation to specific projects. Hence, it is necessary to begin with a structure which can identify some present research needs and assist in the initiation of cooperative efforts towards those goals. This is a short term approach.

The criteria for making this determination--and which would be operative proportionally in the more integral process described above--should not relate in a simply disjunctive manner to the religious and the human sciences, to knowledge and the human dev elopment, or to development and the pastoral effort, as if these were alien one to another. Rather, it should constitute an integral development of knowledge, enabling it to play its role in human life as a continuation of the work of God, Creator and Redeemer. It should reflect the Christian concern for man in the world; should not reduplicate work being done, though it might well complement this with dimensions of a Christian understanding of man; and should be contemporary and urgent.

This suggests that the research themes integrate two factors: (a) that it be a specific problem of contemporary life, (b) that it be open to the full range of values in a Christian perspective. Sample topics might include: values and public life, ethics and the professions, the parameters of bioengineering, or science and the quality of life. The theme also should be interd isciplinary in character, both because of the increasing complexity of the issues and the means of knowledge, and because One who is the source and goal of all implies a relation, without compromise, of all types of knowledge. Specific projects under such a theme could range from providing relevant survey data, through areas where multiple analytic capabilities are required, to the delineation of complementary meanings or even alternative futures for human life.

From both the long and short term approach to determining needs and priorities there should evolve a periodically revised statement of research themes with specific subdivisions. This should constitute an invitation, stimulus and point of convergence to those with related interests and capabilities to work in concert with others at their own or related universities. This is a basic condition for identifying and coordinating the needed personnel.

 

UNIVERSITY RESEARCH, CHURCHES AND

THE NATIONAL COMMUNITIES

Universities and Research

As a work of mankind, research is characterized by time and space and requires corresponding structures to enable individuals to overcome their inherent limitations by drawing upon the ideas of their predecessors, exchanging their findings with contemporaries in their own and other fields, and contributing to the work of their successors. Through the ages a number of such structures have been developed, from the Lyc eum of Aris totle to the research institutes of today. By far the most characteristic, however, is the university. By combining the functions of research and teaching it has been able to draw together a sufficient number of scholars in specialized fields across the entire spectrum of disciplines, provide them with sufficient support to enable them to concentrate solely upon their discipline and make available lib rary and other resources needed in order to draw upon the past, dialogue with the present and, hopefully, contribute to the future.

A further advantage of the university is that it has been able to surpass--without ignoring--the necessarily pragmatic concerns of many research divisions in industrial or political enterprises. Dedicated to teaching at the highest level, the university must be concerned in principle with the fullest possible opening of the human mind to truth in all its forms. Its relative aut onomy in the internal allocation of resources and in the selection and promotion of fac ulty has enabled it to stimulate rigorous research work which follows the internal logic of the process of discovery understood within the full context of human understanding.

At the same time, as an integral part of human society the univ ersity is concerned by nature with the progress of human life. Focused upon understanding which is specific to all properly human actions, the researcher's work of discovery is centrally involved in the development of the quality of human life. As with any great power, the more research capabilities are developed and coordinated the more influential they are for good or ill. Hence, an internal sense of responsibility should mark his work with appropriate elements of concern stemming from a deep personal conviction of the importance of carrying out research and of doing it well. In this work, concrete problems are not simply extraneous factors which threaten to deflect it from its proper concerns. Life is lived in concrete actions which, in their sources, implications and purposes, should reflect the full breadth of present consciousness. Each action should be an occasion for drawing the many formally distinct disciplines into fruitful collaboration as an indispensable condition for an effective step into the future.

Catholic Universities and Research

The total research effort, through its concern to elaborate an ever more adequate theoretical structure for knowledge and in its confrontation with concrete issues, is creative and reconciling. By their founding purpose, therefore, Catholic universities can be expected to be positively interested in contributing to this work.

On the one hand, research is required in order to enable each age to receive the mysteries of the fa ith. The use of the term `consubstantial' by the Council of Nic aea exemplifies the way in which the employment of a scientific--in this case, an ont ological--mode of human intellection was required in order to remain faithful to revelation. In view of the neo-Pl atonic hierarchical structures the scriptural expression, `like the Father' (homoios), became liable to be interpreted erroneously to mean a diminished likeness of the Father. Paradoxically, only by using the technically evolved term, `consubstantial' (homoousion), could Nicaea assure that the understanding of the faith would remain unchanged.

