Religion & Liberty Online

Some very good reasons you should attend Acton University Online

(Image credit: Acton Institute)

Acton University Online is a unique, two-day, live and interactive experience exploring the intellectual foundations of a free society, streaming live on June 23-24.

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“Should I or shouldn’t I do AU?”

That is the question I have heard hundreds of times regarding attending Acton University Online 2021. More than 2,400 people have already made up their own minds and have registered to participate in our annual summer gathering of minds this coming June 23-24 (10:00 am-5:00 pm EDT) for a conference ranked the best international academic event hosted by think tanks that consistently defend the free economy.

My answer, therefore, is always the same: “Yes, of course, you should!”

Before a pandemic forced the Acton Institute to move this massive in-person global gathering to a live-streaming platform, real financial factors and weighing the opportunity costs of spending 3-4 days away from home or work each June made the “should/shouldn’t” dilemma a real one.

However, those who traveled to Grand Rapids more often than not told me they were more than willing to return to Michigan (a.k.a. “to do Mich-again”) since the investment of time and money had paid real dividends: intellectually, socially, and spiritually speaking, their lives were deeply impacted.

To boot, this year, it is even easier for anyone to repeat the Acton University experience, now being online, and thus eliminating 90-95% of normal expenses and with zero travel.

Before I get to the top reasons to attend Acton University: IF you are still wavering about whether or not to “do AU,” then contact me and I will facilitate making you a last-minute offer you might find difficult to refuse!

Admittedly, I am an employee of the Acton Institute, running its office in Rome and other programming in Europe since 2007. This makes me a veritable “Actonite” and, thus, more than a little biased toward my love relationship with Acton University. Yet, verily, I also write this brief blog with another full disclosure: my passion for our think tank’s mission of “promoting a free and virtuous society sustained by sound economic principles” is renourished and recharged every year by Acton University. Simply put, my bottomless pit of energy and enthusiasm for all things Acton is, in very large part, drawn from the deep refreshing well-water of Acton University.

At any rate, in my humble opinion, here are the top reasons why you should attend Acton University this coming Wednesday and Thursday.

Firstly, Acton University is a “humanity-focused” event, more than any other I have ever attended around the globe. Believe me, in my line of work, I have attended a lot and in multiple countries. When we gather students of life interested in liberty, faith, and economics we do so purposefully from all walks, all nations, and all religions. On average for the in-person version of Acton University, (which God-willing will resume in the summer of 2022), we welcome 1100 persons from over 80 countries. They range from: the unemployed, CEOs, top brass military, seminarians, university professors, pastors, nuns, construction workers, doctors, nurses, business owners, hedge funder operators, tour guides, psychologists, plumbers, bus drivers, journalists, politicians…. You name one, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the particular profession (or “life status”) is well presented at AU. One of the reasons for this variegated participation is that much conversation centers on the true vocational value of work and its determining role in God’s providential plan for a better world.

Another strong reason to attend Acton University has to with the fundamentals of dialogue that arise from everyone having taken the “core curriculum.” This is where the concept of a “university” experience begins with a few required seminars in moral anthropology (dignity, creativity, freedom), basic economics (natural laws and purpose of markets), and theological fundamentals (God and man in His ordered creation). These few seminars help weave common threads for all the hundreds of other conversations that take place at AU. This year’s online edition is a very compact version of what is usually offered (100+ seminars and workshops), but still, there will be a whole host of stimulating courses, panels, and plenary speeches (43 in total to choose from) that build on the content of the required seminars.

And then, of course, there is this year’s star-studded roster of 66 speakers. They will not gather under one roof at the Devos Place convention center but rather with you live on the same digital platform. As a small sample of the many impressive speakers and their classes during the two-day schedule, there is:

George Ayittey, a popular TED speaker on the “cheetah generation” of African entrepreneurs. He is also the founder and president of the Free Africa Foundation who made famous the economic maxim: “African solutions for African problems.” Ayittey will speak on “Entrepreneurship for Africa.”

Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation and founder/editor of The Public Discourse. This year Anderson, a regular AU lecturer, will be teaching “Getting Social Justice Right”, focusing on some secular misnomers of social justice and getting to the heart of the Church’s original teachings of dignity, society, and charity.

Mustafa Akyol of the Cato Institute and a Turkish contributing editorialist for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post. Akyol will be leading two intriguing seminars: “Are Liberty and Islam Compatible?” and “Islam, Reason, and Freedom.”

Betsy Devos, a former U.S. Secretary of Education under the Trump Administration, is an avowed promoter of the voucher system in public schools. Devos will be discussing “Education and Entrepreneurial Disruption.”

Obianuju Ekeocha, a Nigerian biomedical expert, documentary filmmaker, and leading advocate of pro-life issues as president of Culture of Life Africa. Her much-anticipated seminar is “People: Africa’s Most Valuable Resource.”

Declan Ganley, a distinguished Irish entrepreneur, inventor, and owner of several patents. He will be leading the panel discussion: “Big, Tech, Big Government, and Privacy.”

Rev. Philip Larrey, a renowned philosopher at the Vatican’s Pontifical Lateran University. As one of the world’s top ethicists in matters related to A.I., Larrey will lecture on “Artificial Intelligence, Religion, and Anthropology.”

Jeff Sandefer, founder of the Acton School of Business, one of America’s top MBA programs inspired by Acton Institute’s mission. He is also the founder of Acton Academy, a K-12 private school system that combines the Socratic method, high-tech learning, and entrepreneurial skills to form children and teens as future leaders of change. He will join Betsy Devos in discussing “Education and Entrepreneurial Disruption.”

Rev. Robert Sirico, Samuel Gregg, Michael Matheson Miller of the Acton Institute and who need no introduction. The three of them will be leading several different seminars, panels, and plenary discussions, among which are the sessions dedicated to “The Free and Virtuous Society”;  “The Case Against Economic Nationalism”; and “The Tocqueville Option:  Social and Technical Decentralization.”

Last, and certainly not least, is the main reason: you and the people you will meet from nearly 100 nations and all habitable continents, from Argentina to Zambia. You will have the chance to make friendships in break-out discussion groups and private chat rooms.

Fortunately, many of the returning 2021 online participants have met in person in past in-person editions of Acton University. If you are a newcomer, they will indeed warmly welcome you, along with all the Acton staff, as a most valued contributor to the world of ideas that bring about true human flourishing.

Michael Severance

Michael Severance earned his B.A. in philosophy and humane letters from the University of San Francisco, where he also studied at the university's St. Ignatius Institute, a great books program. He then pursued his linguistic studies in Salamanca, Spain where he obtained his Advanced Diploma in Spanish from Spain's Ministry of Education before obtaining his M.A. in Philosophy and Modern Languages from the University of Oxford. While living in Italy, Michael has worked in various professional capacities in religious journalism, public relations, marketing, fundraising, as well as property redevelopment and management. As Istituto Acton's Operations Manager, Michael is responsible for helping to organize international conferences, increase private funding, as well as expand networking opportunities and relations among European businesses, media and religious communities, while managing the day-to-day operations of the Rome office.