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The Life of the Mind

A lecture and seminar series for the 2023-2024 academic year.

The Life of the Mind is an annual, year-long lecture and seminar series for U-M faculty, graduate students, and especially undergraduates. This project asks the big questions of existence: Why is the natural world so beautiful? Why does it have an intelligible order? Why is there a world at all? Are the powers that gave rise to the universe impersonal, indifferent, amoral – or not? If everything has a cause, does that mean there is a cause of all causes? The Life of the Mind series is also concerned with personal, meaning-of-life questions that might be postponed for a time but never eradicated completely: Why are we here? Why must we die? How shall we live? Why are we drawn to the virtues of truth, moral goodness, and aesthetic beauty? What insights does modern science have for these age-old mysteries? In short, the Life of the Mind series is devoted to contemplation of some of the most important questions ever asked.

Each semester begins with a public lecture delivered by a prominent academic followed by two seminars. Each semester has its own theme: “Arts” in the Fall, “Sciences” in the Winter. Lectures and seminars are presented by thinkers from a range of disciplines and institutions including the University of Michigan. Lectures are public, open to anyone from the university, local community, or anywhere. Seminars provide dinner and discussion and are limited in size to facilitate conviviality in a spirit of intellectual freedom and mutual respect. All seminar attendees must register in advance and receive official confirmation and seminar readings.

As our chaotic society reels from one crisis to another, our students suffer from the absence of contemplative thinking among friends. The Life of the Mind provides a place where Wolverines can do that thinking and make those friends – including faculty members who themselves wrestle with foundational questions. This series, then, hearkens back to the original idea of the academy as a place where teachers and students gather to investigate meaning beyond the hurly-burly of everyday life.

Open Book

Schedule and Descriptions

The Life of the Mind is comprised of public lectures and dinner seminars. Preregistration is required for seminars and seating is limited. Each semester has its theme: "Arts" in the Fall and "Sciences" in the Winter.


Karin Öberg, "Science and Theology of Extraterrestrial Worlds and Extraterrestrial Life" 
Thursday, January 25, 7:00

Kristin Collier, "Health on the Portico of Heaven"

Friday, March 8, 5:00-7:00

Registration deadline: Monday, March 4


Fr. Joachim Ostermann, OFM, "The Franciscan View of Nature in a Scientifically Understood World"

Friday, April 12, 5:00-7:00

Traditional Library

Register for the Next Seminar

Seminar participation is limited to facilitate discussion in a spirit of intellectual freedom and mutual respect. Undergraduate and graduate students are especially encouraged to apply. Dinner is served at all seminars, and light readings will be assigned.


You must complete a questionnaire to be considered for acceptance. Registrations close one week before each seminar.

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