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Professor reflects on personal faith journey

| Friday, February 26, 2016

Professor Daniel Lapsley, professor and chair of the department of psychology, reflected on his faith journey for the second event in the Fr. Ted Talk series held in honor of University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh.

In the talk in Reckers on Thursday night, Lapsley said the journey of faith forces people to confront two fundamental questions.

“The journey of faith, as I understand it, is an attempt to answer two really important questions. The first is: Who am I? This is the great identity question. This is the question that becomes especially compelling to adolescents and adults,” he said. “The second question was actually asked by Jesus: Who is the son of man?”

Lapsley said these questions can’t be fully answered until one’s journey of faith is fully developed into a narrative.

“I want to elevate the category of narrative and story to equal footing with the metaphor of journey,” he said. “Coming to grips with faith is not just a journey, it’s being able to tell a narrative. It’s being able to tell a story. It’s an attempt to find interweaving of the two great questions I posed. … Our journey does not make sense until we develop it into a narrative that makes sense.”

A person’s narrative is constantly evolving and tries to make sense of the past, present and future, Lapsley said.

“You’re trying to make sense of what your life has been prior to coming to Notre Dame, trying to wrestle with what life is like now and what you promise to be in the future,” he said. “In the decades ahead of you, you’re going to try to keep the narrative going. The story you’ve constructed for yourself from childhood through adolescence is not going to be the same story when you’re 30, and 40, and 50 and beyond.”

Lapsley said his narrative changed drastically when he reached middle school and faltered in his religious beliefs.

“I was a religious boy, very pious. I took ritual and pietism seriously,” he said. “But [in middle school] I’m sort of trying to figure out who I am. I’m trying to answer the identity question. … I was pushing back against borrowed ideas. I’m trying to carve out a sense of self, I’m trying to write my own narrative.”

This sudden decrease in faith, Lapsley said, is very common among adolescents.

“From early adolescence to late adolescence, ritual observance, religiosity among adolescents, declines into the university years — religiosity declines, but spirituality increases,” he said. “Answering the question who am I and who do you say I am are going to be interwoven … but sometimes this bumps up against developmental challenges, which kind of breaks the story apart, as you try to write a better narrative.”

Part of his journey of faith was reconciling the different storylines of his narrative, Lapsley said.

“As I struggle to keep the narrative going, a couple of other storylines come into my story,” he said. “One storyline is that as a scientist — I’m committed to naturalism in ethics and in science. So that means that transcendental or metaphysical or supernatural things kind of bump in. It’s hard to make that fit into a narrative. … I take solace in the fact that empiricism has it’s home in Catholicism.”

Lapsley said being a member of the Notre Dame community helped him to reconnect with his faith.

“I felt like it was the hand of God. I felt like this was not an accident, that somehow it was providential that I was here,” he said. “I began to reflect on this. I began to go to daily mass at the Basilica, I began to get in touch with my faith life again. … I just felt a deeper connection to the faith community here.”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a junior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, and currently serving as News Editor. She is a proud resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

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