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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

May 2016

Greetings all, as I send out my last letter as director of the Boisi Center. More on that below.

Jim Keenan, S.J., began our semester’s events with a discussion of his new book, University Ethics. The venue for the lunch was shifted to St. Mary’s because Jim had a knee injury, but perhaps it was for the best. We ended up with more than 30 people in attendance and others had to be turned away. The popularity of his colloquium spoke to the importance of his work. Jim argued that the university needs to develop an internal culture of ethics in order to prevent the various scandals that keep cropping up in sports, student life, the classroom and elsewhere.

We had four other lunch colloquia with terrific speakers. Ray Madoff of the BC Law School educated us on the ins and outs of philanthropic organizations and tax law. She highlighted the absence of a legally mandated time frame for Donor Advised Funds to actually distribute money to charitable causes. Pierre de Charentenay, S.J., shared his expertise on the reception and integration of Muslims in France – a timely topic in light of the tragedies in Paris and Brussels during this school year. Laurie Johnston discussed incorporating concern for the environment into a robust just war theory and pointed out the global failure to consider the environmental impact of military establishments in the face of climate change. And Kristin Heyer, a former graduate research assistant here at the Boisi Center, and now professor of theology at Boston College, returned to talk about immigration and Christian ethics. She underscored the humanity of the immigrants who are involved in difficult situations and the Christian call for the respect of persons. It would have been nice to have a few candidates for President of the United States in the room with us that day.

In a somewhat unusual foray for the Boisi Center into the visual arts, Bruce Herman shared his paintings at an evening lecture and talked about both his studio process and the theological underpinnings of his work. Key to Herman’s work is offering hospitality to the viewer so that the artist and the audience together seek meaning in a piece.

Last, but by no means least, we have just finished a conference, “Religion and American Public Life: The Calling of a Public Intellectual.” This one day conference featured a group of distinguished scholars who commented on public scholarship from a variety of perspectives. The first panel discussed the renewed attention to religion in political science and law scholarship, as well as in the academy as a whole; the second panel addressed the state of public scholarship today; and, in the keynote conversation, Howard Gardner and I revisited our careers as public intellectuals and talked about issues that scholars may face in the years to come. I cannot imagine a better way to end my time at the Boisi Center and at Boston College. My deepest gratitude to the Provost’s Office and all who made it possible.

I am retiring as director of the Boisi Center at the end of this semester. I am delighted to announce that Erik Owens, who has done so much to make this place what it is, will be the interim director for next year. In the fall of 2017, Mark Massa, S.J., who has been the dean of the School of Theology and Ministry here at BC, will assume his position as director of the Boisi Center. I wish him, as well as the team here, including Susan Richard and Suzanne Hevelone, the very best. Erik, Susan and Suzanne have been the best colleagues one can imagine. I thank them, as well as Geoff Boisi, David Quigley, Pat DeLeeuw and Father William Leahy, S.J., for all their support. I have loved this place and I consider my directorship of the Center as the capstone of my academic career. Best wishes to all my friends out there who have followed what we together have accomplished here.

-Alan Wolfe





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