The Liberating Arts


COVID-19 has been apocalyptic for higher education, and indeed for our nation as a whole; it has intensified pressures already threatening liberal arts education. Our conversations aim to enable colleges and universities across the country to learn from one another in addressing today's challenges and opportunities, and they will encourage these institutions to draw on the rich heritage of the liberal arts tradition, while acknowledging its historical limitations, in shaping their responses. Our goal is to think and talk in public about the enduring value of the liberal arts for the particular concerns and challenges of our time.

All Episodes

Prof. Eric Adler and Jessica Hooten Wilson discuss his book Battle of the Classics: How a Nineteenth-Century Debate Can Save the Humanities Today in conversation with Reitter and Wellmon's The Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age. Adler creates a lengthier narrative of the humanities that predates the modern version and shows how rooting the identity of the humanities in this story encourages a return to their humanizing character.

Nov 27

41 min 28 sec

Founding Presidents John Mark Reynolds, Stephen Blackwood, and Matthew Smith tell us about why they started colleges from scratch and what gap in the academy they hope to fill. As President Blackwood put it, why keep living in a house with a broken foundation? We need to start over.

Nov 2

47 min 50 sec

Andy Crouch is on the CCCU governing board. In this conversation, he discusses with Jessica Hooten Wilson ways we might innovate to increase the love of liberal arts from children to adults. 

Aug 12

43 min 19 sec

Jeff Bilbro talks with Leah Bayens, the dean of the Wendell Berry Farming Program. This program is a collaboration between Sterling College and the Berry Center. Dr. Bayens's PhD is in English, and she has wide-ranging interests in both the humanities and sustainable agriculture. They talk about the program she directs and the challenges and opportunities of uniting liberal arts education with agricultural education.

Jun 19

1 hr 1 min

Jeff Bilbro talks with Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Digital Humanities and Professor of English at Michigan State University. She has also held leadership roles for the MLA, and she is the project director of Humanities Commons. They discuss her recent book Generous Thinking and her current project, available in draft form on her website, Leading Generously.

May 2

58 min 3 sec

Jeff Bilbro talks with Chad Wellmon about the arguments in a new book that Chad wrote with Paul Reitter, Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age. They discuss questions such as: Where did the humanities come from? Why do they always seem to be in crisis? Can we find a hospitable institutional home for humane learning?

Apr 26

51 min 33 sec

Noah Toly talks with Tim Herron and Marquise Dixon, of Degrees of Change and Act Six, about how institutions can better serve first-generation student-leaders.

Apr 19

43 min 40 sec

Rachel Griffis talks with theologian Elizabeth Newman about the importance of leisure in academic study. They discuss the academy’s prioritization of productivity, scarcity mindsets vs. mindsets of abundance, and monastic time. Elizabeth is the author of Divine Abundance: Leisure, the Basis of Academic Culture and Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers.

Apr 15

49 min 14 sec

Noah Toly talks with Greg Jones, Dean of Duke Divinity School and president-elect of Belmont University, about what liberal arts institutions can learn from his new book, Navigating the Future: Traditioned Innovation for Wilder Seas (with Andrew P. Hogue).

Apr 12

47 min 3 sec

Dr. Matthew Post, Associate Dean of Braniff college of humanities at the University of Dallas, and Dr J. Scott Lee, co-founder and retired Executive Director of the Association for Core Texts and Courses, discuss the latter's new book Invention: The Art of Liberal Arts.

Apr 6

2 hr 4 min

Angel Adams Parham speaks with John Johnson, co-founder and executive director of the Albertus Magnus Institute (AMI). The AMI is a new, innovative learning community dedicated to liberal arts education focused on great books and great texts, rooted in the Catholic Intellectual tradition. Seminars are taught by the highest caliber teachers and scholars at no cost to participants, who are called fellows. Rather than tuition or fees, the AMI encourages fellows to contribute what they can to support the work. Johnson has a philosophy degree from St. Mary's College of California, Moraga, CA, and a Master’s degree in Theology from the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley, CA, where his studies focused on the beatific epistemology of St. Thomas Aquinas. He has spoken at Catholic retreats and events across the country and lives in California with his wife and four children.

