Cultivating virtue in the university

McDonald Centre Annual Conference, 2017

Nigel Biggar, ‘Cultivating Virtue in the University: Perspectives from Theology’

While moral formation has historically been one of the university’s central purposes, universities in the modern era have become shy of intentionally shaping the character of their students, even while they do it in practice. But recent scandals and ethical failures in government, politics, banking, business, journalism, and health care invite us to consider whether universities should recover an intentional focus on moral education and, if so, how they should cultivate virtue in an increasingly global, multicultural, and ideologically plural age.

These questions were the focus on the McDonald Centre’s 2017 conference on ‘Cultivating Virtue in the University,’ which brought together distinguished scholars and practitioners to explore the role of character development in higher education. The interdisciplinary conference focused on the disciplines of history, literature, philosophy, theology, and the social sciences could contribute to this important conversation. The conference concluded with a special presentation by the Oxford Character Project on how they have developed an innovative practical program to cultivate virtue among Oxford postgraduates. 

Speakers at the conference included:

  • Nigel Biggar (University of Oxford)
  • Jonathan Brant (University of Oxford)
  • Joanna Collicutt (University of Oxford)
  • Liz Gulliford (University of Birmingham)
  • Michael Lamb (Wake Forest University/University of Oxford)
  • Christian Miller (Wake Forest University)
  • Blaire Morgan (University of Worcester)
  • Paula Moya (Stanford University)
  • Onora O’Neill (University of Cambridge)
  • Julie Reuben (Harvard University)
  • Jessica Richard (Wake Forest University)
  • Helen Small (University of Oxford)
  • Chad Wellmon (University of Virginia)

The sold-out conference attracted a diverse and engaged set of scholars, students, clergy, and educators from the UK, US, Hong Kong, Germany, Spain, and Argentina, among others. 

The conference was co-sponsored by the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life, Oxford Character Project, Templeton World Charity Foundation, and Wake Forest University. 

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