Posted June 12, 2011
College religion professors meet, discuss violence
Taken from the National Catholic Reporter
NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Arguments among Catholics boil down to disagreement between
two key concepts, says Peter Steinfels: inclusion and identity.
Those who put themselves in the inclusion camp -- typically thought of as
"liberals" -- are concerned with making sure everyone feels welcomed; those in
the identity camp -- typically thought of as "conservatives" -- with knowing
what makes a Catholic a Catholic.
While "reality is more complex and subtle," theologians have a unique
opportunity to ensure those raised in the faith are "rooted in a master
identity," the journalist said here Saturday during for the College Theology
Society's annual convention.
The comments of Steinfels, author, former Commonweal editor and New York Times
religion writer, came during the 57th annual convention of the society, which
was held at Iona College here through Sunday. He and his wife Margaret were
honored with the society's "presidential award" at a banquet Saturday night for
their "distinguished contributions as premier interpreters, commentators, and
shapers of public opinion on American Catholic life and thought."
Peter's response to the award? A thank-you to theologians for their work.
"Insofar as you take on this daunting task -- succeeding a little, failing a
little, trying again, learning from your students, learning from your
colleagues, learning from the world, learning from the inexhaustible riches of
our faith," he said, "I want to thank you and congratulate you from the very
bottom of my heart."
Over the weekend some 260 professors gathered for the society's conference,
which was titled: "They Shall be Called Children of God: Violence,
Transformation, and the Sacred." That theme was an attempt to acknowledge that
we live in a society that's "kind of surrounded" by "sacralized violence," said
Jesuit Fr. William Clark, an associate professor at College of the Holy Cross.
We need "to be able to think that through in some way," said Clark. "When I say
that I believe, and when I speak about God and I try to teach about prayer and
so forth, where is all of this violence in the midst of all that?"
Discussions held through the weekend focused on facets of violence in society.
There were presentations on everything from violence against gays and lesbians,
to the violence of abortion, to how women's eating practices enforce a "regime
of thinness." One presentation Friday on the art of political violence was
entitled: "The beauty of Abu Ghraib: Art Transforming Violence."
The gathering was also an opportunity for professors to spend time together and
get to know one another. Lunches at Iona's cafeteria saw balloons presented to
welcome first-time attendees to the conference and the gifting of a birthday
cake and candles to a professor celebrating a birthday on Friday. After
Saturday's banquet, many joined in a celebration in a residence hall lounge area
with acoustic guitars and Irish songs.
M. Shawn Copeland, the well known systematic theologian from Boston College,
presented a plenary address on Friday entitled "God Among the Ruins: Companion
and Co-Sufferer." Admitting she had been "no environmentalist" in the past,
Copeland said the destruction of the Earth's environment witnessed by our
generation forces us to ask: "Will we remain God's creatures? Or yield to the
awful temptation to make ourselves gods?"
A few more samples of the thoughts presented in over 40 breakout sessions by
professors and graduate students from across the country:
Since the destruction of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have come "face to face with
the fact that we as a nation are vulnerable," said Kevin Ahern in a session on
justice and peace. In response, the country has made "questionable decisions,"
the Boston College doctoral candidate said, such as the invasion of Iraq and
passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. Instead, he argued, we should engender two
values seen as virtues by St. Thomas Aquinas: humility and magnanimity --
humility "to restrain our actions" and magnanimity "to strengthen against
"What happens to torturers?" asked Ann Crawford Vinski in a session on ethics.
While individuals who torture have a responsibility to "safeguard their own
dignity," the Duquesne University doctoral candidate said academics should
explore how Catholic social teaching can help those who step over "that line of
Saturday's banquet also saw the society issue other awards. The award for best
published book went to Marquette University professor Patrick W. Carey for his
biography, Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ: A Model Theologian. Best student essay
went to Jill O'Brien, a doctor candidate at Boston College, for a paper which
examines the christological basis for considering the redemption of "non-human
In a presentation of her work Sunday, O'Brien argued that the "category of
personhood may be larger" than humanity and that the true disciple of Christ may
be obligated to work to "help achieve salvation for all the world."
The College Theology Society is made up of over 600 college and university
professors throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. Most of the members
are Catholic, although some are also from other denominations. The weekend
conference was held in conjunction with the National Association of Baptist
Professors of Religion.