Mar 22

47 min 7 sec

Dr. Robert Jackson has experience both as a professor in the humanities, working at The King’s College in New York, and experience as the director of Great Hearts Academies—a network of K-12 classical charter schools that emphasize liberal arts education. In this conversation, he talks with Angel Adams Parham about the benefits of taking a K-16 view of liberal arts education.

Mar 15

58 min 33 sec

Jeff Bilbro talks with Phillip Donnelly about his forthcoming book, The Lost Seeds of Learning: The Verbal Arts and Christian Faith. Professor Donnelly serves as Director of the Great Texts Program in the Honors College at Baylor University. His research focuses on the historical connections between philosophy, theology, and imaginative literature, with particular attention to Renaissance literature and the reception of Classical educational traditions. He also works with classical school educators in the K-12 setting.

Mar 9

55 min 2 sec

Who are the liberal arts for?  It is often assumed that liberal arts education is for the privileged, for those who have little need of a practical skill or trade. But this view dismisses much experience which shows that the least advantaged are often the most strongly impacted by liberal arts education and have the most to gain from it. In this conversation we hear from Dr. Emily Auerbach who has spent nearly twenty years engaging in liberal arts education with the least advantaged, and Dr. Francis Su, who has mentored and co-authored with a young man who has found his voice in high level mathematics, despite being imprisoned. Odyssey Project Website  Odyssey Project Documentary  Mathematics for Human Flourishing  Math Prize Shared with Christopher Jackson 

Feb 28

42 min 49 sec

Rachel Griffis talks with John Rocha about the role of sports in a liberal arts education. They discuss the importance of the body in education and the liberating effects of incorporating all aspects of a person in learning. John is Head of School at Ozark Catholic Academy in Northwest Arkansas. 

Feb 16

42 min 47 sec

2020 has exacerbated longstanding pressures facing many institutions dedicated to liberal arts formation: ongoing technological developments, economic shifts, and political divisions have been intensified by the events of this year. The Liberating Arts has focused on how institutions of higher education might respond to these realities, but many magazines are seeking related paths forward as they seek to foster humane, liberating conversations. We invited editors at three periodicals—Comment Magazine, The Hedgehog Review, and Plough Quarterly—to dialogue with Jeff Bilbro about their perspectives on these questions. B.D. McClay, Peter Mommsen, and Anne Snyder discuss how they seek to shape thoughtful conversations in an age where crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and social injustice more often elicit soundbites, clickbait, and memes.

Jan 18

1 hr 4 min

Reading guru Karen Swallow Prior (author of On Reading Well) interviews the ‘Neil Postman of our age’ Sven Birkerts (author of The Gutenberg Elegies) about how digital technologies can deform our freedom and our humanity. But also how reading may counter such malformation!

Jan 11

45 min 51 sec

We hear quite a bit about applying what we learn to make it relevant. However, such conversations are usually aimed at the use of certain disciplines. Artist Makoto Fujimura counters these assertions by describing education as a creative activity. All truly human activity should be creating beauty. His new book Art and Faith forms the basis of this conversation between Jessica and Mako.

Jan 4

33 min 43 sec

The co-directors of the Wade center at Wheaton, Crystal and David Downing, discuss C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L Sayers's lifelong interest in the liberal arts. Both Christian intellectuals believed we had lost the type of education that forms human beings as thinkers with hearts.

Dec 2020

50 min 46 sec

Rachel Griffis talks with Shann Ray about living an interdisciplinary life, the contributions of psychology to a liberal arts education, and his recent book Atomic Theory 7: Poems to My Wife and God. Shann is a Professor of Leadership Studies at Gonzaga University. Additionally, he is a licensed clinical psychologist as well as a poet, novelist, author of short stories, and a recipient of numerous awards in creative writing. He has also published scholarship on forgiveness and leadership studies

Dec 2020

53 min 41 sec

Jeff Bilbro talks with Ari Schulman, the editor of The New Atlantis, about how this magazine works to bridge some of the dangerous divides that mark our public discourse: the divide between STEM and the liberal arts, between experts and populists, between science and public policy. The also discuss the relation between journals like The New Atlantis and institutions of higher education.