Conversely, the content of the faith gives new meaning, confidence and stimulus to the work of the researcher. The fact that all has been created through the Word, who is Truth, provides research with its basis and universal charter, for it assures that all is open to the work of the mind. Indeed, the probing and creative dynamism of the human spirit, in actuating the potentialities placed in nature by the Cre ator, is a continuation of His work. Further, as an activity of human nature it has been assumed by Christ in the incarnation; in turn, in its various disciplinary and interdisciplinary forms it progressively unveils His image in all things. Performed in Christ's Body, the Church, research carries forward the fulfillment of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word. Finally, by the work of redemption, the researcher is freed from the inhibiting bonds of frustration, alienation and self-seeking. Thus redeemed, he can join his work to the process of reconciliation by contributing to that understanding which enables men to live more fully the life of the Spirit.

Research is, therefore, an essential contemporary means for living responsibly the life mediated to man by the Tri nity. This implies a special importance for the work of discovery, whether this concerns the nature of the universe or of social alternatives. At the same time, understanding all as manifesting a transcendent Truth frees the researcher from bondage to any one reality, even himself, and from any single view of reality, for all are limited manifestations of the infinite. In sum, each achievement and each theory constitutes an invitation to extend the search; in the face of skepticism and cynicism, the charity of Christ provides the stimulus to begin research work, the measure for assessing present accomplishments and the hope of future achievements.

This implies a particular interest by Catholic universities in a broad range of research. A first area concerns the self identity of the Christian community. For men today to be able to live consciously as members of the Church (ecclesia) understood as the sacrament of Christ will require, for example, a combined examination of the sources of revelation, the theory of social structures and the philosophy of signs and symbols. A second area concerns the pastoral work of the Church. Developmental studies in psychology and education and work in law and economics, for example, are needed in order to plan an adequate method of assisting the members of Christ to grow in the sacramental life of baptism and marriage. Above all, as integral parts of the contemporary world these universities share the responsibility of the Christian not only to know, but to give witness to the meaning of Christ's salvific sacrifice. The meaning of this liberation and its progressive realization through history concerns the dignity of every aspect of human life, whether prior to birth, in its economic, social and political realization, or in its final phases. Deep involvement in the present state of the many ar ts and scien ces is required in order to understand this process and to contribute to it in a responsible manner. For this reason the researcher himself must play a central, though not solitary, role in determining research objectives and priorities.

RESOURCES FOR UNIVERSITY RESEARCH

If, in proportion to their task, the resources of the universities are limited, they remain nonetheless remarkable. Faculty members span the spectrum of the arts and sciences; graduate level programs generally provide the "critical mass" of specialists for productive research; advanced students constitute a pool of available research assistants; library facilities and laboratory equipment are available for specialized research in the major areas. As the universities constitute the major concentration of scholars, possess extensive research facilities of the most diverse types and have extensive experience in administering this work, it would appear to be their responsibility to provide the structure for identifying research objectives and coordinating the interests and capabilities of scholars.

Internally, the universities can do much by recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary research in the inevitable processes of evaluating the work of faculty members. This would assure those participating that their contribution would be a valued dimension of the university's mission--it being understood that a work would always be judged according to the rigorous standards of scientific excellence operative in its field. In addition, attention should be given to the needs of this work in budgeting and in seeking funds from outside sources. Finally, personal suggestions and encouragement from the administration can often be crucial in stimulating the interest needed to bring a few people together for work on a particular issue.

It remains, however, that the resources of any one university are limited. Many do not have graduate departments in all fields. Even where a full range of graduate departments exist the specialized character of advanced work restricts intensive involvement in research in any department to particular areas. Further, among those engaged in a field, only a certain percentage would be interested in taking part in this type of work. Finally, any project must be of limited scope. Hence, for substantive accomplishment there is need for work by scholars in other locales and for complementary work by teams concentrating on related topics. The similar heritage and goals of Catholic universities in any one nation, and indeed around the world, should make communication and cooperation uniquely possible and productive. For coordinating this cooperative work an inter-university structure is necessary.

Coordination of Research

Given the complex requirements of specialized knowledge and the degree of personal involvement required for this work, the coordination of the research effort must be done by the scholars themselves. They must play the central role in the advanced stages of the process of identifying and evaluating themes; they must involve themselves in a specific topic, design a project and choose their collaborators.

Lack of coordination in this has resulted in the diffusion of capabilities to the detriment of the development of the Christian vision in a way that is integrally related to the problems and possibilities of contemporary life. A catalyst is needed to provide the occasions upon which interested scholars can join together in analyzing generally experienced needs in order to clarify those facets related to their special capabilities. There is need also for meetings of scholars in the particular sciences to identify their specific research objectives, particularly where these relate to Christian self-understanding or witness. Where, for example, does a Christian understanding of the nature and dignity of man or of the family intersect with the work of a particular science; the mutual implications of this juncture suggest research needs?

