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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life


Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Photo of Alan Wolfe

Letter from the Director

December 2015

The major event of our fall semester was our participation in a university-wide conference on the implications of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’. The conference, “Our Common Home: An Ethical Summons on Climate Change,” was held September 28-October 1. The lectures and panels included presentations from numerous disciplines, including theology, politics, economics, business, biology, geology and journalism, about the dangers of climate change and the significance of the encyclical.

A few of the particularly notable speakers from a really amazing line-up included BC alumnus Sen. Edward Markey (Democrat, Massachusetts), John Holdren (Assistant to the President of the United States for Science and Technology), Graciela Chichilnisky (professor of economics and of mathematical statistics, Columbia University) and Edouard Tétreau (French essayist, columnist and political and economic consultant). Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, one of the architects behind Laudato Si’, delivered a keynote to a packed Robsham Theater. Turkson called on Catholics to find resources in scripture and tradition for addressing climate change and emphasized that social justice demands that change occur.

A big thank you to all the departments at Boston College who worked together to make “Our Common Home” the huge success it was. May the inter-disciplinary cooperation of our university for this conference be a microcosm of the human effort to address the needs of the environment.

Our other events proceeded apace. Charles Marsh’s talk on Bonhoeffer, canceled to a snowstorm last year, drew a crowd and continued our commitment to furthering religion’s prophetic voice. Mark Noll explored the use of the Bible in early America, and Linda K. Wertheimer discussed teaching religions in schools. The continuing series of violent attacks in this country was explored by another BC alum, Firmin DeBrabander, who offered a fascinating account of the roots of gun violence in the US. Ellen Messer addressed hunger, Philip Gorski examined American civil religion and James Bernauer, SJ, spoke about Nostra Aetate.

Erik Owens has been missed at the center this semester, but is having a productive and well-deserved sabbatical. Suzanne Hevelone is enjoying her return to the Boisi Center and has filled in for Erik with admirable enthusiasm and competence. Thanks so much, Suzanne. We also have an excellent group of students working for us this semester.

This report would not be complete without a mention of the astonishingly controversial political situation taking place in our country this fall. The attacks on Muslims led by Donald Trump speak to all the values the Boisi Center was established to address. No one at this point can know whether Trump is tapping into a sentiment that will change the way Americans have long addressed questions of religious tolerance and inclusion. But it is clear that demons have been unleashed and that all those who admire the United States for the way it has dealt with the problem of religious conflict face new challenges. For better or worse, depending on your perspective, the work we do here at the Boisi Center seems to have continued relevance for America’s future.

-Alan Wolfe





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