Seminar Explores Feminist-Catholic Connections

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

A group of administrators, faculty and staff have formed an interdisciplinary seminar through the Jesuit Institute to explore the ties between Catholicism and feminism.

Titled "Feminist and Catholic/Catholic and Feminist: Meeting the Challenge in the Catholic University," the monthly seminar focuses less on the well-documented conflicts between the two areas than on their common objectives and characteristics. To foster the interdisciplinary approach, the seminar's membership includes not only faculty members - representing fields such as theology, sociology and romance languages - but administrators and staff involved in non-academic aspects of the University. In addition, three members of the Boston College Jesuit Community are participating.

At present, participants are reading materials and publications as a basis for the scope and content of their discussions. While academic in nature, the seminar holds great potential for influencing the life of the University community, participants say.

"There are issues in the Catholic-feminism relationship which are central to our increasingly lay Catholic community," said School of Education Dean Mary Brabeck, a principal organizer of the seminar. "They are equally important for the young men and women on this campus, who are seeking to reconcile faith and feminist views."

Participants noted recent initiatives at the University - such as the Forum on Women, Religion and Spirituality, and the National Association of Women in Catholic Higher Education - as further demonstrating the timeliness of the seminar.

Seminar participants include, from left: Jesuit Community Rector Joseph Appleyard, SJ, SOE Dean Mary Brabeck, Associate Dean for Student Development Ann Morgan and Prof. Judith Wilt (English).

"These discussions have taken place and continue to take place across the University, both formally and informally," said Prof. Judith Wilt (English). "The idea here is to bring the content of these discussions into sharp relief, to look at them in a way that brings together a combination of perspectives and experiences."

Associate Dean for Student Development Ann Morgan said she became interested in the seminar because she felt issues such as women's participation in the Catholic Church tend to overshadow the shared features of Catholicism and feminism.

"They have quite complementary dimensions, such as concern for social justice and the dignity of the human person, and a recognition of the virtues of care and compassion," Morgan explained. "We want to seek the meaning of these connections. It is a highly useful and meaningful discussion for us. I know that every day I work with men and women seeking to integrate their faith and spirit with their work."

The Jesuit dimension to the seminar also is appropriate, participants said, pointing to the document produced by the Society of Jesus General Congregation 34 of 1995 which urged Jesuits to align themselves in solidarity with women.

"Clearly, there is some common ground," said Jesuit Community Rector Joseph Appleyard, SJ. "I am quite interested in going beyond the merely intellectual aspects of this question to get a real feeling for these issues and the way they are played out in our lives."

The seminar is expected to last for two to three years, Brabeck said, and will entail a writing project. Participants also will consider ways of sharing their findings with the University community through forums and similar events.

"It is a great opportunity for Boston College to once again break new ground, combining our unique resources and our long-standing commitment to examine the human condition," Brabeck said.

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