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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

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Photo of Alan Wolfe

Letter from the Director

December 2013

Fall 2013 was an especially gratifying time for us here at the Boisi Center. Most importantly, we held a major conference in support of the sesquicentennial celebrations at Boston College, on the theme of religious diversity and the common good. Outstanding scholars such as Reza Aslan, Laurie Patton, Randall Kennedy, Jonathan Sarna, and Marie Griffith appeared during the day-long event, which featured a keynote address by E.J. Dionne. The evening session, which focused on institutions that work for the common good in the Boston area, brought together the leaders of the Boston public schools, Boston Public Library, the Islamic Center of Boston, Harvard’s Memorial Church, and the Health and Social Services division of the Catholic Archdiocese. We were thrilled to be assigned such an important event in BC’s history, and to do
our part to celebrate the century-and-ahalf accomplishments of this institution.

Our “regular” events were also terrific this semester. We were especially pleased to host Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland, as well as her husband Martin. Their moving account of the Irish peace process was fascinating from beginning to end. (I encourage everyone to read the transcript or listen to their presentations, which are available on our web site.) Other lunch talks were given by Drew Christiansen, S.J., who has been
working on the tradition of nonviolence in Catholic social teaching; and Jonathan Trejo-Mathys, who is working on a book extending the Kantian and Habermasian traditions in moral philosophy to the international community.

During the term I was also able to finish, and send to my publisher (Beacon Press), a book on which I have been working for the last three or four years. Now entitled At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for the Jews, it explores the question of what it means to be a minority. I argue that minority status, for all the problems associated with it, can yield a universalistic way of thinking that both Jews and non-Jews can especially use at this time. It will be published in the fall of 2014. I also presented an overview of the themes of the book at one of our luncheons. Finally, the publication by the Pew Forum of a new study of American Judaism enabled me to offer comments on the future of American Jewry in the on-line magazine The Forward.

During the fall term I gave a presentation on the book at Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. In the book I write about the efforts of groups such as Paideia to enrich the conditions of Jewish life in Europe, which constitutes a kind of third location of contemporary Jewry besides Israel and the United States. I then traveled to Riga, Latvia, where one of the figures with whom I am concerned, Isaiah Berlin, was born and another, Simon Dubnow, died.

We are planning another exciting set of events for the spring term, including our annual Prophetic Voices lecture, which will be delivered by a major figure on the American political and religious landscape. I look forward to writing about it in my next director’s letter.

— Alan Wolfe