In discussions surrounding liberal arts education, John Newman’s The Idea of a University is widely known to be a central piece of work, upon which all other ideas have been developed since the mid-nineteenth century. One writer comments: “modern thinking on university education is a series of footnotes to Newman’s lectures and essays.” The following are some key points in Newman’s The Idea of a University.

The importance of theology in university curricula is stressed as a branch of knowlege:

Religious doctrine is knowledge. This is the important truth, little entered into at this day, which I wish that all who have honored me with their presence here would allow me to beg them to take away with them. I am not catching at sharp arguments, but laying down grace principles. Religious doctrine is knowledge, in as full a sense as Newton’s doctrine is knowledge. University teaching without theology is simply unphilosophical. Theology has at least as good a right to claim a place there as astronomy.

All other knowledge is dependent on theology:

Religious truth is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short if I may so speak, of unraveling the web of ‘university teaching.’

And knowledge is its own end:

When I speak of knowledge, I mean something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through the senses; something which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it sees; which invests it with an idea. It expresses itself, not in a mere enunciation, but by an enthymeme; it is of the nature of science from the first, and in this consists its dignity. The principle of real dignity in knowledge, its worth, its desirableness, considered irrespectively of its results, is this germ within it of a scientific or a philosophical process. This is how it comes to be an end in itself; this is why it admits of being called ‘liberal.’

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