***Short Seminars***

Short seminars focus on a problem or question of particular urgency for students in the 21st-century university for which the Christian intellectual tradition offers unique resources. These seminars require minimal preparation and ample time for discussion. They are organized by PGH Christian Studies and do not bear university credit. Register by e-mailing pghchristianstudies@gmail.com.

Fall 2019

The Joyful Life: Mental Health and Well-Being from a Faith-Based Perspective
Prof. Brent Robbins
Thursdays 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm Oct. 3, Oct. 10, Oct. 17, Oct. 24, Oct. 31, Nov. 7

Contemporary psychiatry and clinical psychology have grown to appreciate the important role that faith plays in mental health and well-being. A large, impressive and growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that faith can be linked to a variety of positive outcomes. Self-reported religiousness and spirituality have been found to predict lower incidence of depression, decreased anxiety, better long-term prognosis in cases of psychosis, protection from onset of post-traumatic stress disorder, and lower substance abuse. Faith has also been linked to various indicators of positive mental health, including greater happiness, joyfulness, intrinsic motivation, meaning in life, vitality, and virtues such as hope and agape love. This seminar will examine how psychological science can inform faith-based strategies to cultivate better mental health and well-being that can help individuals to prevent and better cope with stress and suffering. The seminar will also examine ways that Christian faith and practices can also help individuals cultivate a sense of inner peace and unconditional joy despite one’s worldly circumstances. Finally, the seminar will examine ways to identify signs of mental health concerns in others and strategies to intervene to help those who are undergoing a mental health crisis.

Spring 2019

Engineering Happiness
Prof. David Sanchez
Tuesdays 7:30 - 8:30 Jan. 15, Jan. 22, Jan. 29, Feb. 5

For many, self-reported life satisfaction has been on a decline for the past 10 years. Why? Is human happiness (flourishing) possible and what does it consist of? Would an engineering approach to designing your life move us toward a fulfilling solution? This seminar explores data, research studies, theories and proposals on the timeless question of happiness and human flourishing. Join us in Benedum Hall, room 229.

The Rule of St. Benedict
Prof. Grant Martsolf

In the early 6th century, Western Europe was in chaos. The Roman Empire had fallen, and the structure and order that marked the Roman world had crumbled. Within that chaotic time, St. Benedict wrote a little book of precepts and rules to govern the life of his monastery in the hills above Monte Cassino in southern Italy. By the 9th century, nearly all Christian monasteries lived under the Rule of St. Benedict. This little book provided the structure and discipline that the Benedictine monks needed to begin the work of revitalizing the spiritual and economic order of Western Europe. But, what might the Rule of St. Benedict offer us today?

Zygmaut Bauman, eminent Polish philosopher and sociologist, describes our age as one of “liquid modernity.” Like 6th century Europe, the institutions and belief structures that have been so central to the lives of the citizens of the West have been crumbling and seem to be unable to hold. College might also be described as an especially “liquid time.” We move away from our homes and begin to learn and be exposed to theories and lifestyles that challenge our most core beliefs. Like the monks of Monte Cassino, the Rule of St. Benedict may provide college students with a way to create little monasteries in their dorms and in their hearts. These monasteries might serve as ordered spaces in which students can grow spiritually, developing a foundation from which they can keep their head above the waves of a liquid age. In this PGH CS seminar, we will host six weekly meetings to read and discuss sections of the Rule of St Benedict and think about practical ways to apply the Rule of St. Benedict to our everyday lives. There will be no prep work; all reading will be done during the seminar.

Fall 2018

Plough Reading Group
Thursdays 6:30 - 8:00 Sept. 13, Sept. 27, Oct. 11, Oct. 25, Nov. 8, Nov 15

Plough Quarterly is a magazine of stories, ideas, and culture to inspire faith and action. Bold, hope-filled, and down-to-earth, it features thought-provoking articles, commentary, interviews, short fiction, book reviews, poetry and art.”
PGH Christian Studies sponsors a Plough reading group that meets every other week.
All members will be given a free subscription to Plough. Members will discuss how diverse voices and opinions contribute to the conversation around the Christian intellectual tradition. Meetings will be held every other Thursday night at 6:30, beginning September 13th. Contact sheyannmcpherson@mailstack.com with any questions.


