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Any organized and institutionalized scheme of learning presupposes some view of how the various academic disciplines do or do not relate to each other. And so it is with universities. Consider in this light two very different types of university. In contemporary American universities each academic discipline is treated as autonomous and self-defining, so that its practitioners, or at least the most prestigious and influential among them, prescribe to those entering the discipline what its scope and limits are. And, in order to excel in any one particular discipline, one need in general know little or nothing about any of the others. Indeed, since prestige and influence most often attach to intensely and narrowly specialized research and scholarship, it would be imprudent for those who hope to excel in, say history, to expend the time and trouble needed to learn about physics—except of course for those who are historians of contemporary physics.

What is true of history and physics in contemporary American universities is also true of theology and philosophy. They too have become almost exclusively specialized and professionalized disciplines. To whom then in such a university falls the task of integrating the various disciplines, of considering the bearing of each on the others, and of asking how each contributes to the overall understanding of the nature and order of things? The answer is “No one,” but even this answer is misleading. For there is no sense in the contemporary American university that there is such a task, that something that matters is being left undone. And so the very notion of the nature and order of things, of a single universe, different aspects of which are objects of enquiry for the various disciplines, but in such a way that each aspect needs to be related to every other, this notion no longer informs the enterprise of the contemporary American university. It has become an irrelevant concept. It makes little difference in this respect whether a university is professedly secular or professedly Catholic. Consider by contrast the Marxist universities of the Soviet Union or of Communist Eastern Europe between 1917 and 1991 and put aside for a moment the issues raised by their corruption by the pseudo-Marxism of Stalinist and post-Stalinist state power. They were of course atheistic and anti-theistic universities, but their atheism was not something merely negative, a denial of God’s existence. It was a consequence of the dialectical and historical materialist understanding of the nature of things that provided them with a framework within which each of the academic disciplines could find its due place. So physics, history, and economics were all taught in a way that made their mutual relevance clear, and Marxist philosophy was assigned the tasks both of spelling out this relevance in contemporary terms and of explaining how the philosophies of the past had failed, just because they were the ideologically expressions of class societies.

Theists of course are deeply critical of those aspects of Marxism that issue in Marxist atheism. And theists of different standpoints have levelled a variety of particular criticisms against particular Marxist theses. Nonetheless they have had to recognize that Marxism is a theory or a set of theories with the same scope as their own and that in responding to it they are responding to a theoretical atheism that is in some ways intellectually more congenial than the practical atheism of contemporary American universities. For by either eliminating mention of God from the curriculum altogether (departments of religious studies concern themselves with various types of belief in God, not with God), or by restricting reference to God to departments of theology, such universities render their secular curriculum Godless. And this Godlessness is, as I already noted, not just a matter of the subtraction of God from the range of objects studied, but also and quite as much the absence of any integrated and overall view of things.

What would it be for a university not to be Godless in this way? Its curriculum would have to presuppose an underlying unity to the universe and therefore an underlying unity to the enquiries of each discipline into the various aspects of the natural and the social. Over and above the questions posed in each of these distinct disciplinary enquiries—the questions of the physicist or the biologist or the historian or the economist—there would be questions about what bearing each of them has on the others and how each contributes to an overall understanding of the nature of things. Theology would be taught both for its own sake and as a key to that overall understanding. And it would be a central task of philosophy in such a university to enquire into the nature of the relationship between theology and the secular disciplines.

P. 15-7, Alasdair MacIntyre – ‘God, Philosophy, universities’, 2009.