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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

December 2019


It’s been a busy but rewarding fall semester at the Boisi Center, with many good things going on.

Our two faculty seminars—a lunch seminar on “Catholic and Jesuit Education: BC’s Mission” and a dinner seminar focused on the person and work of Dorothy Day—have been the scenes of exciting interchange and thoughtful debate. Both seminars are models of interdisciplinary conversation, with faculty from the departments of sociology, English, philosophy, political science, and the schools of education, nursing, and theology and ministry. As one participant said after an especially lively meeting, “This is what I thought being a professor would be like when I decided to go to graduate school.” (High praise from a hard grader!)

We started our events calendar this fall before a standing-room-only crowd when we hosted a panel discussing “How Would You Reform the Catholic Church?” Richard Gaillardetz (chair of BC’s theology department and regular commentator on the Catholic Church), Natalia Imperatori-Lee (noted scholar of Latinx theology and Catholic feminism), Bishop Mark O’Connell from the Archdiocese of Boston, and Phyllis Zagano (recently on the Vatican Commission to study the question of women deacons in the Catholic Church) kept the audience on the edge of their seats before audience members themselves joined the conversation.

Our third annual Wolfe Lecture (honoring Boisi’s founding director, Alan Wolfe) in early October hosted Sarah Stitzlein of the University of Cincinnati, whose recent book Learning How to Hope: Reviving Democracy Through Our Schools and Civil Society, offered provocative ideas about how to utilize public education to foster democratic values among dispirited citizens and alienated students. Co-sponsored by BC’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development, the lecture was followed by an insightful response by Christopher Higgins (a recent addition to the Lynch School’s faculty), which sparked a lively conversation between the speaker and a diverse audience composed of social scientists, interested BC neighbors, and students from BC’s ed school.

Two weeks later, the Boisi Center hosted an event entitled “What Is ‘Nature’ Today in Science and Theology?” – a panel discussion generated in part by the document issued last summer by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education repudiating the understanding of “nature” utilized in arguing for the rights of transgender persons. Welkin Johnson (chair of BC’s biology department), Julie Hanlon Rubio (University of Santa Clara), Andrea Vicini, S.J. (a physician and social ethicist in BC’s theology department), and myself approached the contested understanding of what “nature” means today among biologists, social ethicists, and religious historians. Needless to say, a lively and exciting conversation with the audience followed the panel discussion moderated by Richard Gaillardetz.

At the end of October, the Boisi Center sponsored a well-attended public conversation on the question, “Do the Democrats Have a Religion Problem?” Moderated by M. Cathleen Kaveny (professor at the BC Law School and theology department), speakers included Mark Silk (director of the Greenberg Center for Religion and Public Culture at Trinity College, Hartford), Michael Sean Winters (senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter), and Peter Skerry (professor of political science at BC). Moderator Kaveny masterfully curated the conversation both among the panelists and between the speakers and audience members.

Three lunch colloquia over the course of the semester brought scholars working on cutting-edge projects into close-knit conversations over lunch. Michael Serazio, a professor in BC’s communication department, offered a truly informative and provocative look into popular culture with his presentation “The Power of Sports: Media and Spectacle in American Culture,” showing how sports spectacle has borrowed (and in some cases, replaced) organized religion as the site of “transcendent” impulses. R. Ward Holder and Peter Josephson from St. Anselm College offered a mesmerizing look at America’s reigning “patron saint” of legal theory in “Religion and the Divided American Republic: Rawls’ Fault?” And Erick Berrelleza, S.J., a visiting scholar at the Boisi Center for the 2019-20 academic year, curated an intense discussion on the film Santuario, about the plight of “Juana,” an undocumented immigrant living for over two years in the “sanctuary” of an Episcopal Church in the face of government efforts to deport her.

I look forward to seeing you at our events next semester, which will kick off with the screening of Martin Doblmeier’s new film, “Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story” on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.

Mark Massa, S.J.

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