News & Events

10 April 2019

Best-selling author and journalist Greg Sheridan to speak at the Ramsay Centre

Sydney, Tuesday 09 April 2019: Can Western Civilisation be sustained without belief? How much do we owe to our Christian tradition, and what will be the impact of the steep decline of Christian belief in western societies?

That’s the line of inquiry to be addressed by Greg Sheridan AO, Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper, and author of the best-selling, God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity In Troubled Times, in the second Ramsay Lecture for 2019.

Speaking to an audience of high school and university students, business, political and community leaders, Mr. Sheridan will argue that Australians need to be better educated about the role Christianity has played in securing our democratic freedoms. And he will outline his belief that Christianity should remain an important continuing influence, even in our multi-ethnic, pluralistic society, where fewer and fewer Australians are identifying as believers or practicing the faith.

“What did we ever get from Christianity – apart from the idea of the individual, human rights, feminism, liberalism, modernity, social justice and secular politics?” Mr. Sheridan says. “Whether people recognize it or not, Christianity has been central to the development of our western societies and civilisation, and its principles remain integral today.”

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO Professor Simon Haines says that its Judeo-Christian inheritance is one of the two key pillars of Western civilisation. He applauded Mr. Sheridan’s conscientious study of the role of Christianity in our society, including interviews with political leaders from all persuasions on the impact of their Christian faith on their lives and work.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation was created with an endowment from the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care, to promote a deeper understanding of western civilisation. 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.

Mr. Sheridan is the second speaker for the Ramsay Lecture Series this year, following last month’s address by former Australian of the Year and burns treatment pioneer Professor Fiona Wood. Other speakers to address the Centre have included economist and columnist Henry Ergas, internationally acclaimed author David Malouf, historian Geoffrey Blainey, sociologist Professor John Carroll, and Dr Pano Kanelos, President of St John’s College Annapolis.

Printed versions of the lectures and video podcasts are available via the ‘News and Events’ section of our website:
www.ramsaycentre.org

Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098.

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26 March 2019

National living treasure Fiona Wood delivers first Ramsay Lecture for 2019

Sydney, Tuesday 19 March 2019: What is the impact of western science on today’s society? That’s the question world-renowned burns surgeon and former Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Wood pondered this evening as she delivered the first Ramsay Lecture for 2019.

Speaking to an audience of high school and university students, medical professionals, journalists, business people and political leaders, Professor Wood argued that despite science’s significant and undeniable benefits, we need to pause and consider what we want science to achieve.

“I witness lives changing in an instant and I strive to bring to the bedside all that modern, or western, science and technology has to offer to reduce suffering,” Professor Wood said. “It is in this context that I am optimistic about the role science plays in our lives. However, I also believe we need to stand back and look at our history to understand and acknowledge the foundations upon which this is all built. As we look to outer space, we need our feet on the ground to consider the impact of our scientific advances on our society.”

Professor Wood, a consultant plastic surgeon from Western Australia, is best known for pioneering the innovative ‘spray-on skin technique’ focusing on reducing the time to healing and life-long scarring in burns survivors, a technique now used world-wide. She is also regarded as a national hero for her work on burns survivors from the 2002 Bali Bombings.

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation CEO Professor Simon Haines said the great story of western medicine is one we often take for granted, whether it be progress in Fiona’s area of burns, disease eradication, infant mortality, immunization, dentistry and infection control, or the more general truth that we live longer and far more comfortable lives than human beings ever have before.

“As a medical pioneer herself, Professor Wood is in a unique position to analyse the impact western science has had and might continue to have on all the cultures and societies of the world,” Professor Haines said.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation was created with an endowment from the late Paul Ramsay AO, founder of Ramsay Health Care, to promote a deeper understanding of western civilisation. 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.

Professor Wood is the first medical professional and scientist to address the Centre. Her address following lectures last year by economist and columnist Henry Ergas, internationally acclaimed author David Malouf, historian Geoffrey Blainey, sociologist Professor John Carroll, and Dr Pano Kanelos, President of St John’s College Annapolis.

