Tenth Annual Summer Seminar: The Heart

The Heart

“The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” – Blaise Pascal

The human heart, understood as the center of the emotional life, has often been neglected by philosophers who give an account of the human person. Many think that human dignity arises mainly from the intellect and from the will, and that the heart is of only secondary importance. In fact, some see in the emotions mainly a threat to thinking clearly and to willing resolutely. Our seminar will focus on those philosophers who have resisted this devaluation of the heart.

The leading figures will be Dietrich von Hildebrand, whose original work on affectivity restores the emotions to the central place at the heart of the person, and the recently canonized St. John Henry Newman, who chose for himself the motto, “heart speaks to heart." Hildebrand and Newman both sought knowledge of the truth not by the intellect alone, but by the heart as well.

Hildebrand and Newman will be set in dialogue with a broad selection of thinkers from various traditions who have been sensitive to the role of the heart, including Søren Kierkegaard, Max Scheler, and Gabriel Marcel, and, of course, the classics: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. Reflecting together on this rich tradition will lead us to appreciate more deeply the central place of the heart in the human person, with implications for our moral, religious, aesthetic, and social existence.

Schedule of Sessions

Schedule to come. Please check back later.

Writing & Presentation

In addition to plenary presentations, small groups, and tracks, attendees will have the opportunity to further delve into seminar themes through written reflection. On the second to last day, attendees will submit extended questions (500 words) commenting on a new idea or point of disagreement encountered during the seminar. The Faculty will review the questions and invite 4-5 attendees to pose their question to a final panel of faculty on the final day. All attendees are expected to participate in this written component.

Summer Seminar Faculty

Fr. James BrentFr. James Dominic Brent, O.P. was born and raised in Michigan. He pursued his undergraduate and graduate studies in Philosophy, and completed his doctorate in Philosophy at Saint Louis University on the epistemic status of Christian beliefs according to Saint Thomas Aquinas. He also holds an STL from the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies where he currently serves on the faculty teaching Philosophy. His current research focuses on developing the thesis that Thomas Aquinas is a master of the spiritual life. He commonly gives talks for the Thomistic Institute, and leads retreats across the country.

Rocco Buttiglione is a philosopher, statesman, and leading European public intellectual. He was a beloved friend and trusted collaborator of Pope St. John Paul II, and is an authority on his philosophical anthropology. His book Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man who became Pope John Paul II is a fundamental work on the pope’s early philosophy. A member of the Italian Parliament for over two decades, he serves on the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and holds the John Paul II Chair for Philosophy and History of European Institutions at the Lateran University in Rome. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the Hildebrand Project.

John F. Crosby is Professor and Director of the MA Program in Philosophy at Franciscan University. He has published extensively on the philosophy of the human person. He was a student and friend of Dietrich von Hildebrand, and during his ten years teaching at John Paul II's Pontifical Institute for Marriage and Family in Rome was deeply formed through personal and philosophical encounters with the Holy Father. He is a Senior Fellow at the Hildebrand Project, which he co-founded. His latest book is The Personalism of John Henry Newman

Beth Rath serves at Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio as Assistant Professor of Philosophy. Professor Rath was raised in St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Parma and is a graduate of St. Joseph Academy. She earned her B.A. in Philosophy and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2008 and her  doctorate in philosophy from Saint Louis  University in 2015. The title of her dissertation is: “Self-giving: The Personal Orientation Towards Giving and Receiving and Governing Norms.” Her academic interests include ethics, philosophical anthropology, philosophy of religion, and the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Josef Seifert received his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Salzburg in 1969 and, under Professor Robert Spaemann, his habilitation from the University of Munich (Privatdozent) in 1975. He studied chiefly under Balduin Schwarz, the most distinguished German former student of Dietrich von Hildebrand, at the University of Salzburg, and under Gabriel Marcel in Paris. Already as a child (from age 3 on) he knew Hildebrand personally, because Seifert’s mother had been a student of Hildebrand in Munich and both of his parents were Hildebrand’s friends. He is the author of many books, and Europe’s leading student and teacher of Hildebrand’s philosophy.

Mark K. Spencer is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas. He earned his Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo, and  his M.A. and B.A. from Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he  first encountered the work of Dietrich von Hildebrand. In his research, he focuses on topics like the human person, beauty, and God's relations to us. In over thirty articles, he has brought together many approaches to these topics, including Thomism, Scotism, phenomenology, personalism, and Greek patristics. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with his wife, Susanna, and their four children.

James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University.  An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on all manner of subjects secular and divine, and especially on those where we see the two in their intrinsic relation, as truth, goodness, beauty, and being disclose themselves in art and culture, in the political and intellectual life, in our quest for self knowledge and the contemplation of God.  His scholarly work especially focuses on the meeting of aesthetic and ontological form, where the craftsmanship of art-work discloses the truth about being.

