The Idea of Freedom

boy-1226964_1280“Amartya Sen is the person I most admire in post-war social science”, said Professor Stuart Corbridge, Durham’s new Vice-Chancellor. Evidently relishing the opportunity to escape the burdens of office and speak freely as a scholar, the VC was delivering part of a tag-team lecture together with myself and Dr Augusto Zampini-Davies, a theological advisor to CAFOD, and Dr Séverine Deneulin, a specialist on international development at the University of Bath. Our theme was “The Idea of Freedom: reading Amartya Sen from a Catholic perspective” and the four contributions fitted together rather well.

Professor Corbridge and I set the scene in terms of the general context of Sen’s work within welfare economics and his seminal contribution to the so-called “capability approach”, in which personal freedom is both the means and the end of development. We then heard a really lucid exposition by our two colleagues of the similarities and differences between Catholic Social Thought (CST) and the Capability Approach.

For Augusto Zampini-Davies, while there are some areas of tension, there is much common ground. I was struck by his comment that in Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si, we find that the main principles of CST – the common good, the universal destination of goods, subsidiarity, participation and solidarity – are to be understood as tools, what matters more is seeing ‘the signs of the times’ as they are, just as for Sen the Capability Approach provides a language for addressing social reality. There are three particular areas where CST can draw upon Sen’s approach: the need to hear the cry of the women, on whom global poverty weighs most heavily; a concrete perspective on the economic meaning of development beyond money income; and the understanding of a process of participation and dialogue.

Séverine Deneulin posed the reverse question: how can the Capability Approach draw on CST? She in turn identified three main areas: a more relational anthropology, beyond ethical individualism; a more realistic account of human weakness, including the manner in which individual freedom can produce structures of sin, which can only be redeemed through conversion at the level of community; and a stronger motivation, in the awareness of our common origin and mutual belonging, for exercising the personal responsibility to use our freedom to work towards greater justice.

I sensed that I was witnessing the formation of a new synthesis and that this collaborative lecture was outlining a truly fruitful way forward, both for academic research and the Church.

Audio of the full lecture together with the slides can be found here, and the slides are here: Sen final with all speakers.

Dr Mark Hayes holds the St Hilda Chair in Catholic Social Thought and Practice.MGH

The Tablet 175th Anniversay Conference

The Church as the Path to SalvationIn 1840, American Whig politician William Henry Harrison was battling Martin Van Buren for the American Presidency, Charles Darwin had just published The Voyage of the Beagle, the Queen Victoria Pub‘s namesake was overseeing the expansion of the British Empire, and Pope Gregory XVI was finalizing his decision to name Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti a cardinal, decades before the future Pius IX would lead the First Vatican Council toward the solemn definition of papal infallibility.  The year also marked the first edition of the international British Catholic journal The Tablet.

Widely seen as a preeminent standard of Catholic journalism in the United Kingdom and Ireland, the weekly periodical is currently celebrating 175 years of insight into the church’s inner workings and relationship to the wider world.  One of the highlight events marking the anniversary was a conference held from November 2-4 at Durham University titled “The Spirit of Catholic Renewal: Signs, Sources, and Calling.”

Some of the church’s most influential voices gathered in the Northeastern English countryside to discuss the shifting theological and political currents of our times.  Stanley Hauerwaus, Eamon Duffy, Paul Lakeland, Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, Anna Rowlands, Tina Beattie, Alana Harris, Timothy Radcliffe, Karen Kilby, Ormond Rush and Myriam Wijlens headed what was a remarkable intellectual marquee to completely sold-out crowds.  Though both Elizabeth Johnson and Cardinal Walter Kasper were unable to attend due to last minute personal issues, their important contributions continued to shape the three days of conversation.  Kasper’s paper was presented by Duffy and Rev. Anthony Currer of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.  Cambridge theologian Janet Soskice offered a stimulating response.

The days were incredibly full, with lectures and meetings running from early morning to well into the evening (and usually followed by informal conversation over pints and whiskey until even later).  Various Catholic and Anglican bishops participated in both the liturgies and the sessions, a wonderful sign of collaboration and articulation of the fact that those recognized by Catholics as the authentic teachers of the faith are also excited to learn from others in the church and society. A quick walk through the book stalls attested to the popular and scholarly contributions the attendees and speakers have made to the life of the church in the English-speaking world.

