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Religious Diversity Is Theme of Nov. 13 Event


By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Oct. 31, 2013

On Nov. 13, Boston College will host “Religious Diversity and the Common Good,” the final academic symposium of its Sesquicentennial celebration, bringing together scholars and leaders of civic and religious communities to discuss the nature and pursuit of the common good in a pluralistic society.

“The University’s beginnings are rooted in its Irish Catholic heritage, but now we are part of a flourishing diversity,” said Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life Associate Director Erik Owens, who is organizing the symposium with Boisi Center Director and Professor of Political Science Alan Wolfe. “This is the story of Boston, the story of America. The symposium is a chance to talk about and celebrate Boston College’s role in this narrative.”

The keynote speaker will be E.J. Dionne Jr., a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, columnist for Commonweal magazine, and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who will give his talk at 3:15 p.m. Dionne, a Rhodes Scholar, is an award-winning author of Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent; Why Americans Hate Politics and Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right, among others. He appears regularly on National Public Radio, MSNBC and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The symposium will be divided into two sections. The first will look at historical trajectories from 1863 to present day. David Quigley, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and professor of history, will serve as moderator.

The second half will examine contemporary issues and approaches and will be moderated by Newton College Alumnae Professor in Western Culture Catherine Cornille, chair of the Theology Department and author of the influential book The Im-Possibility of Interreligious Dialogue.

Symposium participants have devoted their life’s work to the themes of the symposium, according to Owens, either from a historical or contemporary perspective.

“In a country devoted to liberal individualism, is it possible to purse a common good? What, if anything, can specific religious communities contribute to this pursuit? These are some of the questions the panelists will consider,” added Owens, who teaches in the Theology Department and in the International Studies program.

One participant will be Clough Millennium Professor of History James M. O’Toole, author of The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America, among other books.

Other participants will be: Marie Griffith of Washington University in St. Louis; Omar M. McRoberts of the University of Chicago; Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University; Nancy Ammerman of Boston University; Reza Aslan of the University of California, Riverside; Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law School, and Laurie Patton of Duke University.

In the evening, a private dinner will be held for journalists, academics, and religious and civic leaders who work for the common good in the Boston area. University President William P. Leahy, SJ, will offer welcoming remarks, and Wolfe will moderate a panel discussion featuring prominent leaders: Harvard Kennedy School Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, secretary for health and social services for the Archdiocese of Boston; Interim Superintendent of Boston Public Schools John McDonough; Dr. Mohammad Ghiath Reda of the Islamic Center of Boston; Amy Ryan, president of the Boston Public Library; and Rev. Jonathan Walton, professor of religion and society at the Harvard Divinity School and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church.

“Religious Diversity and the Common Good” will take place in the Heights Room of Corcoran Commons from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public. To register, visit