News & Events

15 August 2019

Great Books of the Middle Ages and How to Read Them

Sydney, Thursday 15 August: Do we really understand the ‘Dark Ages’? What was it like to exist in an age when people were supposedly punished for the exercise of reason in pursuit of the truth?

Renowned medievalist, University of Chicago Associate Professor of History Rachel Fulton Brown, has dedicated her academic career to reading texts from the Middle Ages that she says are often dismissed ‘either because the ideas in them seem boring (they aren’t!) or because everyone assumes that we already know what they say (we don’t).’

Last night she delivered the sixth Ramsay lecture for 2019 on ‘Great Books of the Middle Ages, and How to Read Them.”  

She argued that ‘Great Books’ courses should include more works from the thousand years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the sixteenth century, as currently such courses effectively exclude the Middle Ages from the development of Western Civilisation.  

“Without the Christian Middle Ages, we would not be here arguing for the importance of truth, beauty and goodness at all. If we want to challenge the postmodern critique of modernity, we need to understand the straw-man on which modernity constructed itself: the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ in which people were supposedly punished for the exercise of reason in pursuit of truth,” she said ahead of the talk. 

Since 1994 Rachel Fulton Brown has taught at the University of Chicago, one of America’s most distinguished colleges, where her teaching has been recognized with the Provost’s Teaching Award and the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. She was awarded tenure in 2002.  

She is the author of From Judgement to Passion: Devotion to Christ and the Virgin Mary, 800-1200 and Mary and the Art of Prayer: The Hours of the Virgin in Medieval Christian Life and Thought, as well as co-editor of History in the Comic Mode: Medieval Communities and the Matter of Person, all published by Columbia University Press.  

Her current research includes work on training the soul in virtue; the psychological bases for the doctrine of the Seven Deadly sins; the growth of cities and their relationship to prayer; and how saying the Psalms in honour of the Virgin Mary gives birth to understanding and joy.  

The Ramsay Lecture series hosts speakers from all walks of life who have important and interesting perspectives relating to the world and our western heritage. Printed versions of the lectures and video recordings are available on our website: www.ramsaycentre.org

 Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098 

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8 August 2019

Ramsay Centre and The University of Queensland sign Memorandum of Understanding

STATEMENT FROM CEO PROFESSOR SIMON HAINES


Sydney, Thursday 08 August 2019
: As part of a philanthropic gift to the Humanities in Australia, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation today announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The University of Queensland (UQ), to fund a new program in Western Civilisation, and related scholarships.

Worth upwards of $50 million over 8 years, the partnership deal includes funding for at least 150 undergraduate scholarships, and the hiring of world-class educators. The Western Civilisation program will commence in 2020.

This is the second university partnership for the Centre, following its partnership with the University of Wollongong.

We are delighted to be partnering with UQ, which is ranked in the world’s top 50 universities and is one of Australia’s leading research and teaching institutions.

The University has a strong focus on the student experience and supporting students to become ‘agile, innovative thinkers and leading global citizens.’

Most importantly, we have always said that the success of the courses we fund would depend on the quality of teaching, and UQ has received more national teaching awards than any Australian university.

The program’s curriculum has been developed under the leadership of the Executive Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Heather Zwicker and internationally-acclaimed classicist Professor Alastair Blanshard.

The University will offer a new major in Western Civilisation that students can either take as part of its advanced humanities honours program, or in a new double degree consisting of a new Bachelor of Humanities coupled with an Honours degree in Law.

Students will graduate with either a Bachelor of Advanced Humanities (Honours) (Western Civilisation) or a Bachelor of Humanities (Western Civilisation)/Bachelor of Laws (Honours).

The MOU will be published by UQ and clearly articulates the joint commitment of the Ramsay Centre and the University to academic freedom.

Together with UQ, we are excited about the wonderful opportunity for both students and teachers in the Humanities that this partnership presents.

 

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/ sarah.switzer@ramsaycentre.org

For more information on the centre please visit our website: www.ramsaycentre.org

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6 August 2019

Ramsay Centre and University of Wollongong sign funding agreement

STATEMENT FROM CEO PROFESSOR SIMON HAINES

Sydney, Tuesday 06 August 2019: As part of a philanthropic gift to the Humanities in Australia, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation has signed an agreement with the University of Wollongong (UOW) to fund a new BA degree in Western Civilisation, beginning in 2020, and a related scholarship program.

This follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the University in December last year.

Worth approximately $50 million over 8 years, the partnership deal will enable UOW to offer at least 150 undergraduate scholarships and hire world-class educators to teach its Western Civilisation program. UOW’s BA in Western Civilisation will be directed by Professor Daniel Hutto who is a gifted and passionate educator.