Dec 2020

1 hr 16 min

Noah Toly talks with Jeff Bilbro, David Henreckson, and Jessica Hooten Wilson about what themes and questions have emerged so far from the conversations we've hosted at The Liberating Arts.

Dec 2020

38 min 27 sec

Dr. Rachel Griffis talks with Dr. Perry Glanzer, Professor of Educational Foundations at Baylor University, about the liberal arts tradition in American education and Glanzer’s book, Restoring the Soul of the University. They discuss the role of the liberal arts in the creation of American colleges, the fragmentation of the university, and possibilities for restoration in American institutions of higher education.

Dec 2020

35 min 13 sec

Brad East and Jon Baskin, editor for The Point Magazine, discuss the recent essay that Jon and Anastasia Berg wrote for the New York Times. They consider the crises facing the humanities and their institutional home in the academy; the goods and ends of humanistic education; the democratic potential of the liberal arts; the possibilities of humanistic education beyond the bounds of higher ed; and the role of ideas magazines in times of social upheaval and uncertainty.

Nov 2020

1 hr 7 min

Noah Toly hosts a discussion with Dr. Lydia Dugdale, author of The Lost Art of Dying, and Dr. Todd Billings, author of The End of the Christian Life, about ancient and Christian wisdom on death and dying, and how a liberal arts education might teach us about both.

Nov 2020

1 hr 21 min

Many classical schools have an interest in including diverse voices, but are also concerned to stay true to their mission of keeping their curricula firmly devoted to the study and contemplation of classic texts. Otherwise, one runs the risk of being subjected to the unceasing winds of social and cultural change. Is it possible to maintain the classical core while also hearing from voices that have not traditionally been part of that core? Even if it is possible, what are the pros and cons of taking such an approach? Join Dr. Angel Adams Parham and Dr. Brian Williams in conversation on these questions.

Nov 2020

45 min 49 sec

In this webinar hosted by The King's College, Dr. Joe Lonconte spoke on the history of higher education, Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson spoke on the goodness, truth, and beauty of teaching the Classics, and Dr. Zena Hitz spoke on the usefulness of “useless” arts during a pandemic and beyond. Dr. Josh Kinlaw then moderated the ensuing Q&A, which included discussions about the positive influence of classical learning on society. In Dr. Hitz’s words, “Intellectual life, learning for its own sake, isn’t just the sort of crowning of all achievements… it’s also a refuge when we lose everything else - in failure, in imprisonment, in circumstances of terrible oppression, in decline, in despair of any kind, the liberal arts are there for us, in a way that nothing else is, apart from art, or music, or worship, or our love for one another.”

Nov 2020

1 hr 6 min

Noah Toly talks with Dr. Nathan Grawe, Professor of Economics and Ada M. Harrison Distinguished Teaching Professor of Social Sciences at Carleton College, about how shifting demographics are affecting liberal arts institutions. Grawe is the author of Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018). His current book project, The Agile College, examines the steps colleges and universities are taking to address the challenges of the next decade.

Nov 2020

38 min 11 sec

Rachel Griffis and Erik Hoekstra, President of Dordt University, explore similarities and differences between the traditional liberal arts and Christian education. They discuss false dichotomies between learning and career training and how vocational programs contribute to an institution's mission. President Hoekstra articulates a definition of Christian education rooted in Reformed thought that dismantles hierarchies between disciplines.

Nov 2020

56 min 5 sec

Noah Toly talks with Dr. Christian Hoeckley, Director of the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts at Westmont College, about how institutions can make liberal arts commitments stick, how those institutions can reach a broader audience about the merits of liberal arts education, and what liberal arts institutions should not want for their students and graduates.

