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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

The University in the 21st Century: Thinking about Ethics, Persons, and Discourse

The 10th Annual Prophetic Voices Lecture

photo of Linden Lane

James F. Keenan, SJ
Boston College

Date: Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010
Time: 5:00PM
Location: Higgins 300

Abstract: It is not only the Church that needs to be thinking of ethics, but the university as well. While physicians, lawyers, nurses, business people, journalists, and others study the ethics specific to their professions, clergy and university professors receive no such training—and, in fact, often teach ethics for the other professions. Issues regarding accountability, transparency and equity are simply not part of the background of professorial preparation, so it is not surprising that some of the most enterprising unethical scams come from the university. 

So what to do? Fr. Keenan will argue that we start by dismissing the common view of the university as an anonymous but liberal space for the exchange of ideas, and replace it with an appreciation of the university as a place for people to develop ideas through discourse.  If we want to talk about the university as it could be—that is, through the lens of ethics—then we must focus on particular persons rather than abstract ideas. This is, he says, a very modest proposal, but an urgent one nonetheless.

Photo by Kris Brewer.

James F. Keenan, SJ, is the Founders Professor of Theology at Boston College. He has been a Jesuit of the New York Province since 1970, and an ordained priest since 1982. His research interests include: fundamental moral theology, history of theological ethics, Thomas Aquinas, virtue ethics, HIV/AIDS, genetics, and Church Leadership Ethics. Father Keenan received his BA from Fordham University, his MDiv from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and his STL, STD from the Gregorian University in Rome. As a professor at Boston College, he teaches many classes, including Virtue Ethics, Twentieth Century Catholic Moral Theology, and The Church and Ethics: Contemporary and Historical Cases. Among his many books, Father Keenan is recently the author of A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century: From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences (2010) and The Ethics of the Word: Voices in the Catholic Church Today (2010), co-author of Paul and Virtue Ethics: Building Bridges Between New Testament Studies and Moral Theology (2010), and co-editor of Transformative Theological Ethics: East Asian Contexts (2010).


In the News:

"Impasse and Solidarity in Theological Ethics"

by Fr. James F. Keenan, 2009
Speech given to the Catholic Theological Society of America

Fr. Keenan argues that, in order for the academy and the church to answer the call to solidarity and justice, these institutions must reverse the current trend towards individualism and isolationism.