Anthony Esolen is an embattled professor at Providence (R.I.) College, an aggressively Catholic believer at an institution run by Dominican priests but less forthrightly Catholic than he is. Esolen teaches Renaissance literature and the development of Western culture. Among his books is a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy regarded as one of the best. He is also a well-known personality on Facebook, dealing with subjects from the erudite to the playful.
His articles in conservative Christian journals critical of the diversity movement and identity politics have made him the target of activist students of the left and some professors (most prominently those in the black studies program). These detractors have generated a petition seeking his ouster from his college for “publishing articles that are racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic.”
Esolen has a low opinion of identity politics and the diversity movement and has referred to some of the activists as “narcissists” who want to study only themselves. In an interview with Rod Dreher of the American Conservative last November Esolen said: “The dirty not-so-secret is that the same people who for many years have loathed our Development of Western Civilization program — the focus of curricular hostility — also despise the Catholic Church and wish to render the Catholic identity of the college merely nominal.”
Support for Esolen by the college president, Father Brian Shanley, has been tepid, of the sort sometimes issued by Catholic administrators embarrassed to be interrupted while converting a Catholic college into a formerly Catholic one. Over the weekend, in a Facebook post, Esolen said of his scheduled speech, “Christ and the Meaning of Cultural Diversity,” that if he tried to give it, he had been told that activist students would shut it down. He said on Facebook: “It is no longer clear to me that Providence College would qualify as ‘worth attending’.”