“Who Will be Neighbor?”: A Report on the Conference In the Lógos of Love
We are grateful to Charles T. Strauss, Assistant Professor of History at Mount St. Mary’s University and former LFP Postdoctoral Fellow (2011-2013) for providing us with the report of the In the Logos of Love conference held at the University of Dayton September 20-22, 2013. You can learn more about Professor Strauss here and here.
For participants in a conference on the intellectual life, the academics, journalists, and students who assembled at the University of Dayton from September 20-22 for In the Lógos of Love: Promise and Predicament of Catholic Intellectual Life Today spent a lot of time talking about social engagement, “faith and friendship,” suffering, and yes, “A Big Heart Open to God.” It therefore made sense that the group gathered for vespers after a Saturday of plenary sessions and roundtable discussions to pray David Haas’ Evening Hymn:
Many are lonely…Some are neglected…
Many are hungry…Some may be strangers…
Who will be neighbor?
Co-sponsored by the University of Dayton and the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (IACS) at the University of Southern California, In the Lógos of Love tackled many of the neuralgic issues facing the Catholic Church today – including globalization, the rise of the secular research university, media and public life, sexual morality and gender – while also attending to the education of the heart.
David O’Brien, Professor Emeritus at the College of Holy Cross and University Professor of Faith and Culture at Dayton (2009-2012) opened the gathering on Friday night with grace before dinner, in which he referenced the “web of community” that connected the conference participants. For a wonderful, short interview with O’Brien from his time as University Professor, watch this video. To the credit of the conference organizers, which included O’Brien, Vince Miller, Una Cadegan (whose new book has just come out with Cornell), and Paul Benson from Dayton and Fr. James Heft, Gary Adler, and Leigh Bailey from the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, the weekend drew out and helped to stitch together many threads of the Catholic world – from higher education, religious orders and congregations (particularly the Marianists), media, and advocacy organizations. Of course this kind of collaboration has been Fr. Heft’s life’s work, especially since he founded the IACS in 2006.
After the Friday night reception, Richard Rodriguez delivered a keynote address, in which he previewed his latest work, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography (Viking, 2013). Rodriguez contrasted the bright, white light of the resurrected Christ in Protestant churches with the Christ of the crucifixion, illuminated by deeper hues and stained glass in Catholic churches. In Catholicism, according to Rodriguez, it was “Always Good Friday.” Rodriguez delivered a poignant if sobering reflection on the suffering Christ as an enduring image in the Catholic imagination. He described the Catholic Church as feminine and “blessed” with a special experience of suffering. He suggested that his own Catholicism required the Catholicism (and suffering) of others. Rodriguez reflected on recent generational shifts and transformation in a multiethnic United States, as well as on the emerging “Latino or Spanish revolution” in the United States and the global Catholic Church. He also warned the audience about conflicting potentialities within the millennial generation. On the one hand, they could build on the electricity and excitement of this diversity and achieve something great; on the other hand, they could devolve into the “mush” of uniformity, spiritual apathy, resistance to honesty about one’s own suffering and the suffering of others, and video games.
Rodriguez’s emphasis on experience carried over to Saturday’s plenary sessions when the conference moved from Dayton’s Main Campus to the River Campus, formerly the world headquarters for NCR Corp (National Cash Register). The plenary sessions represented the conference’s ambitious agenda by featuring four contemporary themes and eight experts. Speakers made brief presentations based on chapter-length papers. Each speaker’s remarks prompted lively discussion. IACS has placed complete videos of each presentation on its website and will eventually publish a book based upon the proceedings. Conference organizers also promised to compile and maintain an online database of resources for the Catholic Intellectual Life. These are the official conference sources as opposed to the brief summaries provided below.