Billed as a course for the ‘intellectually fearless’, UOW is promising students a transformative BA in Western Civilisation degree that will take them on a ‘unique philosophical adventure’, engaging with ‘some of the greatest intellectual and artistic masterpieces ever produced.’

It will comprise 16 newly created subjects, with students having the option of studying for a single degree, with a choice of major, or a range of double degrees. The degree is funded to enable students to study the great texts of western civilisation in small groups.

The funding agreement contains a joint commitment from UOW and the Ramsay Centre to academic freedom.

The partnership is made possible through the extraordinary generosity of the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care.

Students interested in learning more about the degree and the Ramsay Scholarship program at UOW can find more information on the UOW website – https://www.uow.edu.au/law-humanities-the-arts/schools-entities/liberal-arts/ . Scholarship applications are open for the month of August.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098/ sarah.switzer@ramsaycentre.org

For more information on the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation please visit our website: https://www.ramsaycentre.org

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29 July 2019

The Ramsay Podcast with Stephen McInerney and Helen Pluckrose

What does a fake ‘dog park study’ tell us about scholarship in certain areas of the humanities? Is feminism what it once was? What does it mean to identify as being on the left, while taking a stand against identity politics? Ramsay Centre Executive Officer Dr Stephen McInerney sits down with editor of Areo magazine and scholar of medieval women’s writing, Helen Pluckrose, following her Sydney lecture, to talk more about the ‘grievance studies’ hoax, her life, thought and work.

Listen to podcast

 

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23 July 2019

The Coddling of the American Mind: New York Times best-selling author to deliver Ramsay Lecture

Sydney, Tuesday 23 July 2019:  Are we coddling our youth presuming they are fragile rather than robust people who can benefit from challenging experiences? Are we continuing to over-protect students at university, leaving them unprepared for life’s rough and tumble? Should we be disturbed by the growing trend on US campuses of controversial speakers being de-platformed and classic texts being banished on the grounds that they are too confronting?

These are just some of the many issues explored in the New York Times best-seller The Coddling of the American Mind: how good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure.

To deliver more insight into how over-protection may cause future generations harm, as well as how we can remedy bad-practices to create ‘wiser kids’, ‘wiser universities’ and ‘wiser societies’, co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind Jonathan Haidt will deliver the fifth Ramsay lecture for 2019.

Professor Haidt is Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Named one of the “top global thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine and one of the “world’s top thinkers” by Prospect magazine, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year. His research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures, with the aim of helping people understand and learn from each other. He has co-founded a variety of organizations that apply moral and social psychology to that end, including HeterodoxAcademy.org, OpenMindPlatform.org, and CivilPolitics.org.

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO Professor Simon Haines said Professor Haidt’s lecture was timely, following the report on free speech at Australian universities by former High Court chief justice Robert French. He praised Haidt’s emphasis on students seeking truth through critical thinking and engagement, rather than seeking refuge in comfortable majority positions.

“We should be careful not to stray into territory where students feel safer to adopt ‘group-think’, rather than be challenged to develop conclusions based on meaningful and respectful challenge from their peers and from people with different views,” Professor Haines said.

Professor Haines commended Professor Haidt’s establishment of the Heterodox Academy, a non-partisan global collaborative of more than 2,500 professors, administrators and graduate students committed to “promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning.”

Professor Haidt is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, and of The New York Times bestsellers The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, and The Coddling of the American Mind (co-authored with Greg Lukianoff). His next book is tentatively titled Three Stories about Capitalism: The Moral Psychology of Economic Life.

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098

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10 July 2019

What the vulgar feud around the Ramsay Centre doesn’t grasp about ‘Western Civilisation’ – by Andrew Gleeson

The Ramsey Centre for Western Civilisation appears to be making progress in its plan to establish degrees in Western Civilisation at three Australian Universities. Just last week, it was reported that the University of Queensland’s academic board approved a plan for courses to begin next year, subject to final approval by the university’s vice-chancellor. At the same time, the National Tertiary Education Union is reported to have dropped legal action against courses at the University of Wollongong, also scheduled for a 2020 start.

Scornful critics will, of course, not abandon their attempts to scuttle the project. They have succeeded in convincing many people ― even some of the program’s advocates ― that it is little more than a conservative project aimed at glorifying straight white European male supremacy.

But nothing could be further from the truth. A perusal of the Indicative Curriculum reveals a cunning left-wing plot to subvert the established order of capitalism. Consider this selection from the curriculum’s texts.

The initial year of study includes Aeschylus’s Oresteia. The first play of this trilogy, Agamemnon, is one of the earliest works to strike a feminist blow against patriarchy, describing Queen Clytemnestra’s murder of her husband Agamemnon to usurp his throne. Students also study Plato ― that well-known champion of homoerotic love ― whose most famous dialogue, The Republic, describes an ideal state devoted to justice and ruled by a caste of progressive intellectuals.

