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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life


boisi center for religion and american public life

Photo of Mark Massa, S.J.

Letter from the Director

May 2018


It’s been a busy and exciting spring here at the Boisi Center. We’ve been energetically engaged sponsoring programs and speakers in the midst of the “winter that wouldn’t go away” (and spring is still just out of reach). But the energy generated by both our speakers and our audiences have kept the chill out of the air.

Our two faculty seminars – one focused on “What Does Citizenship Mean Today?” and the other focused on prophetic theologian and writer Thomas Merton – brought together faculty from various departments (political science, African and African diaspora studies, history, creative writing, philosophy and theology) and from various schools within Boston College (the Law School, the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences). The lively conversations they generated over lunch (the “Citizenship” seminar) and dinner (the “Merton” seminar) allowed faculty to exchange ideas with colleagues they seldom have an opportunity to listen to (and in our best moments, debate with), breaking through the kinds of silos academia is famous for sponsoring these days. Both faculty seminars have thus proven exciting and engaging on a number of levels, and the Boisi Center will continue to sponsor inter-disciplinary faculty seminars next year.

Our lecture series brought in a range of interesting and provocative scholars: Candida Moss, from the University of Birmingham in the UK, inaugurated our annual Wolfe lecture (named, of course, for the Center’s founding and much-respected director, Alan Wolfe) by talking about the research behind her book Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby, which narrated the creation of the new “Museum of the Bible” in Washington, D.C. Dr. Ron Lacro, from Boston Children’s Hospital, gave a riveting presentation on the ideas of compassionate care for children to a packed house. Robert Orsi from Northwestern University, one of the most respected scholarly voices in the study of American religion, talked about his new project studying memory and violence among Catholic clerical abuse survivors. The redoubtable E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution delivered a riveting address entitled “Truth and Lies in a Polarized Time”-- this year’s “Prophetic Voices Lecture.” Our visiting scholar for the 2017-18 academic year, Professor Mara Willard from the University of Oklahoma, convened a lunch seminar on the project she has pursued this year – on “Catholic Afterlives,” examining how, and in what ways, Catholics who have left the Church or who have redefined their membership in unconventional ways – continue to identify as “Catholic” in their values and lifestyles. The “question and answer” sessions after all of these engaging talks dramatically witnessed to how these distinguished speakers elicited insightful and sometimes passionate responses from the audiences gathered to hear them.

Recently the Boisi Center co-hosted a reception, along with the theology department and the Law School, to introduce the incoming editor of Commonweal magazine, Dominic Preziosi, to young faculty and current doctoral students in BC’s theology department. The reception was, I think, a most welcome event, as the new editor offered a brief talk on “5 Things to Do to Make It Twice as Likely to Get an Article Accepted at Commonweal” to the young scholars present.

Two very exciting events closed our semester: on April 26, the Boisi Center hosted a panel discussion on “Pope Francis and the American Church,” with panelists Massimo Faggioli from Villanova University, Rev. Bryan Hehir of Harvard University, and Lisa Cahill and Nancy Pineda-Madrid from Boston College. This event helped us to mark the fifth anniversary of Francis’ election to the papacy, and generated some exciting conversation. Finally, on May 30, the Boisi Center will host the inter-religious “Faith and Science Coalition on Climate Change” at Boston College. Catholic and Anglican bishops, ministers from a spectrum of Protestant denominations, rabbis from various Jewish groups, Muslim scholars, and scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod will gather to discuss how people of faith from various traditions might be energized and activated to see the issue of climate change as a religious and moral issue, as well as a scientific one. I am genuinely delighted that the Boisi Center is able to host this important summit. I would also like to thank the ILA for their generous support.

Finally, it is with a note of sadness that I announce the departure of our energetic and creative associate director, Erik Owens, to take over as director of international studies program here at Boston College. I am happy to report that our very talented and hard-working graduate assistant, Jack Nuelle, will be filling in next year as interim program director as we undertake a search for Erik’s replacement. Erik offers his own set of reflections on his years here at the Boisi Center in this newsletter, but all of us here wish him Godspeed and continued success in his new endeavors. I was delighted to meet many of you at our events this past year, and I look forward to seeing you again in the fall.

-Mark Massa, S.J.

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