Scott Appleby, Professor of History and John M. Regan, Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame, and Miguel Díaz, University Professor of Faith and Culture at Dayton and retired U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, contextualized the “contemporary moment” within the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. Appleby described a restless and growing cohort of graduate students and young scholar-practitioners who have experience and training in conflict mediation, global grassroots activism, and international law. They are technologically sophisticated and seek to “repair the world.” These women and men have a global moral imagination – an authentic awareness that “we are all one humanity.” “Professors,” Appleby concluded, “be warned.” He recommended Lisa Sowle Cahill’s, Global Justice, Christology and Christian Ethics (Cambridge, 2013) as a model of the kind of theorizing that is necessary to help us to understand this new phenomenon. Whereas Appleby called for an “engaged theology” and “global justice discourse,” which he argued had the potential to renew Catholic Intellectual Life, Diaz articulated a need for Catholic “cultures of hospitality” to counter the society’s fear of otherness. He explained the creative tension of “life on the hyphen” and shared some personal reflections as a Cuban-American as well as theological analysis of contemporary Catholic cultural relations, referencing the American Catholic in Transition sociological study.
Paul Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School, who later delivered a paper on his experience as an endowed chair of Catholic theology at a secular university, challenged Appleby’s paradigm of Catholic Intellectual Life in the 21st century as “restrictive.” Griffiths argued that the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, in its contemplation of the nature of God, had essential value whereas he believed Appleby valued it pragmatically – only as it did good. Appleby responded that there were multiple methods of living the Catholic Intellectual Life and experiential or engaged scholarship had to be considered along with the others – especially given the perspectives, motivations, and interests of the imaginative, young cohort he described.
The role of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the Catholic intellectual would remain a contested topic for the remainder of the conference:
- Paul Griffiths suggested that Catholic intellectuals should express gratitude for the modern research university instead of agitate for revolution even as they must understand that the Catholic Intellectual Tradition will always be “at odds with the pagan universities” because of the secular institutions’ inability to express a unified purpose of the intellectual life. The term “pagan” sounded provocative to the other presenters and to many in the audience if not to Professor Griffiths.
- Amy Uelmen addressed the resources for personal and professional unity in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. Uelmen underscored the problem of human suffering and the example of Jesus as a corrective to the vices of academic life, which include “pomposity, self-regard, and elitism.” She used The Hunger Games to highlight the millennial generation’s sense of “always being on” and their “deep craving for privacy.”
- Leslie Tentler offered sobering statistics on some radical changes in Western society’s sexual behaviors and family structure. For example, 48 percent of first births occur outside of marriage and the median age at first birth is now lower than at first marriage. The Catholic Church, according to Tentler, has been silent on the crises demonstrated by these statistics since the early 1970s. Bishops’ pronouncements about contraception and gay marriage have replaced the “fascinating conversation about sex” that the laity initiated in the 1960s; however, little is being said on Sundays today. This has left Catholics without a moral authority on a deepening moral and economic crisis.
- Nancy Dallavalle delivered an elegantly crafted and nuanced paper on the Catholic Church’s narrative about human sexuality and the implications of totalizing the “nuptial mystery,” which has been advanced popularly by the theology of the body. Both Tentler and Dallavalle suggested reasons why the Catholic Intellectual Life, particularly on matters related to sex, gender, and sexuality, cannot be confined to theologians.
- Vince Miller addressed the media revolution and described the ways in which the mass-market media and the algorithms of social media and Google have created fragmentation and niche markets, commodifying and segmenting interests. The effect on religion has been that “sectarianism is [now] the default form.”
- Diane Winston examined how the newspapers of record in New York and Los Angeles covered the AIDS crisis in the 1980s as well as the reaction by the Catholic Church. She argued that secular media turned a small section of the bishops’ 1987 statement, “The Many Faces of AIDS,” on condoms into a full-on culture war.
To assess the presentations and their impact, you should view them here. I found each of them to be challenging and important. I left with some lingering questions:
- What is the relationship between the global and domestic contexts? We live in an interconnected world but we also live in the United States with a specific history, culture, and style of partisan politics and media (See #governmentshutdown). How then shall we attend to our national peculiarities while we also remain ever sensitive to transnational “consciousness and connectivity,” to borrow José Casanova’s phrase that Appleby referenced?
- What are the real differences between the millennial generation and the Vatican II generation – and are these differences of degree or kind? Is it the technology or the texts that have changed? It has been nearly three decades since the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ letters on peace and economic justice.
