IUPG – Foundational Intuitions
Interview with Dominique Vermersch
- Professor of public economics and ethics at Agrocampus West
- Former moderator of the community of Emmanuel (2000-2009)
- Current Rector of the Catholic University of the West
Q: In 2008, as Moderator of the Emmanuel Community, you brought IUPG to the baptismal font. Can you explain your intuitions?
Dominique Vermersch: Today, it is important to take note of the double challenge facing the whole academic world. On the one hand, scientific research effort is polarised by economic interest, leading to the risk of alienation of the construction and transmission of knowledge and its limitation to that which is feasible, cost-effective or promising of a financial return. On the other hand, however, the university is called upon to recognise truth as its only authority. It is in the search for truth that the university becomes free and autonomous. Conditioning the exercise of academia to market liberalism alone is to risk the introduction of a fundamental contradiction at the very heart of the academic task and within the intelligence and conscience of man.
Taking note of this double challenge, the IUPG desires to contribute to the academic task, to search for truth in all domains accessible to human reason so as to find the good … and then to freely carry it out.
Q: What does the IUPG offer the academic world? What is its specific vision?
DV: Today, societal challenges call for a search for excellence and also necessitate the formation of our intelligences and consciences in the service of the general interest and the common good. But the articulation of the good and the true presupposes an organic principle of unification of knowledge. For the IUPG, this calls for an examination and testing in the light of reality of the principle of unity given us by the Christian Faith, that is to say of the God who fashioned man in his own image, who revealed Himself to man and who became incarnate in Jesus Christ, the one who is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’.
Q: Is this vision of the academic mission consistent with the reality of ever greater disciplinary segregation? On the other hand, is there not a risk of a kind of proselytisation which runs contrary to the secularism of the university?
DV: Searching for the truth to accomplish the good specifically refers to the articulation of different disciplines and knowledge. On the other hand, the truth comes in many aspects and cannot be reduced to a single type of knowledge expressed in theoretical form. The reciprocity between the true and the good is thus expressed in the relationship between theory and practice, between awareness and action, between knowledge and power. Through dialogue and service, hospitality and participation in debate, the IUPG hopes to provide a humanly and spiritually concrete contribution to the academic world. And this requires both humility and charity.
Q: If Pierre Goursat was man of culture, he was not an academic. Why then have you chosen him to be the patron of the Institute?
DV: First of all it is important to remember that Pierre Goursat was always sensitive to the dialogue between faith and reason. For example, it was he who distributed the Journal on Scientific Questions in France and this was the first journal to popularise the Big Bang theory. As a film critic, he knew that ‘high culture’, and academic culture in particular, were essential and that reason should not cut itself off from the culture accessible to the populace at large. This is why, although he himself was not an academic, it is not illogical for him to be the patron of a university institute desirous of becoming a centre of culture for the purposes of research, dialogue and the widest possible dissemination of scientific achievement. This patronage also gives to the most demanding research a sense of a philanthropic enterprise directed towards the common good, i.e. towards people who are not specialised but who have a right to benefit in an authentic fashion from the very best of scientific advances.
Q: What are the IUPG’s means of action?
DV: The IUPG is not called to establish new universities but is called to contribute to quality scientific research and to the dissemination of knowledge in the service of the general interest and the common good. In this sense, the IUPG is to contribute to the implementation or the realisation of different projects or actions. This can be seen with in the international conferences whose subjects allow for a dialogue between several disciplines (e.g. the Symposium on Gender in Paris in September 2011).
The IUPG is particularly attentive to the formation of youth. For this reason it assists in the foundation of university colleges as places of fraternal life and formation for students. The IUPG can also provide concrete scientific and financial support to certain academic research carried out by doctoral students.
Each year the IUPG holds Emmanuel academic meetings. These meetings are to be places of exchange, sharing and formation for all those engaged in academia who are anxious to build a consistency between their faith and their academic commitments. In some provinces this annual meeting may be extended by way of monthly meetings.
Q: Who is called to participate in the activities of the IUPG?
DV: The IUPG is an apostolic activity of the Emmanuel Community and it is from it that it receives its mission and resources. In practical terms, a scientific council, appointed by the council of the Community and comprising a dozen or so scholars recognised in their respective fields, guides and defines the IUPG’s areas of development. All those who are drawn by the subjects we cover or who are looking for places of dialogue, listening and fraternal life are free to participate in the activities offered by the IUPG.