When one gets around to authors writing in English, students are introduced to sexual politics through the notorious bawdy of Chaucer and Shakespeare. They also study John Milton, that infamous republican and revolutionary, whose greatest literary creation was an epic poem celebrating insurrection against the Christian God.

In the study of the Enlightenment, pride of place is given to radically democratic and liberal figures like Locke and Kant, feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, radicals like Rousseau ― an inspiring spirit of the French revolution ― and Thomas Paine, the nemesis of conservative hero Edmund Burke.

As we reach the last couple of hundred years, the fig leaf of traditionalist appearances is shed to reveal an openly Bolshie syllabus: Nietzsche and Freud ― scourges of Christianity both ― black radicals like W.E.B. Du Bois, and even Marx and Foucault!

Well, this is parody, of course ― albeit parody with a point: that the canon of ‘Western Civilisation’ is more diverse than its critics suspect. More importantly, it is also far richer than anyone would think whose only knowledge of it ― like that of most students ― is sourced from the bizarre philippics of its detractors or the bland instrumental rationales sometimes voiced in its defence.

Credit: ABC Religion and Ethics website– click here to read the full article
Posted Tue 9 Jul 2019, 5:49pm Updated Tue 9 Jul 2019, 6:12pm

Andrew Gleeson is a retired academic philosopher who lives in Adelaide. He is the author of A Frightening Love: Recasting the Problem of Evil.

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1 July 2019

Freedom of speech the basis of study in Ramsay courses

By Simon Haines and Stephen McInerney

Can we maintain the right to express our own views while limiting the rights of others to do the same? When does free expression become an incitement to riot, an oppression of the vulnerable or a danger to national security?

Since 2017, the Ramsay Centre has been in discussion with several Australian universities about prospective partnerships to offer degrees focused on the “great books” and other texts of Western civilisation, from Homer to Heaney, taking in classical, biblical, medieval, early modern and modern sources.

While we may have taken a slower path to realising these partnerships than we anticipated, there is much to look forward to.

The new bachelor of arts in Western civilisation at the University of Wollongong will accept its first enrolments in 2020, with 30 full undergraduate scholarships to be offered each year, and 10 academic positions. We are progressing towards other partnerships.

We also expect next year to unveil a suite of generous postgraduate scholarships for Australian students to pursue further study at prestigious overseas universities.

This slow but steady progress is good news for us all, not least the students and academic staff of under-resourced humanities departments: the places we rely on most to remind us that what we often take to be self-evident, or think we have just discovered, has its roots in ancient insights, or is the outcome of centuries of struggle and progress.

Our notions of tragedy and truth, state and citizen, beauty and good, nature and art: all these have long and distinctive pedigrees, and are deeply constitutive of modern attitudes.

Perhaps this is most true in the case of our liberal-democratic freedoms: of speech, assembly, religion, the press.

Daily the local and international news reminds us that these freedoms are under perpetual challenge.

In Australia, voices across the political spectrum, from Alan Jones to Richard Flanagan, have spoken out in defence of a free press. In Hong Kong, millions of people, included among them many students, have assembled in the streets in defence of the rule of law.

Good for them. Use it or lose it: freedom is the birthright each generation inherits, but also holds in trust for those to come. Our sense of responsibility for the trust is strengthened if we also know it as an inheritance. But it’s a complex inheritance, and we are inconsistent in our attitudes to it. Students protesting against contentious campus speakers, for example, or governments denying visas to controversial visitors, could look across the centuries to John Stuart Mill, John Milton or Thomas Aquinas.

In On Liberty (1859), Mill argued “there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered”.

But he also invoked the “harm principle”, according to which the prevention of harm to others is the only purpose for which power can be “rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised society”. So how much harm can be done by a speaker expressing a contentious view? When does the exercise of power over speech become illiberal?

Milton’s argument in Areopagitica (1644) for “unlicensed printing”, for the freedom “to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience”, is a treasure of English prose as well as one of the greatest of all defences of liberty – and of great books, come to that – which he said “do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them”.

But as a Puritan writing in the shadow of civil war, Milton did not think this freedom should be extended to Roman Catholics, whom he saw as a threat to his nation’s existence.

So did he believe in freedom of speech? Is his position so different from the pre-modern attitude of Aquinas, the soul of Aristotelian good sense in so many respects, and of course a Roman Catholic, who in the mid-13th century argued that heretics posed a threat to social order and indeed the very souls of the population, and should be suppressed, by force if necessary?

Does freedom of expression have exceptions? If so, is it genuinely free?