- Why do Catholics so seldom look to the ideas and practices of other Christian and non-Christian intellectuals who are motivated by faith?
- What do we do about toxic polarization within the Catholic world? Griffiths raised this issue in the roundtable discussion that I facilitated on Generations and admitted that he did not regularly attend conferences like In the Logos of Love. He mentioned the chasm between various Catholic experiences in contemporary parishes, periodicals, schools, and associations. In the Logos of Love was not the only Catholic conference in Ohio that weekend. See here.
- What is the role of the Catholic intellectual in the political sphere? Conference discussion moved increasingly to questions related to Catholic higher education; but what do we do about Catholics in positions of political power from Defense Secretary Panetta to Speaker Boehner? “On all of our shoulders: A Catholic Call to Protect the Endangered Common Good,” which Catholic theologians and scholars wrote before the 2012 Catholic v. Catholic Vice Presidential Debate, is one approach. Was it effective? Are there other approaches?
The conference participants had a chance to ask many of their questions in roundtable discussion on topics ranging from blogs and social media to collaborating with bishops. The conversations concluded with a final discussion on Sunday morning, at which participants suggested themes for a book based on the conference proceedings. Some suggested that the volume could be used for faculty retreats or Catholic Intellectual Tradition seminars on Catholic college campuses. Although the conference did its fair share of historicizing the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, In the Logos of Love ended by looking forward.
There was a genuine hopefulness about the future amidst the weightiness and complexity of the issues discussed and debated. Pope Francis was not the only Jesuit newsmaker. In addition to the America article, Georgetown’s announcement that they had received a $100 million gift to open the McCourt School of Public Policy, which will “focus on the use of evolving technology to help solve some of the most urgent and complex public policy challenges in the 21st centuries,” generated conversation. This news came just a few months after Notre Dame announced the appointment of Scott Appleby as director of academic planning for a proposed School of International Affairs. There was also some buzz about The Church in the 21st Century Center at Boston College.
Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Boston College touched the lives of many if not all of the conference participants in some way; however, the web of community that O’Brien referenced in his opening prayer went beyond the three Catholic research universities. And the weekend gathering strengthened the web, which was perhaps the most valuable conference take-away. At the closing discussion, O’Brien reminded participants that Cardinal John Francis Dearden called for “communities of faith and friendship,” on earth.
As a Catholic scholar and teacher, I have been formed by the communal life at Holy Cross, the Cushwa Center and the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame, the Lilly Fellows Program, the American Catholic Historical Association (ACHA), and more recently at Mount St. Mary’s University. I was particularly inspired by the people who I met at the conference, including: Meghan Clark, theologian at St. John’s University and contributor to Catholic Moral Theology; Matt Malone, S.J.; Editor in Chief of America, who was patient in fielding questions about the Pope Francis interview as he prepared for appearances for the Sunday morning talk shows; Grant Gallicho, Associate Editor of Commonweal; Darlene Fozard Weaver, Director of the Center for the Catholic Intellectual Tradition at Duquesne University; Heather Grennan Gary of the Cushwa Center; and many others. I also reconnected with Tom Landy, Director of the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross and Executive Director of Collegium, who has started a new initiative on practices of lived Catholicism around the world.
There was also a Lilly Fellows cohort in attendance, which included Program Director Joe Creech, Jeff Zalar (post-doc, 2002-2004), Ruth J. & Robert A. Conway Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Cincinnati, and Bill Portier (Lilly Graduate Fellows mentor), Mary Ann Spearin Chair of Catholic Theology at Dayton. My visit to Dayton concluded with a lunch with Portier at his favorite local hangout, Tank’s. We continued the conversation, across generations, on the future of the Catholic institution (Mount St. Mary’s) for which we share affiliation and affection.
Neuralgic issues, education of the heart, web of community. But finally, simple things. For a few days, we ate and drank and prayed together. We expressed frustrations about contemporary conflicts and trends but perhaps even more gratitude, particularly to Fr. James Heft, Una Cadegan, and all the conference planners for convening our congenial gathering of friends and neighbors.