Scholarship and the transformation of the heart

In an election year there is an awful lot of emphasis on the political component of the promotion of the culture of life. The first responsibility of the state is to protect innocent himan life. We long for and strive for the day when the law of the land in American and around the world does so.

On the other hand, we know that a change in the law does not instantly make a culture a culture of life (although the law does help form culture–it has an educative effect and purpose). In order to change culture we need to change hearts.

Changing minds is an important part of changing hearts. This is the specific area where scholarship can assist. We help develop cogent rational argumentation based on solid philosophy (and, in some cases, theology), as well as accurate data and research in the medical, legal, psychological, and social science fields. Even simply helping students to think well in an “unrelated” field indirectly helps.

There is another component to the transformation of hearts, the formation of  emotions (affect),  that is not so obviously the direct task of the scholar. It may, however, be the most important way to change hearts and to change culture. Many people simply do not have as strong an emotional reaction to the abortion of a twelve-week foetus or the (lets say voluntary for the sake of argument) euthanizing of a terminally ill cancer patients as they do, for instance, of the trauma of undocumented immigration or waterboarding. They do not feel the humanity of the unborn from the inside, so to speak.

The role of the academy, the scholar, is to form the intellectual, not the law or the emotions. Yet, the top-notch work of scholars and teachers can contribute to better jurisprudence. It can also lead to the emotional conversion of students.

So, my question is, what is the  way to stay true to the proper task of the scholar, and at the same time foster an emotional conversion in their students and readers. Is it ever proper to intentionally “play to the emotions,” so to speak, or should we just let the truth speak for itself?


Robert Gotcher is a dogmatic and moral theologian and long-time member of UFL who received his Ph.D. from Marquette University. He and his wife, Kathy, are raising their seven children in Franklin, Wisconsin.