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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 2015

I would have to say that in terms of audience interest and stimulating discussion, one of the most fascinating events we’ve had since I’ve been at the Boisi Center was a panel discussion on libertarianism organized by the Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry, Mark Massa. The aim of the conference was to explore the question of why libertarianism is not liberal. But it just as well could have been why libertarianism is not Catholic.

At a time when a prominent libertarian, Rand Paul, is running for president, this conference asked whether libertarianism was coherent and what consequences would follow for society if its ideas were implemented. Alan Ryan, one of the foremost political philosophers of our time, offered his thoughts on why libertarianism was more or less an extreme, if distorted, form of liberalism. My own talk made a much sharper distinction, arguing that libertarianism offers a strikingly illiberal portrait of our common good.

Our most publicized event of the year was a discussion of religion and climate change led by Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University. It is surprising that so much of the public discussion of the climate change issue has ignored the question of religion. For those preoccupied with the end times, it is not neces- sarily a bad thing if human actions cause serious damage to the world, given how sinful thy consider the world to be. Others possess a religious understanding of why we are obliged to save and improve the world. Bloggers picked up on this event and it had more people watching on YouTube than any event in our history.

An issue that many believe even more important than climate change is the racial climate in this country, dramatically illustrated by the all-too-frequent police shootings taking place seemingly everyday. Boston College is involved in a campus-wide discussion of race, and we contributed by hosting an event featuring M. Shawn Copeland, Walter Fluker, and Nichole Flores. Nichole is a much-missed former staff member of the Boisi Center. Our hope was to address the relationship between religion and race, which needs to be kept constantly in mind as we pon- der how best to improve the racial climate on campus and in our country.

Turkey and Israel were both featured in our work this year. Jenny White, anthropologist from BU, spoke on the transitions the former country is undergoing. Antony Lerman, who has served in many capacities involving British Jewry, talked about new potential paths to bringing about peace in the Middle East that move beyond the one-state, two-state debate.

Erik Owens will be taking a much deserved leave next year to work on some writing projects. We are fortunate that Suzanne Hevelone, who worked here for two years, will be coming back to replace Erik while he is on leave. I am still in the aftermath of the publication of At Home in Exile, and I’ve been trying out various ideas for my next book. I hope to have more to say about that in my next director’s letter. 

-Alan Wolfe