Contemporary Christian Poetry
Prof. Ryan McDermott
Mondays 6:30 - 8:00 pm Oct. 15, Oct. 22, Oct. 29, Nov. 5

Informal conversations about some excellent, accessible poetry by living poets, all of whom you will have the chance to meet. This four-week series leads up to “Terra Incognita,” a literary gathering at Pitt co-sponsored by Convivium, a journal of literature and the arts, and PGH CS. We will be reading poetry by featured poets Ryan Wilson, Elisabeth Kramp, and Ewa Chrusciel, as well as some others. Participants will receive free copies of relevant books. No prior experience reading poetry required! Dinner will be provided. Meetings will be held in the Vanyo Library in Synod Hall.


Evolving in Eden: Why Science and Genesis are Both Right about Our Origins
Bob Enick
Tuesday Nov. 13 6:00 - 8:45 pm
A one night event with dinner included
939 Benedum Engineering Hall (9th floor by elevators; the chemical engineering graduate lounge)

Students at a university are often confronted with a stark choice by vocal advocates of two contentious positions: ignore scientists and the alleged science of our origins and cling only to a biblical perspective of creation science, or recognize the vast body of science that describes our natural origins and ignore the fables and myths in Genesis. This seminar presents a different perspective that requires careful thought. We will discuss how one can maintain an uncompromising view of the inspiration of the scriptures while understanding and appreciating the wealth of science related to the origins of the universe, earth, life and humans. 

If possible please read Genesis 1-11 during the 2 weeks before this presentation. A free copy of Dr Enick’s book on this subject will be provided to all attendees. 

Spring 2018

Feminism and Christianity Reading Group
Tuesdays 7:00pm - 8:30 pm Synod Hall Feb. 13th, Feb. 20th, Feb. 27th, Mar.13th, Mar. 20th

Guided by Dorothy Sayers’s Are Women Human?, this group will explore the intersections of Christianity with feminism and cultural conceptions of gender. The text will be discussed alongside excerpts from classic feminist works. The writings of female mystics will also be explored. Members will consider how early Christianity’s conception of gender differed radically from ideas then current in Greco-Roman culture — and introduced a revolutionary new idea of human dignity. Contact Grace Aquilina (amazinggracie97@gmail.com) if you want to be involved.

"Culture of Health"
Prof. Daniel Hall and Prof. Grant Martsolf
School of Medicine and School of Nursing, Pitt
Thursdays, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m., Mar. 15, Mar. 22, Mar. 29, and Apr. 5 (4 sessions)
(Lunch is provided!)

Check out the Reading List, and first week's readings from Plough and Engel.

Did you know that most healthcare outcomes are attributable to various social conditions, such as environment, culture, and economics? A much smaller proportion of all variation in healthcare outcomes is attributable to genes, biology, and clinical care. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one of the largest and most influential funders of healthcare delivery system research, recently pivoted to prioritize research on the “Culture of Health.” The “Culture of Health” movement seeks to improve health and well-being by addressing social, environmental and economic conditions. Meanwhile, Medicare and some private insurers are moving away from the traditional payment models that incentivize service delivery to models that incentivize healthcare professionals to address social conditions. Many policy leaders argue that the solution to health problems is to integrate healthcare with social management initiatives such as tax incentives for marriage or tax penalties for smoking.

To truly understand the significance of this shift in research and policy priorities, it is important to understand that the “Culture of Health” relies on an historically unprecedented and contestable assumption that “health” is the proper goal and highest good of human culture. The Culture of Health movement reshapes the definitions of health, social science and the place of health-related goods in individuals’ lives. This shift holds both promise and peril, and so deserves debate.

In this Year of Healthy U event, the Pittsburgh Christian Studies program has partnered with faculty from the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the Center for Bioethics and Health Law and the RAND Corporation to offer a student reading group and a panel discussion to explore the following questions:

·       What is the culture of health movement and how does it relate to evolving conceptions of health?

·       What conceptions of social science and epistemology are implicit in the Culture of Health movement?

·       How do alternate approaches to social science and epistemology call into question assumptions inherent in the Culture of Health movement?

·       What are the opportunities and risks of the conceptions of social science and epistemology implicit in the culture of health movement?

Fall 2017

Martin Luther and the Reformation
Prof. Christian Hallstein PHD
Dietrich College, CMU
Time: 9 - 10 am at Panera Bread on Forbes

During the month of October, Prof. Christian Hallstein, who has been teaching German Studies at Carnegie Mellon since 1979, will be offering four seminar sessions on Martin Luther and the Reformation. In Session 1 we will look at Luther’s famous Reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” which is based on Psalm 46.  We will examine a direct translation of Luther’s words, several English metrical renderings for singing, and the actual text of Psalm 46 and then speculate on why there are so many differences.  You will also hear a recording of the hymn with its original 16th century rhythms. The second session will deal with Luther’s ideas regarding reason and virtue.  We will be looking at statements he made in his famous “Tabletalks” with his students.  How do Luther’s idea reflect or perhaps contradict ideas we have today about reason and virtue? In Sessions 3 and 4 we will look at Luther’s legacy, especially how he shaped our understanding of “secular” life vs. “religious” life.  What implications are there for us today as we consider our roles in our families, our professions, our communities and our churches? There is no reading required for the first session, but the last three sessions will have a reading assignment of 20-25 pages each.


