Villanova University has established a national reputation through its Patristic, Medieval, and Renaissance Conference (PMR) for nearly thirty years. Finding its natural center in philosophy, theology, and intellectual history, but keeping the door open to the breadth of study in the field, the PMR has maintained a solid place in the academic community. Its strength has been to see itself as complementary to, rather than in competition with, the larger or more elite conferences like Kalamazoo, the Oxford Patristics Conference, or the Medieval Academy. The conference has met a need in the academic community for working space. According to founding director Thomas Losoncy, the conference was always intended to be a place where scholars come to roll up their sleeves, to work through new ideas, to experiment and push the envelope in their various fields. The PMR’s early legacy is preserved in a long-running series of published proceedings, form the 1970s to the 1990s, testimony to its consistent success.
In recent years, we have built on the strengths of the past while stepping forward to meet the needs of 21st century scholarship. Scholarship in the study of Late Antiquity has expanded and matured as its own complex field, including but not limited to the traditional study of Patristics. Medieval and Renaissance/Reformation studies, too, have grown in complexity, where the lines between intellectual history and cultural history, between theology, philosophy, art, literature, and culture have blurred or overlapped. In addition, our post-9/11 world has made clear the necessity of sustained and rigorous study of the long and complex interrelationship between the great traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Such emergent complexity has mandated an interdisciplinary and dialogical approach that the PMR has begun to reflect. Theology and philosophy provide the centers of gravity in these conversations, but all the humanities and social science disciplines contribute essential elements to the work of scholarly discernment that will both illuminate the past and help us to understand our place among these traditions and cultures that continue to touch and shape us today.>
In this 38th year, the PMR maintains its traditional features: The conference offers an open call for papers, and keeps its primary focus as a “working conference,” one in which feedback and dialogue are central, in which the great mix of disciplines and areas enriches our study. This dialogue extends into the plenary sessions, centers of gravity that draw our various conversations together. To this rich affair we add the seasoning of good food and fellowship, and we hope all will leave on Sunday both sated and with appetites whet for next year.
Our annual theme captures only part of the work we support at the PMR. We extend invitations to smaller societies or scholarly communities to gather for annual meetings, long-term research projects, or new, exploratory work. Among these, we have had a special relationship with the Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology for the last several years, and we are pleased to welcome them again this year to PMR.
The PMR is only one of many initiatives at Villanova University that aim to bridge the disciplines, to foster historical, theological, and philosophical study, and to speak to contemporary context. The triennial Reconsiderations conference, sponsored by the Augustinian Institute, is a sort of ‘summit meeting’ of the best Augustine scholars in the world, most recently convened in September 2009.
Villanova’s Theology Institute fosters constructive ecumenical conversation on pressing questions of religion and public life. The Villanova Center for Liberal Education sponsors ongoing work in classical texts and questions in the Humanities, and the Humanities department in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences centers interdisciplinary conversations around fundamental human questions.
These and many other Villanova initiatives have provided exemplary cases of the way in which engagement across disciplines and traditions has become a siginifican –even essential – dimension of scholarly life in the 21st century. The PMR conference is pleased to be part of Villanova’s ongoing engagement with the best classical scholarship and the pressing questions of our time.