Mission and vision
Pascal Study Center exists to provide a place for the community of the University of Illinois and Champaign-Urbana to pursue deep questions about the Christian faith in relation to learning and vocation. With both humility and hope, Pascal Study Center seeks to engage the university community through academic hospitality and faithful presence.
Pascal Study Center pursues its mission in the following ways.
Sowing the seeds of faithful Christian discipleship across all areas of life and over the whole lifespan
Creating and strengthening thoughtful partnerships with the University of Illinois, area churches, and the local community
Making space for Christians and others to come together around the big questions of life
Who is Pascal?
Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was a true polymath, achieving excellence as a mathematician, scientist, philosopher, Christian apologist, and more. He spent his early years in the company of French intellectual and social élites, giving him a deep understanding of both the allure and the disappointment of worldly success. During his most active scientific years, Blaise conducted significant experiments on vacuums and built a viable counting machine, a precursor of the modern computer.
Following a time of growing personal piety, on the evening of November 23, 1654, Blaise experienced a radical encounter with the living God. In a memorial he wrote for himself regarding the encounter, he identified this God as, “‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob’ (Exodus 36), not of philosophers and scholars….God of Jesus Christ.” Following this experience (often referred to as his “second conversion”), Blaise devoted himself more fully to God and the Christian Church.
Blaise’s most ambitious writing project was to be a work of apologetics, defending Christianity from its opponents and providing compelling reasons for faith. However, he suffered from poor health for much of his life, and his work on this book was repeatedly disrupted by illness. The book remained incomplete at the time of his death; his notes were eventually collected, organized, and published as the famous Pensées.
Yet Blaise’s suffering is ultimately to our benefit: “Conceivably, if he had not been ill, Pascal would have written nothing until the whole work was complete, so the pensées we have are ‘bits and pieces’ recorded in the teeth of enervating sickness and impending death” (Os Guinness). Blaise’s “Prayer, to Ask of God the Proper Use of Sickness” offers an unexpected perspective on physical suffering: in the prayer, Blaise never asks God to take away his sickness, but rather to use it to enable him to serve and enjoy God better.
Although written nearly four centuries ago, the Pensées are an invaluable resource today, not only for Christians but for anyone who longs for a better way of living. Blaise was one of the earliest Christian thinkers to take seriously the unique challenges of modernity for Christian faith. In his Pensées, Blaise responded to these challenges with nuance, humility, and wisdom. Pascal Study Center seeks to exhibit and cultivate these qualities modeled by our namesake.
Let me no longer wish for health or life, but to spend it and end it for you, with you, and in you.
—Blaise Pascal, “A Prayer of Pascal, Asking God to Use Sickness in His Life Appropriately”
Emily G. Wenneborg
Dr. Emily G. Wenneborg has a PhD in Philosophy of Education and Religious Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In 2022 Dr. Wenneborg became Director of Pascal Study Center and Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Education and Religious Studies at Urbana Theological Seminary. Dr. Wenneborg’s research focuses on the challenges and possibilities of Christian formation in the midst of deep pluralism.
In her free time, Dr. Wenneborg enjoys reading, learning new languages, and playing board games and video games. Dr. Wenneborg and her husband, a security engineer at the University of Illinois, live in Urbana, Illinois, where they are active member of their home church.
Read some of Dr. Wenneborg’s writings: