The 2017 Colloquium – a Review
What event in Hobart could bring together speakers as diverse as controversial agnostic former politician Gary Johns, Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Professor James Gaston, and Orthodox polymath Professor John Simons?
The Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies hosted its third annual Colloquium on 30 June-1 July at Jane Franklin Hall, attracting around 50 scholars, academics and attendees from across Australia and abroad. The two-day event was described by organiser Dr David Daintree AM as a ‘continuous conversation’ around this year’s theme of liberal education as a basis for living the good life.
The Dawson Centre was founded in 2013 under the patronage of Archbishop Julian Porteous, to promote the ideal of culture built on a Christian foundation. Previous Dawson Centre colloquia have examined the relationship between the Church and the world (2015), and the fraught issue of gender relations (2016).
As usual, the program was kaleidoscopic: the Colloquium theme is seen as a challenge as well as an invitation, so the responses are always original. We covered a lot of educational ground, including the misuse of the term ‘values’, the loss of the idea of wisdom, and the current threat to the arts and humanities in the culture war.
The sheer extent of the problem was demonstrated by the diverse backgrounds of those present, including the sciences and medicine as well as the humanities, and those with decades of experience and proven track records in education and academic administration and delivery.
These included Dr Kevin Donnelly AM, who led the Review of the Australian Curriculum in 2014, and Emeritus Professor Stephen Schwartz AM, a former vice-chancellor of three universities.
The greatest challenge was finding agreed solutions to the overwhelming confusion that currently exists everywhere. A surprise development was the agreement of several of the speakers and the audience – at least in theory – on the libertarian principle of separating education delivery at all levels from government funding. Speaker Dr Philippa Martyr even speculated about a future and much smaller Catholic education system fully independent of government support.
The Colloquium’s social side forms the other half of its program, with regular breaks and animated discussion continuing well past each paper’s question and answer session, and spilling over into lunch and dinner.
As well as the annual Colloquium, the Dawson Centre runs a program of regular talks and education sessions across Tasmania, all open to the public. The focus is cultural and historical, supporting a wide range of opinion but with a common desire to preserve and reinforce the intellectual traditions and practices of the West. Immediately after the Colloquium, one audience member notified the organisers that she was now transferring her degree studies to the University of Tasmania and relocating so that she could attend future events!