Monday, September 6, 2010

Back to school: Lewis on the pursuit of learning (1)

The follow excerpt is from a sermon C.S. Lewis preached in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford University in Autumn 1939, thus the title, “Learning in War-Time.” Even though we are not on the brink of WWII, I think you’ll find Lewis’ perspective on higher education to be quite interesting.

A UNIVERSITY is a society for the pursuit of learning. As students, you will be expected to make yourselves, or to start making yourselves, into what the Middle Ages called clerks: into philosophers, scientists, scholars, critics, or historians. And at first sight this seems to be an odd thing to do during a great war. What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing? Or, even if we ourselves should happen not to be interrupted by death or military service, why should we—indeed how can we—continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives of our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not like fiddling while Rome burns?

C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” The Essential C.S. Lewis (New York: Touchstone, 1986) 371.

1 comment:

  1. Back to school exclusive bonus points for the first commenter who can tell us the English translation of the Oxford University crest motto: Dominus Illuminatio Mea.

    This is quite an interesting "sermon" by CS Lewis. Even though he's addressing the immediate issue of learning when the country is preparing to go to war, he quickly makes clear that what he has to say about learning applies in all times. Let's see what we think about Lewis' perspective on education.