‘The Quest’ Is a Quest to Renew Our Culture

'The Quest' is viewable anytime on-demand for free at Quest.UDallas.Edu.

‘The Quest’
‘The Quest’ (photo: 851878 / Pixabay / CC0)

If one looks at the general state of student life in today’s American colleges and universities for any indication about the future of our culture, there is much to be worried about.

Soaring rates of depression. Addiction to substances both real and online. A sense of hopelessness and fear. Gen Z, born after 1996, are, they tell us, ‘digital natives,’ with no memory of a world without smartphones. While they’re enrolling in college at higher rates than previous generations, they’ve borne the brunt of pandemic induced school closures during the most formative high school years.

Sadly, our wider culture is not much better. In a world where apps and algorithms drive popular discourse, where online outrage is the norm, and where any semblance of shared moral norms is fading, it’s not surprising that we sometimes wonder out loud whether it’s all even worth saving.

For Christians, hopelessness is not an option. The Gospel message at its heart is one of redemption, salvation and the hope of our eternal destiny. For Catholics, the Church calls us to always be “in mission,” a calling most especially needed in our time and culture.

Catholic universities have a unique and special mission in the renewal of culture. As the formative bridge from childhood to adulthood, universities and all that they entail — the professors, the campus life and culture, the residence halls — play a formative role in intellectual and character formation of generations of students. As St. John Paul II writes in Ex corde Ecclesiae of his own university formation, “I myself was deeply enriched by … the ardent search for truth and its unselfish transmission to youth and to all those learning to think rigorously, so as to act rightly and to serve humanity better.”

At the University of Dallas, we are always thinking deeply about how to do this well, forming students in truth and wisdom through a common Core Curriculum, drawn from the great works of the Western and Catholic tradition, so that they may be rightly equipped to pursue their vocations, both personal and professional. An excellent, rigorous Catholic liberal arts education, after all, not only prepares its students for career success, but to be shapers of culture who pursue excellence in all things, and who, finding themselves in leadership roles, will navigate the unpredictable waters of the future.

But we are also committed to thinking about education more broadly; about how to offer those beyond their college years the opportunity to engage in ideas and the central questions of our humanity, of society, and the discernment of our own vocations and callings as we journey through life. This outward-facing mission is at the very heart of what Catholic universities should be as “incomparable centers of creativity” for the “dissemination of knowledge for the good of humanity,” as St. John Paul II writes.

This call to educate for the good of humanity is why The Quest, a documentary-style series produced by the University of Dallas, is so timely.

As a university whose mission is to teach students of all backgrounds, we are uniquely positioned to help Catholics and all people of goodwill beyond their college years to understand the roots of today’s challenges and to provide them with the intellectual resources to address them with confidence and courage. Many of us in our professional lives have the benefit of receiving high-quality continuing education, whether in medicine, engineering, law and accounting. But how often are lay Catholics offered trustworthy intellectual and spiritual formation of the same caliber?

Building upon the University’s long tradition of excellence in the liberal arts, great books, and Catholic education, three years ago we launched the Studies in Catholic Faith and Culture Program, on which The Quest is based, as free online video courses to educate and inspire Catholics and others seeking such formation later in life. While there is no shortage of online content available to anyone seeking to understand and deepen their faith, in the age of YouTube, the burden of vetting trustworthy and sometimes cacophonous voices falls on the audience. And, if trustworthy sources are found, all too often they fall short on communicating the beauty of the faith in a manner that takes into account the breadth and depth of our Western intellectual tradition.

What The Quest seeks to remind us of is that we are all on a beautiful if perilous journey, seeking to understand better our purpose and own unique calling in today’s culture.

Drawing from the breadth and richness of Church history, tradition, literature, philosophy and Sacred Scripture, The Quest aims to delight and to teach, offering engaging narratives woven out of clear and substantive insights of our outstanding faculty. They are the unsung heroes of this culture-building work, focusing daily on the task of leading students on their own journeys toward wisdom and truth. We hope that those who view this series will discover the joyful purpose of their own lives, ultimately, as sons and daughters of God.

Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D., is the president of the University of Dallas, a professor of philosophy and author of the book, “Before Virtue: Assessing Contemporary Virtue Ethics.” Learn more at Quest.UDallas.edu.