As is commonplace with The Tablet, the participants did not shy away from analyzing the challenges facing the church in these complicated times, both in terms of divisive societal issues and the internal debates unfolding in the wake of the recent synod.  Of course, Pope Francis’s vision of the church’s mission and future loomed large in nearly every session, though the attention to his office and personality was counterbalanced by some interesting points about the “macrocephalic” attitudes toward the papacy in recent centuries when compared to the long history of Christianity. Duffy, Kasper, and event host Paul D. Murray have long emphasized the importance of the local church in ecclesiology, while of course remaining respectful of the papacy’s unique role in Catholicism. According to thinkers in this camp, the Modernist crisis, ongoing ultramontane attitudes, and a pattern of centralizing authority in Rome in the years immediately before and since The Tablet’s founding have given the church an abnormally large “head.” To employ a different metaphor brought to light by Alana Harris, the current pope seems to be inverting the pyramid, especially in terms of his recognition of the role of lay popular piety, the preferential option for the poor, and the sensus fidelium.  As is well known, one of the ancient descriptions of the papacy is the servus servorum Dei, the Servant of the Servants of God.  Many in the church, even among the hierarchy, seem excited about these developments.  While certainly not all agree that Francis’ decisions have been unqualifiedly positive or helpful, most of the participants in this conference agreed that synodal and collegial ecclesiastical structures serve to address pathologies and keep the Body of Christ healthy and relevant to all people of good will, whether believers or not.  In so doing, they further evangelization efforts and the church’s raison d’etre.

It was a wonderful few days, and information about it and relevant resources can be found on the website of the Department of Theology and Religion’s Centre for Catholic Studies, fast becoming the ever-growing hub of academic and spiritual Catholic life in Britain, and one with international ties.

Michael M. Canaris is a former postdoctoral researcher in the Centre for Catholic Studies. He is now Assistant Professor of Ecclesiology and Systematic Theology and Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies.

Durham University Theology Society Trip to Rome 2015

Durham, Theology Society, Vatican

Nicolete Burbach, Grace Tseng, Olivia Fluck, Hannah Peat, John Baptist, ​Georgie Moore, Marie Flanagan, Sarah Crozier, Millie Swan, Tristan Marris.  Front row kneeling: Lucinda Murphy, Lloyd Brown, Janelle Small, Julia Puddicombe, and Ricky Whitefield.

From the 17th-20th March the Theology society led a trip to Rome. It was an amazing experience to visit Rome and Vatican City with such lovely likeminded people.

Our accommodation was close to the centre of the city and we were able to get to all of the main attractions easily. Our visit to the general papal audience on the Wednesday morning was certainly a highlight, we were able to secure a shout-out for our group during the event, which read: ‘From England an ecumenical group of theology students from Durham University’. After the audience Hannah and I were fortunate to meet Pope Francis in person, even managing to take a selfie with him. Continue reading

Dr. Marcus Pound in Conversation

Marcus Pound, Durham, Theology, Catholic Studies, Zizek, Lacan

Dr. Marcus Pound

Dr Marcus Pound, Lecturer and Assistant Director of the Centre for Catholic Studies at the University of Durham, shares with Premier’s Ian Britton about his early life in Sevenoaks, memories of the Eighties, his conversion to Catholicism and the theology of creation.  Listen to what he has to say on Christian Premier Radio (North East & Cumbria).

Dr. Marcus Pound.  Dr. Pound is a lecturer in the Department of Theology and Religion and the Assistant director of the Centre for Catholic Studies.  His interests are theology at the intersection of continental philosophy, and psychoanalysis as well as receptive ecumenism.  Dr. Pound’s theological approach is greatly influenced by the French post-war Catholic theological movement called Ressourcement theology and currently supervises post-graduate research students that focus on the intersection of theology, social theory, and continental philosophy. More information can be found on the Contributors page and the Department website.