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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

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boisi center for religion and american public life

Photo of Mark Massa, S.J.

Letter from the Director

December 2017

Greetings to all of our old and new friends of the Boisi Center. Part of my great pleasure during the past four months has been the opportunity to meet many talented people connected with one of Boston College’s most esteemed interdisciplinary centers. I owe both Erik Owens, Boisi’s talented associate director, and Susan Richard, Boisi’s wonderful administrative assistant, large debts of gratitude for helping me to step into the large shoes left by Alan Wolfe, my esteemed predecessor in the director’s position. Our new graduate assistant, Jack Nuelle (a graduate student at BC’s School of Theology and Ministry) has likewise made my entry into the director’s position a surprisingly smooth one. So to all three of these people I make my heart-felt and public “thank you.”

It also helped that I moved into the Boisi Center after a wonderful sabbatical year, during which I finished a monograph that I had been thinking about for some time. That monograph will be published this coming spring by Oxford University Press as The Structure of Theological Revolutions: How Debates Over Humanae Vitae Changed American Catholic Theology.

That sabbatical was a welcome respite of reading and writing after six fruitful years of serving as dean of the School of Theol- ogy and Ministry at Boston College, and provided a wonderful bridge between one BC identity and my new one. Lots of people to thank for that year, but I’d rather do that in person when I meet you at one of the Boisi Center events this year.

And there has been a plethora of well-attended events marked by great conversation and exciting ideas this past fall. Two of our larger events were offered to mark important cultural episodes: On September 26, we hosted a lively panel discussion entitled “The Challenge of Charlottesville: Race, Religion, and Public Monuments,” during which four of BC’s professors opened a spirited conversation about the public meaning of monuments in the U.S., and then broadened the conversation by engaging questions from the audience. Likewise, on October 11 we hosted a day-long conference entitled “Land O’ Lakes at 50: The State of Catholic Higher Education.” That event marked the 50th anniversary of the “Land O’ Lakes” statement, widely considered to be the founding document of modern Catholic higher education. Panelists included seven sitting university presidents, as well as academics and public intellectuals from around the country.

In addition to these two events, the Boisi Center co-sponsored an international conference between November 7 and 10 entitled “Educating for Modern Democracy,” organized by our smart colleague in the philosophy department, Jeff Bloechl. Public intellectuals of the stature of José Casanova, David Campbell, and Eduardo Mendieta took part in the various panels spread over four days, and both Erik and I served as conveners for several of the panel discussions.

The Boisi Center has also inaugurated a faculty seminar (made up of professors from philosophy, political science, the Law School, theology, African and African Diaspora Studies, and history) entitled “What Does Citizenship Mean in America Today?” The seminar meets once a month over a tasty lunch to discuss a common text assigned by the rotating convener, which means that we are all reading important and thoughtful works outside our areas of expertise, a rare and wonderful experience of transcending the academic silos so common in the world of higher education.

A series of wonderful lunch speakers has marked our semester: lunch conversations focused on topics as different as “What’s So Political About ‘Political Islam’?,” “Luther in America,” and “What’s Wrong with the New Genealogy of Religious Freedom?” A film screening of RIKERS: AN AMERICAN JAIL, followed by a robust conversation with many members of a large audience, made for a lively evening. And as if that were not enough, the Boisi Center hosted an International Summit of Centers on Religion and Public Life here at BC on November 16, at which close to 40 center directors from the U.S. and Europe met for an all-afternoon series of discussions about what unites us and what makes us different and unique.

It has, to understate it a bit, been a busy and exciting fall. We look forward to seeing you at our coming spring events.

-Mark Massa, S.J.

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