"When you think of the Acton University, you could think of it as the all-star game of economics and theology," said Cook, program manager of the economic think-tank, the Acton Institute.
The Acton Institute was founded as a research and educational institution in 1990 by Kris Alan Mauren and Father Robert A. Sirico, diocesan priest of Grand Rapids, and pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Grand Rapids. Sirico continues to serve as its president.
Its mission is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.
Located at 98 E. Fulton Street in downtown Grand Rapids, the Acton Institute is named after the English historian, politician and writer Lord Acton who is known for the maxim, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
University to draw 1,000 people from 75 countries
While there are a number of programs the Acton Institute hosts throughout the year, the Acton University draws the most people, according to Cook, hence the reason it is held at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the adjacent DeVos Place.
The June 14-17 Acton University has around 1,000 people from 75 countries registered. Each registrant will select 11 of the more than 120 courses that will be taught by 77 international scholars who desire to explore the intellectual and theological foundations of freedom and respect for the dignity of each human person.
Often times, registrants plumb deeper the intellectual, economic and theological foundations of freedom while enjoying meals together around the table.
"We intentionally do this," said Cook. "This is where (they) will be sitting at a table and across from you will be a Pentecostal from Texas, a Jewish man from New York City on my right, will be a Mormon from Tanzania, an Orthodox priest from Argentina and a Muslim from Pakistan. Ideologically, theologically and politically they're probably at very different pages but liberty, the idea of entrepreneurialism is the solution and minimization of governmental power, we will agree on, as well as the dignity and the worth of the human and on that foundation we can work from."
Termed 'university' for good reason
It's called "university" even though no academic degrees are issued.
"We take the term 'university' very seriously," said Cook. "If you look at the faculty and the courses, we will bring 74 of the best professors in philosophy, theology, economics, business and intellectual history.
"We actually have no new ideas but actually want people to remember the ones that work, remember the ones of our national consciousness," continued Cook.
Reputation proceeds itself worldwide
Acton launched its university in 2005 and, to date has had 5,876 participants from 119 countries.
Since its inaugural year, the Acton University's reputation has grown worldwide, according to Cook.
"The best advertising is word of mouth and a recommendation from a teacher, priest, pastor or faith based leader," he said. "People will say, 'I was just in Grand Rapids, Michigan and you've got to go.' The second thing is we deliver two things: The most powerful teachers and content and we treat people with the greatest hospitality on the face of the Earth."
Cook has ascertained a trend with the 2016 Acton University.
Embassy denials 'rampant'
"Many people will come from the most oppressive nations on the face of the Earth, but this year, we have seen embassy denials and they have been rampant higher than we've ever seen before," he said. "We live in a powder keg of a world.
"This idea of ethics and morality affects economics because the privilege of profit is a burden of responsibility when I ask how should this profit serve? Should it serve only me or could this profit serve my employees and my community?"