Printed versions of the lectures and video podcasts are available via the ‘News and Events’ section of our website: www.ramsaycentre.org
Media contact: Sarah Switzer 0407 816 098

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26 March 2019

Professor Fiona Wood AM – Distinguished Speaker

On Tuesday 19 March, national living treasure and former Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Wood AM, Plastic and Reconstruction Surgeon, delivered the first Ramsay Lecture for 2019. The title of her lecture was “The impact of western science on today’s society”

 

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25 March 2019

To blame Ramsay for Christchurch atrocity is facile vilification

By Simon Haines
March 25, 2019 — 12.00am

The tragedy in Christchurch has understandably produced a variety of responses, most of them characterised by horror at the appalling evil inflicted on innocent people at prayer. But there was opportunism and cynicism too. The massacre was enlisted in the continuing campaign to prevent the University of Sydney entering a partnership with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

Nick Riemer has been a vocal critic of this partnership since it was first mooted. To date his principal argument has been that the goals of the centre are an exercise in white triumphalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. The centre seeks, through partnering with universities in creating “great books” programs, to encourage a holistic and balanced understanding of the civilisation which has done so much to shape the world in which we live.

Last week Riemer went much further. He wrote in a column in these pages that “this is all the more reason to reflect on how the Ramsay curriculum validates the world view behind the massacre”. That is a truly extraordinary claim and it should be emphatically rejected, even by others who for whatever reason oppose a partnership between the centre and University of Sydney.

We have all been shocked by the terrible slaughter in New Zealand. Our responses should be compassionate and measured. The victims should be mourned, and those who have lost loved ones comforted. There is a special obligation to avoid the type of sordid political point-scoring that emerges in the Riemer column. By all means attack the Ramsay Centre. That is one of those priceless rights we have been given by our civilisation. But don’t smear its proponents with the monstrous claim that what they seek, in some way, prompted the murder of 50 innocent people.

The Ramsay Centre’s speaker program also came under scrutiny. This program is completely separate from our university partnerships. It is a varied program and includes individuals from different backgrounds who have in common interesting and sometimes controversial things to say about different aspects of Western civilisation.

We have heard from a novelist, a historian, a sociologist, a medical scientist, a columnist and a university president, and will hear from other highly credentialled academics and authors this year. None of them is speaking to us from a party-political perspective. Several of them, however, are well known public figures who run their own commentaries on current events, as they have every right to do. We would urge readers to look carefully for themselves at the credentials and comments of our speakers before trusting the distorting and tendentious snippets offered by Riemer and others.

We and our close friends across the Tasman are fortunate in that we can rely on one of the great pillars of Western civilisation, the rule of law and our justice systems, to ensure that the perpetrator of the dreadful crime in Christchurch is brought to justice.
Meanwhile, our cherished freedoms, including those of religion and speech, which need to be respected at all times, are especially important in such crises as this, when they are most under pressure. This is not a time for facile and irresponsible vilification.

Professor Simon Haines is the chief executive officer of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald – click here to read the full article here

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27 February 2019

Cross-disciplinary path to broader learning

Integrated great books programs fill a major gap

There have been various reactions to the idea of Ramsay Centre funded degree programs getting a foothold in our universities. At first glance the most sensible argument against a new program focused on the great books of the West is that our universities already teach many of these books and epochs.

What need is there then for a specific degree in Western civilisation? After all, as Dirk Moses, professor of modern history at Sydney University, has said, the content of European culture is the default mode of Western universities.

This is certainly true of most of our major universities, most of the time. Homer, Virgil, the Bible, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Locke, de Tocqueville, Nietzsche, Marx, Mill, Freud – all usually find a place in various departments.

Shakespeare is studied in the English department and Plato’s Republic may still even be read in its entirety in some philosophy departments. Homer and Virgil will appear in the classics syllabus, and Machiavelli and de Tocqueville will no doubt be found over in the history and politics departments, while the Parthenon and Chartres Cathedral may well feature in the school of art history, and Don Giovanni in a school of music.

What you will not find, however, in any university in Australia, is a program that attempts to integrate these works into a coherent whole.

There are no integrated, chronologically ordered programs in our major universities that require students to read great works across the disciplines of history, literature, politics, philosophy, psychology, religion and science, and to be immersed in art, architecture and music from that chronological history of thought, beliefs and practices.

This is a major gap in our research-oriented, disciplinarybased university system that desperately needs to be filled. This is where integrated great books programs come in.

One argument against such courses is that they are too general in their focus. For some specialists, the idea that Cervantes doesn’t just belong to students in the Spanish department, or the Old Testament to students studying religion and Hebrew, is anathema. The university, as they conceive it, is principally a place for specialised knowledge and research.

