Hampden-Sydney College and the Pursuit of Truth in History and Practice
As alumni and faculty know, Hampden-Sydney has a special and long-standing relationship with the pursuit of truth, the valuation of ideas, and the formation of character. As one of the oldest colleges in the United States, and with connections to such notables as Patrick Henry (who served on the first board of trustees and sent all his sons there) Hampden-Sydney made early commitments to “the principles of representative government and religious freedom.” To this day it remains committed to a full spectrum of liberal arts studies including classics and philosophy departments, as well as a rigorous rhetoric requirement. Spurred by their experiences at Hampden-Sydney, alumni and past presidents have been pivotal in the forming of other institutions such as Union College in New York, Universities of Virginia and Georgia, the Medical College of Virginia, and Princeton Seminary.
In addition to the classroom, Hampden-Sydney has a strong commitment to para-curricular intellectual life. It is a common feature of campus life to find students attending lectures or special interest reading groups and arguing ideas over lunch in the commons. Student organizations include a strong student government, a highly functioning student honor court, active political groups, and the second oldest student debate club in the United States (Union Philanthropic Literary Society), all reflecting the vigorous life of the mind at Hampden-Sydney. Combined with small class size and professors who are personally involved in the life of their students, Hampden-Sydney has been and continues to be a great place to process and implement ideas.
(Text from The Key, 2012-2013 Student Handbook.)
Alumnus Francis Schaeffer and the Spirit of L’Abri
It was in just this atmosphere that the American theologian Francis Schaeffer began his journey for a holistic understanding towards faith, intellect, and community. Graduating magna cum laude from Hampden-Sydney College in 1935, he completed his education at Westminster Theological Seminary and Faith Theological Seminary before going on to establish the community and study center in Switzerland known as “L’Abri.”
L’Abri is French for “the shelter,” and the mountain home that Francis and his wife Edith shared soon became a destination for literally thousands of short-term visitors and longer-term sojourners who worked, studied, and lived together. L’Abri was indeed seen as “a safe place” to think about the larger claims of the Christian faith and its impact on all areas of human endeavor and existence. Even after Schaeffer’s death in 1983, L’Abri is still in operation today and has expanded to locations in locations in 10 countries, including Korea, Brazil, and Australia, as well as Europe and North America.
(Text from L’Abri website)
Cogito as Forum for Faith and Reason
Cogito was founded in part for the pursuit of the spirit of “L’Abri,” to provide a safe place for the exploration of faith and reason, and their implications for issues of justice, duty, science, beauty, and meaning.
While working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for 5 years in the early 2000s, current Cogito director Missy Deregibus became increasingly interested in providing access to issues of faith as a compelling intellectual challenge. She began a small study group on apologetics at Hampden-Sydney with the goal of being compatible with the level of discussion found in the classroom. About the same time, then student Justin Hill initiated a lecture/discussion format on the same level and called it Wellspring. Both formats were well received. Several years later, post InterVarsity, and familiar with the Christian Study center at UVA, Missy met with Drew Trotter* for several hours over coffee in Charlottesville and discussed the intellectual culture at H-SC, and the fittedness of a study center in some form. They agreed that Hampden-Sydney would be a good candidate for such an organization. And from that day, the wheels for Cogito; a Forum for Faith and Reason were set in motion.
Missy’s long-time friend Richard McClintock, head of Publications at Hampden-Sydney; Mike Utzinger, Professor of Religion at HSC; and alumni Kemper Beasley III and Jack Jirak all graciously agreed to join the board and the vision of the newly formed Cogito. Thanks to Jack’s legal work, they achieved corporation and then non-profit status in early 2010. In 2012, alumnus Tom Ebel joined the board. Meanwhile, a modest apologetics study group started on campus as well as a few lectures and discussions.
Almost three years later, we believe that with several active study groups, Wellspring lectures, one full-time staff worker, and growing recognition, Cogito – while still in its infancy – is well on its way to significance in the intellectual life of the College. With this in mind, we look forward to what the future brings for the flourishing culture of faith and reason at Hampden-Sydney and the contribution it brings to the larger community in all spheres — academically, relationally, and vocationally.
* Past Director for many years of the UVA center, Drew stepped down to form a consortium of Christian Study Centers. Cogito is a founding member of the Consortium of Chrisitian Study Centers. More information can be found here: https://studycentersonline.org.
First apologetics small group under Cogito