Race and Religion Reading Group

This undergrad-led discussion group will concern itself with a theological consideration of race and race topics. These topics include social customs, legal institutions, and personal relationships regarding race. We will read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me (books provided) against the background of key Biblical texts on race, including passages that have been used to support slavery and white supremacy. We will also discuss short excerpts of major African-American theological figures such as Bishop B. T. Tanner and Martin Luther King, Jr. The group will meet alternating Thursdays 7-8:30 p.m. during the course of the fall semester: Oct 19, Nov 2, Nov 16, Nov 30, in Cathedral of Learning 512. Dinner will be provided.

This discussion group is open to all undergrads in the Pittsburgh area of any faith or none. Please RSVP so we know how much food to order. Contact organizers Xavier Cook (xac1@pitt.edu) or Grace Aquilina (amazinggracie97@gmail.com).


Christian Social Thought and the Imagination of Wendell Berry
Prof. Grant Martsolf PHD, MPH, RN
School of Nursing, Pitt
Fridays 12:00pm - 1:00 pm CL 235 Nov. 3rd, Nov. 10th, Nov. 17th, Dec. 1st

Our late modern age is marked by rapid change as the world grows ever more global, technocratic, and tribal. These social forces require us to ask important questions about how we organize our society, govern each other, and relate to our neighbors. Many social commentators would argue that we are all sovereign individuals who relate primarily as autonomous sellers and buyers, while others would argue that individuals serve the purposes of a common good even if the community’s conception of the good must be achieved by force. Through the work of three unique thinkers, we will attempt to narrate and imagine an alternative social vision. Based on the 19th century writings of Leo XIII, Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, and Abraham Kuyper, Dutch Calvinist theologian and politician, we will explore how the philosophical and theological foundations of Christian Social Thought stand in contrast to currently prominent social visions. Despite the force of their writings, Leo and Kuyper’s concepts of solidarity, sphere sovereignty, stewardship, and virtue can remain abstract and remote. In order to make these concepts more imminent and tangible, we will read stories and poems of Wendell Berry, a farmer, novelist, poet, and environmental activist, to help us imagine how these concepts may play out within a specific community. The seminar will culminate with the Pittsburgh premier of Look and See, a new documentary about Wendell Berry.  

Spring 2017

Science and Certainty
Prof. David W. Snoke
Physics and Astronomy, Pitt
Thursdays, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m., Jan. 19, Feb. 2, Feb. 16, and Mar. 2 (4 sessions)
Cathedral of Learning 501 (bring your own bagged lunch!)

Science, especially physics, is sometimes presented as having perfect certainty, but often we find that scientists disagree, and major theories are questioned. How is a nonscientist to judge in that case? In this short series, Prof. Snoke will discuss how we can think about uncertainty in science, including the sociology of science, the problems of using statistics, and the philosophical problem of when we can say something is "impossible," which relates to the claims of the Intelligent Design movement. As part of this discussion we will cover some of the material in two articles published by Prof. Snoke that address whether science and Christian faith have two different ways of knowing things, or are fundamentally similar.


Christian Care of the Body
Rev. Daniel E. Hall, MD, MDiv, MHSc, FACS
Associate Professor of Surgery
University of Pittsburgh
Thursdays, 12:00 - 1:30 p.m., Feb. 9, Feb. 23, Mar. 16, and Mar. 30 (4 sessions)
Cathedral of Learning 501 (bring your own bagged lunch!)

There were no hospitals in ancient Rome…until the arrival of Christians. Indeed, the modern hospital derives its name from the outer ring of buildings around medieval monasteries where monks practiced the Christian virtue of hospitality to care for the sick. Yet for a variety of reasons, the Christian Churches in the United States turned over their role in the care of bodies to the medical profession during the mid 20th century. As the scope and power of medical technology expanded, this abdication has become increasingly problematic. This seminar will explore how the Christian care of bodies might differ from standard biomedical practice, and how Christian practitioners and recipients of medicine might develop a sense of faithful vocation as they engage the power and principality that is the modern biomedical industrial complex.