But this is contrary to the best tradition of liberal education, which seeks to initiate students into a broad awareness and critical appreciation of their own cultural heritage across disciplinary boundaries.

At the oldest English universities, this ideal survives in the advice often given to students that they should attend the best classes at university, across the various schools, irrespective of the degree for which they are reading.

In the US, a different and more coherent attempt to realise the vision of a broad education emerged in the 20th century with the rise of the Great Books movement championed by John Erskine, Mortimer Adler and Robert Hutchins. This gave rise to the Columbia core curriculum and was the inspiration for “the new program” at St John’s College, Annapolis, among dozens if not hundreds of other great books programs across the country.

Today, all students who graduate from Columbia College have read Homer’s Iliad, Sappho’s lyrics, Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars, Plato’s Republic, the Bible, the Koran, Luther’s Preface to Romans, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Darwin’s Origin of Species, Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, among so many other works. In addition, they have all studied the major movements of Western art, architecture, music and science.

Unfortunately, the same level of broad cultural literacy cannot be assumed in most students graduating from a single Australian university, not even in those emerging from humanities faculties.

This is not only detrimental to an Australian student’s understanding and critical engagement with the riches and complexities of Western thought, art and political practices. It also slows down their progress in the studies they do undertake.

Moses has argued that many teachers in the humanities are today “deeply concerned about students’ cultural literacy. It is a brave new world teaching, say, European history, to students with little or no knowledge of Western intellectual and cultural traditions, the Bible, literature and history.” To help rectify this, Moses says he would welcome extending the great books program at his own institution, the University of Sydney, which currently covers only a small number of texts and is available to only a select group of students.

There is no reason why universities generally cannot look at practical ways of making such programs available to all students, including those outside the humanities and social sciences.

Isn’t it eminently desirable that the next generation of doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists, town planners and computer programmers have a broad cross-disciplinary grounding in the humanities?

As Google outreach manager Sally-Ann Williams said a few years ago in these pages, some insights and innovations are “only possible at the intersection of disciplines”. Great books programs allow the disciplines, in a very immediate way, to speak to each other, and for students to join the conversation.

And they proclaim loudly that no single discipline – whether in the humanities, social sciences, computer sciences or hard sciences – has a monopoly on the truth.

To problem-solve in a dynamic world, we need the agility that comes with being conversant with multiple perspectives across the humanities and sciences.

Such programs need not be as large as the proposed 12-16 course Ramsay-funded program, which – large though it is – still leaves room for an outside major, in Asian or indigenous studies, for example, or a second degree (in law, for instance, or engineering).

A six-course program, focusing on some seminal books, science, art, architecture and music from the ancient to the modern worlds, would be straightforward enough to establish, and would comprise at most a quarter of a standard threeyear degree, still leaving plenty of room for specialisations and professional qualifications.

Such programs would bring together students and teachers from across the university, providing them with a common enterprise and a core body of humane learning, irrespective of their own chosen specialisations. This knowledge belongs to them all.

Private philanthropy could be sought for the running of such programs. With gifted teachers devoted to Socratic class discussion drawn from across the university – who, like those in the Columbia core, would necessarily teach as generalists rather than specialists – the sky is the limit.

Anyone who has taught in such a program – or has seen them in action at places like St John’s and Columbia – knows how exciting and rewarding they can be for all involved.

Stephen McInerney is the executive officer (academic) at the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation.

The Australian, by  Stephen McInerney

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13 February 2019

Ramsay degree fast-tracked for 2020

The University of Wollongong yesterday became the first in Australia to begin marketing a Ramsay Centre-sponsored degree in Western civilisation, promising a start date next year after fast-tracking the degree through the university’s approval process.

Details of the Western civilisation degree went up on the university’s website last night, along with a slew of endorsements that Wollongong has obtained from internationally recognised scholars.

Vice-chancellor Paul Wellings defended the decision to fast-track the approval of the course via a clause in the university’s course and subject approval procedures, which allow him to green-light a new course if certain conditions are met. It bypasses the usual ­scrutiny by the university’s academic senate.

Professor Wellings said it had been important to complete the approval process for the degree quickly because of the tight timetable to complete the prospectus and course materials, advertise to potential students, select the 30 scholarship holders, and be ready to launch in 2020.

