Curriculum will give students ‘deep dive’ into conservative thought
The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal will honor the dream of its namesake by opening a school dedicated to the study of American conservatism.
“The Kirk Center’s School of Conservative Studies curriculum is a serious engagement in all aspects of the conservative tradition in America,” Jeff Nelson, the executive director and CEO of the Michigan-based Kirk Center (pictured), said in an emailed comment to The College Fix. The center is set to open in 2025.
Kirk (pictured) is considered a highly influential figure of the post-World War II American right, especially for his 1953 book “The Conservative Mind,” which traced the intellectual history of conservatism. The Kirk Center was founded in 1995 shortly after the death of the conservative writer and one-time Hillsdale College instructor.
“Some of the best conservative scholars teaching and writing today will lead its courses,” Nelson said. “It will amount to a deep dive into the writings of the most important conservative thinkers and into events, themes, books, and imaginative works that shed light on the conservative disposition.”
The school will be located at the center’s Mecosta, Michigan campus of the Kirk Center, providing both in-person and online learning, the center’s website says.
Nelson said the inspiration for the school is more than 60 years old.
“Russell Kirk himself wrote a memorandum in 1955 arguing that America needed a School of Conservative Studies as part of a university to help challenge the overwhelming presence of liberal and progressive content in higher education, even at that time,” Nelson, a historian by training, said. “Of course, today that need is much greater.”
Nelson said “establishing special centers, institutes, or programs in a university almost never work[s] out for conservatives.”
“Instead, new centers and independent, but college-like, organizations are needed to ensure students have some access to serious conservative content unfiltered,” Nelson told The Fix.
Nelson clarified that “there is no ambition” to make the School of Conservative Studies “a fully accredited institution.”
“I have a low opinion of the process and aims of accreditation, and our audiences feel the same for the most part,” Nelson told The Fix. “However, I could envision an upper level ‘certificate of conservative studies’ that would be in collaboration with [a] more traditionally accredited institution.”
“We are a school in the sense Plato intended it,” he said. “An academy of learners seeking the perennial educational ends of wisdom and virtue.”
“The ideal student,” according to Nelson, “is someone serious about learning more about the intellectual conservative tradition in America.”
“For some, that will be an introductory interest,” Nelson said. “Others will want more intermediate or advanced educational opportunities.”
“A bright undergraduate or young professional will likely be the natural audience,” Nelson said. “Teachers, especially [classical] and Christian school teachers, will also find our curriculum rewarding in a number of ways.”
The project is also meant to improve the intellectual reputation of the conservative movement, according to Kirk Center academics.
“Conservatism is misunderstood by the media and larger population,” Michael Federici, a Kirk Center fellow, told The Fix.
“Focusing on primary source readings that get to the heart of as well as the differences between varieties of conservative thinking is an excellent way to discover the meaning of conservatism,” the Middle Tennessee State University professor said.
A Duquesne University professor also commented to The Fix about why he will be involved with the centers.
“American conservatism is a fascinating intellectual tradition that claims amongst its exponents some of the foremost men of letters of the last century,” Luke Sheahan told The Fix via email. “I look forward to teaching a new generation about the history and principles of American conservatism.”
This intellectual tradition is what the center aims to provide with a quality “educational experience,” according to Nelson.
“Overall, the quality of the educational experience we will provide will be very high,” Nelson also said. “We hope to do our part to help change the public perception, or stereotype, that conservatives are anti-intellectual; when the truth of it is conservative thinkers have been some of the most consequential figures in the history of our country.”
“The demand is there for our School of Conservative Studies. We are uniquely positioned to meet it.”
Editor’s note: Kirk’s background has been clarified.
IMAGES: Kirk Center