Doing theology in dangerous times focus of Loyola Institute public lecture

5 February 2018

Can Christian theology can help us to understand the world of today? This was the question explored in the first instalment of the Loyola Institute’s Spring lecture series held on Wednesday, January 31, 2018. 

Focusing on the challenges of political chaos, financial instability, environmental crisis, and the massive demographic upheaval of migrants and refugees, Dr Michael Kirwan SJ, Adjunct Associate Professor, Loyola Institute, explored our 'apocalyptic' crisis, drawing on an important religious thinker, René Girard (1923-2015).

Entitled 'Stand upright and raise your hand! Doing theology in dangerous times' the talk was the first of four public lectures to be hosted by the Loyola Institute.

“How can Christian theology help us to understand the world of today? We seem to be in 'meltdown', reeling under the challenges of political chaos, financial instability, environmental crisis, and the massive demographic upheaval of the migrant situation. It is easy to describe our situation as 'apocalyptic'- but what does this term mean? The last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation or 'Apocalypse', can help to make sense of our situation. It shows the viciousness of oppressive political power, tells of its dramatic downfall, and celebrates those who persevere in faith. At the end of the book is the glorious political vision, the appearance of the New Jerusalem.”

“But the book presents temptations, as well as comfort and hope. Reading Revelation, it is easy to fall into an uncompromising antagonism between the church and the world. If it is not handled with care, this way of thinking can fuel resentment and self-righteousness retribution. My talk explored our 'apocalyptic' crisis, drawing on an important religious thinker, René Girard (1923-2015). Girard describes his insights as 'apocalyptic'; he sees our various crises as edging toward a 'tipping point', a frightening escalation. It is difficult to see how politics can help us any longer. For Girard, only the gospel message contains the truth we need to survive, this in turn will require a very different way of doing politics.”

Also participating in the lecture series will be Dr Patrick Riordan SJ, Campion Hall, Oxford, who will give a public talk on the origin and meaning of the concept of 'common good' on Wednesday, February 28th. Although the common good is central in Catholic social thought, its origins are not biblical, but philosophical and political, according to Dr Riordan. In his talk he will analyse how the concept of common good has developed following its adoption in Christian thought. He will also consider whether secular politics in a pluralist society afford to use a notion which is so heavily resonant with religious meaning.

Later in the lecture series, former MEP and recently appointed deputy governor of France’s central bank Sylvie Goulard will discuss the role of Christianity, in particular Catholicism, in counteracting tendencies towards fundamentalist nationalist identities in contemporary Europe in a lecture entitled 'Brexit and Europe, a political and spiritual challenge' on Wednesday, March 28th, 2018.

Upcoming lectures in the series:

  • 28th February: ‘Does Common Good Mean Anything?’ —Dr Patrick Riordan SJ Dean of Discipline and Fellow in Political Philosophy & Catholic Social Thought, Campion Hall, Oxford
  • March 28th: 'Brexit and Europe, a political and spiritual challenge' —Sylvie Goulard, Deputy Governor, Banque de France
  • 12th April: Catholic Teaching on War and Peace:Old Problems and New Directions — Prof Lisa Sowle-Cahill, J. Donald Monan Professor, Boston College

Commenting on the lecture series, Dr Fáinche Ryan, Director of the Loyola Institute said: "With this year’s Loyola Lecture Series we continue our mission of fostering creative and critical engagement between theology, Church and society. Our canvas is wide, and the questions contemporary. Issues such as war and peacemaking, and our common future in Europe in the context of Brexit will all be discussed. Our context is theological, and so the first lecture of the series will address the challenge of ‘doing theology in dangerous times’. It promises to be an interesting series of lectures.

The Loyola Institute is an academic unit within Trinity's Confederal School for Religions, Peace Studies and Theology, which provides teaching and research in all aspects of theology in the Catholic tradition. 

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