The Gilson Seminar

The Gilson Seminar

A look at USMC’s new SMC One course

Andrea Battista CONTRIBUTOR


Monday mornings are probably the bane of many students here at St. Mike’s. But for a handful of first-years, getting out of bed on that dreadful Monday morning is slightly more manageable as they head to their 10 a.m. lecture at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (PIMS). These students, although tired, know that they are at the start of something special, as they make up the inaugural class of the Gilson Seminar. This year, the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) has officially introduced its new SMC One course, titled “The Gilson Seminar in Faith and Ideas.” 

As its title suggests, the Gilson Seminar (named after one of St. Mike’s past professors, the late Etienne Gilson) aims to explore faith and its integration in today’s society, as well as how it relates to key questions in subjects such as science, world politics, ecology, and media. Students are given the opportunity to recognize how faith is connected to our lives on a personal level as well as on a global level. Dr. Rebekah Lamb, one of the two postdoctoral fellows chosen for the Seminar, says, “The Gilson Seminar takes faith seriously, both as a category of knowledge and as an illuminating presence in culture. [It also] explores how faith, in concert with reason, can help us to further explore the mystery, beauty, and difficulty of existence.”

The Seminar’s namesake was a French scholar who came to the University of Toronto in 1927 and later founded PIMS (located at 59 Queen’s Park Crescent East), as he wanted to build a community of Catholic scholars like himself. He emphasized the importance of the sense of belonging within a large society, such as that which we might find within our own university. This is the backbone of the Gilson Seminar, as not only are the forty students who make it up classmates, but they are also a close group of friends. All of them are experiencing university across many different disciplines, yet are brought together by the spirit of bonding which emanates from that which they study in this Seminar. With a diverse number of students coming from all of the sciences, humanities, and commerce programs, the Gilson Seminar is the realization of not only Gilson’s dream, but also that which USMC wishes for its students.

The founder of the Gilson Seminar as well as our college Principal, Randy Boyagoda, arrived at USMC hoping to create this seminar to explore how faith and ideas are alive in our culture. He also wished for the seminar to be a way through which students may be easily introduced to university-level studies within a small setting. He stated, “Faith and ideas are two major aspects of the course. However, community is also important as faith and ideas are the common ground to unify first-years across multiple disciplines, backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.” Almost two years later, the plan has been put into fruition, bringing to light how people can be lead together and explore a common interest. 

This spring, the seminar will step out of the classroom and head to Rome. For 10 days, the students will explore how culture has developed from the integration of faith and ideas. Boyagoda finishes by saying, “I cannot wait until we head to Rome where faith and ideas is alive in culture.” This program is a whole new beginning of building a community through a collective exploration of the Catholic intellectual tradition and what it can reveal to us about human experience when it comes to ecology, science, politics, and literature.