Nov 2020

57 min 36 sec

Jeff Bilbro talks with David Riggs and Lanta Davis from the John Wesley Honors College at Indiana Wesleyan University. They discuss how the honors college model can foster a rigorous liberal arts education and consider some of the challenges and opportunities of this institutional model. Riggs and Davis have found that even students who attend college seeking professional credentials are inspired and formed by a challenging liberal education.

Oct 2020

54 min 11 sec

Yale’s Jennifer Herdt joins the Liberation Channel to talk about her recent book Forming Humanity. She and Jonathan Tran discuss the relationship between what she calls a “renovated Christian humanism” and liberative struggle and critical theory. Especially of interests are her reflections on moral formation and higher education.

Oct 2020

47 min 45 sec

COVID-19 has been apocalyptic for higher education, presenting a cliff made still taller by a powerful protest movement. Both events have intensified pressures long squeezing the survival of the liberal arts as a viable educational model, highlighting both the urgency and the elusiveness of moral formation in a twenty-first century education. How might those invested in preserving the liberal arts proceed? Might this year in all its drama present a tipping point for good? 

Oct 2020

1 hr 5 min

Brad East and Alan Noble discuss the crises facing Christian liberal arts colleges and universities, the goods and ends of such institutions, the formation students receive at them, why they are worth supporting, and what they contribute to the wider society. They discuss his recent article which appeared in Christianity Today about these issues.

Oct 2020

46 min 50 sec

Jessica Hooten Wilson asks her friend Zena Hitz, author of Lost in Thought, tough questions about the liberal arts and whether they matter (Hitz also includes a brief apology for Homer’s Odyssey).

Oct 2020

41 min 37 sec

Our time is characterized by information overload, hot takes, and a preoccupation with the immediate. What’s more, there seems to be a growing consensus that history needs to be left behind—that the past has nothing to teach us. In this moment, why read old books? What, if anything, can we learn from the voices of the past? Alan Jacobs, Elizabeth Corey, and Paul Gutacker discuss these questions in honor of the release of Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind. In this his latest book, Dr. Jacobs suggests that listening to the past offers wisdom we didn’t know we needed—and might even help us live less anxiously. This conversation was hosted by the Brazos Fellows, and we’re happy to share it with you here.

Oct 2020

1 hr 4 min

Dr. Noah Toly interviews Dr. Karen An-Hwei Lee, Provost of Wheaton College about institutional dimensions of liberal arts education.

Oct 2020

38 min 49 sec

Baylor’s Jonathan Tran interviews Yale’s Willie James Jennings about his new book After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging (Eerdmans, 2020). Jennings writes in the book, “Theological education is about resistance. It is the seed from which may grow beautiful habituation or from which may grow mind-bending captivity. Yet how do you design for intellectual resistance? This may be the most pressing question in theological education today.” The interview examines the “mind-bending captivity” of contemporary education, especially theological education and remaining possibilities for resistance and what Professor Jennings calls “revolution.” At issue is how Christian humanities and liberal arts can design for revolution versus captivity, what it could look like and how it’s being done today.

Oct 2020

59 min 52 sec

Francis Su is the Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College and a former president of the Mathematical Association of America. Earlier this year, he published Mathematics for Human Flourishing, a readable, passionate defense of math as a liberal art. Francis has a rare gift for doing high level mathematics and writing about it in a compelling way for a broad audience. He hopes that everyone will come to see the beauty of mathematics and find delight in cultivating their own numerical capacities. As he claims in this book, “A society without mathematical affection is like a city without concerts, parts, or museums. To miss out on mathematics is to live without an opportunity to play with beautiful ideas and see the world in a new light. To grasp mathematical beauty is a unique and sublime experience that everyone should demand.” Jeff Bilbro talks with Francis about why math sometimes gets forgotten in discussions about the liberal arts, how math might relate to politics, whether we can come to love math (and other intellectual endeavors) without losing their extrinsic goods, and much more.

Oct 2020

50 min 46 sec