Announcing the Expanded Reason Awards

By Max Bonilla, SSL, STD
University Francisco de Vitoria
Madrid (Spain)

The Expanded Reason Awards consist of four international awards of 25,000 Euros each for outstanding teaching or research projects that promote an active dialogue between faith and reason. They are being presented by the University Francisco de Vitoria (UFV) in Madrid, together with the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. The awards follow from the many years that the University Francisco de Vitoria has been promoting a dialogue between faith and reason and constitute a direct response to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to “widen the horizons of rationality.”

Over the last nearly two decades, the University Francisco de Vitoria has been working to understand its mission as a Catholic university, not so much in terms of what pastoral life it may have on campus, or how respected theology might be in its classrooms. While acknowledging that those initiatives have great value, the University recognized long ago that most of its students in highly secularized Spain were not there for a “Catholic education,” but that, instead, they went to the University in order to attain a degree in one of the multiple, practical majors the University offers. The main effort for the transformation of the culture towards a more just and human society could not only, or even primarily, happen outside the classroom in campus ministry or in majors that appealed to very few. The main effort, if it was going to have any hope of success, had to happen in all majors, through a systematic engagement of all fields of knowledge. Thus, the university began an internal dialogue between faith and reason, challenging professors in all fields to participate in a way that is thoroughly faithful to the methodologies of the particular sciences and professional programs and which engages some of the most important considerations the University had in its liberal arts commitment of forming the entire person, particularly from its perspective as a Catholic university.

That led to the proposal which invited professors in all majors to answer four basic questions about the nature of their particular science or program: 1) The anthropological question. Who is the person as the object or the subject of a science? For example, in biology, is the person just a collection of molecules to be studied or does he or she deserve a more dignified consideration within the science? 2) The epistemological question. What is truth within that science? That is, if the science or field of knowledge seeks to better understand reality, how does that reality or truth of the science relate to the human person which the science directly or indirectly serves? 3) The ethical question. What are the ethical implications for the science once one better understands the person within the science and the truth that the science seeks? 4) The question of meaning. How does the ultimate question of meaning relate to the science or professional program? If all human knowledge seeks meaning in one way or another, how does this quest relate to the science or professional program? This fourth question may well open up to the question of God, as the religious question is ultimately a question of final meaning.

It is important to stress the need to be methodologically rigorous. This means that the questions a particular field of knowledge asks must fit within the scope of the science, even if for the answers one may need to seek the assistance of other fields of knowledge, such as philosophy, or even theology. For example, it is entirely acceptable for neuroscience to ask questions about human consciousness, yet it is often necessary that psychologists or philosophers be engaged in the discussion in order to find answers to those questions.

UFV, after years of internally engaging these questions, found that this dialogue eventually led it to expand the dialogue internationally, in a natural attempt to probe the vast riches of intellectual life around the world. So we have created a database of scholars in an ever-increasing number of fields that are interested in a rigorous dialogue between faith and reason. The idea is eventually to share contacts so that the community of scholars working on the intersection of faith and reason might more easily find each other.

Recently, with the encouragement of the Vatican Foundation Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI to create an initiative with which to work together, the University proposed the creation of the Expanded Reason Awards to celebrate and incentivize those who are interested in the dialogue between faith and reason.

The Awards, of 25,000 Euros each, will celebrate two outstanding contributions in teaching and two outstanding contributions in research. They all will demonstrate a broadening of the horizons of rationality in their respective fields, as Pope Benedict suggested when inviting us to think deeply about the role of human reason and the work of the university as something that must be directed to the good of the whole person.

Already published works as well as unpublished manuscripts in article or book form are eligible. Similarly, teaching projects such as syllabi or entire programs of study would be welcomed contributions. The important aspect is that they demonstrate an active dialogue of a particular science with philosophy and/or theology.

This last point is important to emphasize: an active dialogue. Those, for example, in theology (or Christian philosophy) who describe how important it is that science engage with them but whose work is not directly and actively engaged with a particular science, such as physics or biology, would not be eligible for consideration. The Ratzinger Prize, another initiative of the Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, already rewards great contributions in theology. The Expanded Reason Awards are a complement to the Ratzinger Prize, as they seek to encourage the active dialogue of theology and philosophy with what are now normally known as secular sciences and professional programs.

Submissions for consideration are being received now, and winners will be announced this summer.

Those interested are strongly invited to visit our website at and to subscribe to our mailing list. There you can find conditions, details about how to participate, deadlines, and more.

We invite you to consider participating in the awards, informing others of this important initiative, and encouraging the great scholars and teachers at your institutions to submit proposals for consideration.

For more information on the Awards and to ask questions, feel free to contact me by visiting our website.

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