In the process of such discussions researchers learn the complementary interests of others, develop common interests in specific issues and gradually move to designing a needed project. In turn, as foci and priorities of interest develop it is possible to hold more specific symposia. These provide participants from a number of fields with conditions for a common exploration of needs and favor the self-development of the requisite interdisciplinary teams.

Occasional meetings not related one to another do not enable scholars to undertake an ongoing project. This requires a structure which can bring scholars together to aid in identifying the needs of the community, to determine research themes and topics, to form teams and to design projects.

Finances

Most large public and private institutions devote extensive resources to research. They have found it to be essential for correctly assessing the present situation on the basis of firmly grounded knowledge, for analyzing complex and pressing problems by the coordinated work of a number of specialists, and for stimulating and directing the vital growth processes of their institution and of society as a whole. In the light of its distinctive mission and profound concerns for the quality and destiny of human life the Christian community cannot afford to do less. Recent insights concerning the mission of the Church in the world and the responsibility of the Church for guiding men in realizing the religious meaning of their lives in a complex society combine to identify research as both a prerequisite and an essential part of its work.

The amount of financing involved can be variously conceived. To the degree that this means doing, in a more coordinated and mutually reinforcing manner, the same overall amount of research now done without coordination, little additional funding would be needed. To the degree that interest is stimulated in additional research, however, further funding will be needed. Fortunately, many of the necessary types of research are not of the most expensive type. At any rate, it would not seem feasible to determine an amount in an a priori manner or to initiate a search for it prior to determining the specific research intended. Once provided with an effective design, a project can be subjected to a cost analysis and begin to attract the needed sums.

Coordination between the universities in this matter of seeking funds in no wise substitutes for the work each is doing in finding sources for funding its own work. It could, however, complement and strengthen that search. By enabling the universities to draw upon a broader pool of research talent in order to supplement the inevitable limitations of each, it is possible to elaborate more integral patterns of work and attract more extensive funds. As with any investment, it is necessary to show those with money to invest in promoting human life that the theme, planning, direction and resources for the projects promise to enable their monies to bear more fruit if invested here than elsewhere. This means developing projects which are important and well designed.

The sources for much of the funding should include especially the many government and foundation programs concerned with the quality of human life. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) provide possibilities of government financing across almost the full range of the research capabilities of the Catholic universities. Indeed, they initiated a joint program for funding work on "Science, Technology and Human Values" whose priorities correspond significantly to those noted above.

NEH "Program Announcements" list programs to assist: in the production of basic research reference works, in the development of a small number of major research collections and centers by aiding them to build up their research collections and to give clear focus to collaborative scholarly efforts of individuals, and in the implementation of collaborative interdisciplinary projects in all the humanistic disciplines. Other programs provide independent research fellowships, assist national institutes intended to encourage interdisciplinary study by bringing into residence senior and junior faculty to explore a specific theme, and aid centers intended for the interchange of ideas and extended discourse with resident scholars in diverse fields. Still other government departments, such as HEW, Defense and Agriculture, have research funds available for a broad range of research.

It should be possible to design projects in areas in which the Christian vision of man intersects with the general human concerns toward which the above programs are directed. Because these concerns go to the roots of human meaning they require research contributions which include a religious and, historically and providentially for Western man, a Christian dimension. These dimensions are especially appropriate in the light of a number of recent developments. First, the Church is developing its work as a transforming presence which is immanent to the world precisely to the degree that it transcends the world. Secondly, the Church is increasingly seen in its past and present life as a source of value orientation in culture.

In most cases the large part of an interdisciplinary project must be done in areas that are not specifically religious. Nevertheless, a search for funding must be foreseen for those aspects of projects which are most proper to the Christian vision and concern. Development within the Church of an awareness, comparable to that of other large institutions, of the importance of research would call for an evolution of its priorities concerning corresponding funding. The shift from constructing buildings to such efforts as the Fund for Human Development in the late 1960s reflects the possibilities for shifts in funding according to what is valued or disvalued. In any case, the Church must come to recognize the need for research in this sophisticated age when change is carried out largely by growth in knowledge. To fail to recognize this is to abnegate its mission to be present to the world and to act there as a leaven or transforming presence. It is the task of the scholar to demonstrate this by beginning the work and proving the importance of its contribution to the mission of the Church and to the life of the community.

With reason, however, the Christian community can point to the extensive support it has given and continues to give to institutions of higher learning and to their faculties. Many universities were founded by the Church and still owe a notable portion of their enrollment and support to the Christian community. In return a serious effort can rightly be expected of faculty members to assure that their work, both individually and corporately contributes to the developing research needs of that community.

The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy

Washington, D.C.