Students might be encouraged to ask such questions in some university courses. They might perhaps encounter Mill, or Milton, or even Aquinas, at least in passing, in different majors. But asking such questions through reading all three of these “living intellects” in the course of one degree: this is the kind of thing we hope to enable a few students to do, and when the word gets around, maybe a lot more will want to.

Source: Australian Financial Review, to see article click here.

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25 June 2019

Conversations with John Anderson: Featuring Helen Pluckrose, editor-in-chief and academic researcher

Former deputy Prime Minister John Anderson sat down with Grievance Studies affair hoaxer and academic researcher Helen Pluckrose in Sydney recently as part of his ‘Conversations’ podcast series.

Helen was in Sydney to deliver the fourth Ramsay lecture for 2019 on ‘The Rise and Whys of Grievance Studies’. She is a self-described ‘exile from the humanities’ and currently editor-in-chief of Areo, a non-partisan digital magazine focused on Englightenment liberalism, humanism, secularism and freedom of expression.

Helen came to prominence when she and two colleagues sought to expose problems in academic ‘grievance studies’ by submitting bogus papers to academic journals, some of which were published. She is currently writing a book about the impact of postmodern thought on academia, social justice movements and wider culture.

The podcast is available here.

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21 June 2019

‘Highly paranoid world view corrupting our kids’ thinking’ – by Bernard Lane

Corrupt activist scholarship in gender, queer and other identity fields is training the teachers who shape children and executives who run business, warns visiting culture critic Helen Pluckrose.

“This is not a problem confined to esoteric arguments between intellectuals – liberal academia has great cultural power,” Ms Pluckrose, a Britainbased medievalist, said last night in a Sydney lecture at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

“A generation of students were exposed to these ideas and went on to become leaders of various industries.

“(Activist academics) turn out the teachers of our children and the heads of our industries.” Together with US scholars James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, Ms Pluckrose ran a 2017-18 sting on academic journals which published “grievance studies” such as critical race studies and queer studies.

Editors enthusiastically accepted seven papers for publication: one touted insights into male rape culture based on the inspection of 10,000 dog genitals, another recycled material from Hitler’s Mein Kampf with feminist rebadging, and a third declared bodybuilding “fat exclusionary”.

One of the trio employed by a university – Professor Boghossian at Portland State University – faces disciplinary charges and may lose his job.

At one point it was suggested he could be punished for data fabrication because he had not in truth inspected 10,000 dog genitals, not even one.

In her lecture The Rise and Whys of Grievance Studies, Ms Pluckrose traced the rot to postmodernism in the 1980s-90s, its rejection of objective truth, and a French-inspired variation which portrays society as a power struggle between the victim and the oppressor groups using language and knowledge as tools of control.

“Because of this, language is analysed in a highly paranoid and offence-seeking way,” she said.

“Micro-aggressions are detected, racism and sexism identified. Heteronormativity, acting as though heterosexuality is the default sexuality, is called out. Cisnormativity, acting as though people usually identify with the sex their reproductive systems indicate, is condemned.”

Her comments go to controversies such as the Safe Schools gender fluidity campaign in Victoria and the clash between Christian footballer Israel Folau and corporate sponsors sensitised to identity politics.

Ms Pluckrose said individual human rights had been overthrown in favour of collective guilt (as in structural white racism), and biology had been banished so scholar-activists could pretend gender identities and any male-female differences were “socially constructed” and therefore amenable to “social justice”.

“Freedom of speech and viewpoint diversity are not valued within this system,” she said.

The Ramsay Centre has struggled to find an elite university willing to accept funding in exchange for running undergraduate programs in Western civilisation. Sydney University linguistics expert Nick Reimer claimed the Ramsay Centre “validates the worldview” behind the March 15 massacre of Muslims in Christchurch. Other academics say the degree proposal is “racist”.

Ms Pluckrose defended the Enlightenment, Scientific Revolution and other achievements of the modern period: “We know the modern period saw slavery, colonialism, tyranny of monarchs and the church, war, genocide, famine, racism, sexism and homophobia.

“So did every other period. Modernity was the one in which we gained the capacity to realise they were wrong.

“So uncommon to human societies was this that the societies that have benefited from it are referred to as WEIRD societies – Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic.

“They are the reason I, an atheist woman, am able to read and develop my own ideas and speak and write them. They are also how I travelled across the world in a day to speak to you, having not died in childbirth.

“Progress is no myth. It is measurable in ways including poverty, education, fatal diseases, as well as human rights. (Yet postmodernists) see modernity as a time of empire, exploitation, patriarchy and white supremacy.” 

Credit: The Australian Newspaper – click here to read the full article.

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Even while they teach, men learn"
- Seneca the Younger