The Western civilisation degree met the criteria for fast-tracking, he said, because it was financially sustainable (being underpinned by Ramsay Centre funding) and was academically ­coherent (which was attested to by internationally recognised scholars).

“Both those two tests are met and those are the main criteria,” he said. “We’ve used a perfectly normal pathway for the university.”

Professor Wellings said he had signed on a number of similar fast-tracked course approvals in the past two years.

Last night the university also released its signed memorandum of understanding with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which will fund the degree.

The MoU avoids the academic freedom issue that derailed the Ramsay Centre’s ­negotiations last year for a Western civilisation degree at the Australian National University.

ANU said then that the Ramsay Centre had declined to commit itself to the “principles of academic freedom”.

Professor Wellings said the issue of academic freedom had “not really” come up in Wollongong’s talks with the centre. The Ramsay MoU was consistent with other similar agreements, he said.

“There’s nothing in that MoU with the Ramsay Centre which is exceptional in any way. I don’t recall any other MoU which I have signed which has ever mentioned academic freedom,” he said.

Wollongong’s executive dean who will oversee the new course, Theo Farrell, said a provision in the MoU that permitted visits from Ramsay Centre representatives to observe the classes, inspect facilities and attend social functions underlined the academic independence of the degree from the centre. “Visits will be for observation and social functions — not for any formal teaching evaluation — so they will not impede UoW’s academic independence,” Professor Farrell said.

The MoU also provides for two qualified academics nominated by the Ramsay Centre to sit on selection panels to hire staff to teach the new degree.

Professor Wellings said the Ramsay representatives would be in a minority. “It’s not uncommon for universities to have people from outside their institutions in the appointment process,” he said.

The 30 students to be selected annually for a $27,000-a-year scholarship for the Western civilisation degree will be chosen by a panel that will include representation from the Ramsay Centre as well as university academic staff and other nominated representatives, according to the MoU.

When the course is fully up and running, the Ramsay Centre will pay for 10 academic staff and two support staff, as well as 30 student scholarships commencing every year, at a cost of about $7.5 million annually.

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

 

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13 February 2019

Lively journey across western ideas and art

The University of Wollongong says its new Ramsay Centre-sponsored bachelor degree in Western civilisation is inspired by the idea of a conversation in which: “Nothing is to remain undiscussed. Everybody is to speak (their) mind. No proposition is to be left unexamined.”

The 1952 quote, from American philosopher Robert Hutchins, is cited by the university in the material released last night on its website to promote the new ­degree.

It says in the document on curriculum design that the course will take students on “on a chronologically ordered philosophical adventure through the major periods and epochs of intellectual and artistic change in the West”.

“At each stage of their journey, students will engage first-hand with exemplary masterpieces of Western thought, art and architecture (and) bring them into dialogue with the some of the greatest exemplars of non-Western traditions,” the university says.

Students will take 16 core subjects, including a capstone unit on Australian democracy, as well as doing a major selected from a list including: archeology and ancient history; creative writing; languages; history; indigenous studies; sociology; English literature; philosophy; politics; international relations; and global sustainable development.

The students can also choose to pair the course with another to do a double degree, or do honours in Western civilisation to help them develop more advanced research and critical thinking skills.

The university is at pains to make clear that Western civilisation students will “be introduced to non-Western and under-represented voices and perspectives”.

“To take one example, students will be exposed to alternative readings of Western classics, such as Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls (2018), which is lauded as an outstanding feminist retelling of the Iliad,” the curriculum design document says.

The university says it has taken inspiration from Yale-NUS, the liberal arts college in Singapore that is a collaboration between Yale and the National University of Singapore.

At Yale-NUS “students study not only Plato and Aristotle but also, in the same course, Confucius and the Buddha — and ask why their systems of ethics might be similar or different,” the University of Wollongong says. “They study the Odyssey and the Ramayana. They examine the ‘primitivisms’ of Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso while also looking at the woodcarvings from the South Sea islands and the ukiyo-e tradition of Japanese woodblock prints that influenced Western artists.”

The university says that, despite the course’s focus on Western thought and art, it also “initiates well-placed, high-quality conversations” on non-Western traditions in half of its 16 core units.

It also argues that the new degree is “inherently cross-disciplinary”, combining elements of study of the classics, literature and philosophy. And the university points out that students can, if they choose, take something non-Western in a double degree.

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

 

 

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The mouth should have three gatekeepers. Is it true? Is it kind? and is it necessary "
- Anon