Hildebrand Project Faculty

JHC Portrait John Henry Crosby is a translator, writer, and cultural entrepreneur. Under his leadership, the Hildebrand Project has become the world’s leading organization dedicated to Dietrich von Hildebrand’s legacy. His work has been featured in both popular (e.g., The Daily Beast) and scholarly publications (Logos). His numerous radio appearances have taken him from PRI's The Takeaway to the Hugh Hewitt Show. He was host of He Dared Speak the Truth, a 13-part television series on the life of Dietrich von Hildebrand, which aired on EWTN (2014).

Christopher T. Haley is Director of Publications and Marketing at the Hildebrand Project, where he manages the Hildebrand Press and communicates Hildebrand’s philosophical witness to new audiences. He studied philosophy and ancient languages at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Dallas. He is a frequent guest on a number of Catholic radio shows and has published broadly on topics in art, culture, and Catholicism, with a special interest in the work of Edith Stein. 


The Hildebrand Project’s annual Summer Seminar is an intensive immersion program in the philosophy of Dietrich von Hildebrand. Since 2011, it has brought together students, scholars, and professionals who wish to understand the contributions of Hildebrand and the broader traditions he represents (notably Christian personalism and realist phenomenology) in addressing both perennial and pressing philosophical questions.

This year's seminar will explore contemporary issues of human affectivity. Hildebrand spoke of “affective atrophy,” so we will ask: what are the main forms of affective deadness to which the men and women of today are vulnerable? How, for example, does the passion for autonomy lead to a certain atrophy of the heart? Hildebrand also spoke of the “hypertrophy of the heart,” and so we will ask: what are the main forms of affective excess – the main disordered passions – to which we are vulnerable?  What, for example, do we make of the moralizing rage that we see in many people today?

Hildebrand spoke of the role of the heart in love. He held that to love another is not just to make a commitment of the will to the other, but also involves taking delight in the other. So, we will ask: how can we do justice to the place of the heart in love without countenancing the view that love for a person ends when feelings for that person end?

Many Christian writers have said that the human heart is capax Dei, capable of receiving and exulting in the divine infinity.  How do we understand this infinite capacity of a finite creature?  What is the idolatry that results when we pursue finite goods with the passion of the infinite? How do we damage the human heart by feeding it always only  finite goods?

These questions and more will be addressed in both introductory and advanced sessions, designed for both new and advanced students. A schedule of plenary sessions and special tracks allows participants to concentrate on areas most relevant to their own interest, studies, and practice.

Hildebrand Project events are intellectual and convivial. Participants are sent a list of reading materials upon acceptance, which should be completed before the start of the seminar. The days are devoted to seminar sessions, while the evenings are free—and often devoted to wine, music, and conversation.

There will be an opening dinner on July 5 and a closing banquet on July 9.

How to Apply

The seminar is open to anyone who wishes to explore the nature and significance of the heart including especially:

  • Undergraduate and graduate students
  • University and high school professors 
  • Artists, writers, and musicians 
  • Teachers, educators, and academic administrators 
  • Seminarians and clergy 
  • Anyone serious about life's "big questions"

The application process is based on interest but subject to space limitations. Applications will be reviewed on a weekly basis, so we encourage you to apply early.

The application window ends on May 1. The last day to apply with financial aid consideration is April 15.

The application is online here

We encourage faculty to nominate students to attend. Nominations will serve in lieu of letters of recommendation. The online nomination form is here. The last day to submit nomination is April 15.

Room, Board, and Travel

The seminar will be held on the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where participants will be lodged in university housing. Professional participants also have the option of staying at the Franciscan Square Inn at their own expense (there is a discounted seminar rate available). Participants will have access to the university library, internet, and other basic amenities. All costs for room and board are included in the seminar fee.  

Transportation to and from Pittsburgh International Airport will be provided. Parking will be available on campus for those who drive.

Fees and Scholarships

The fee covers room, board, and reading materials for the length of the seminar. Attendees are asked to pursue all possible funding sources as fees play a critical role in making the seminars possible. Attendees whose participation is contingent on financial support may request a scholarship when applying. To be considered for a scholarship, applicants must submit a letter of recommendation or receive a nomination. 

Student: $550

Professional (dormitory housing): $1,500

Professional (no dormitory housing; attendee covers hotel accommodations at the special seminar rate of $110/night): $1,250

Special rate for Franciscan University of Steubenville students: $199 (with housing) / $99 (without housing).


July 5 - July 10, 2020


Check back for schedule of events.


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