Can Catholic Theology Thrive at a Public University?

Millennial writer Nichole Flores has a new article at America:

Moving from Saint Anselm’s college to a public university, I was confronted with questions about how I would teach the Catholic theological tradition in an institution founded, in part, to keep theology on the margins of academic discourse. Thomas Jefferson gave architectural representation to this commitment by replacing the chapel typically located at the center of universities with a library housed inside of the gleaming Rotunda. I faced a barrage of questions from my former colleagues: Why would a Catholic theologian want to work in such an environment? Is it possible to translate the richness of the Catholic tradition without transgressing the boundary between church and state? How can you shed light on the Catholic tradition without stating anything as truth?

I shared their concerns: Could I really teach theology, in its confessional fullness, at a public university?…

But while theologians working in the public university face unique challenges, I have also found they are uniquely positioned to articulate a public theology that can renew the church’s engagement with a religiously and politically diverse world. In a public university, the tradition is exposed to new lines of inquiry and criticism on a daily basis, illuminating new questions and seeing enduring ones in a new light. For example, the concept of human dignity in Catholic theology is robustly communal; human beings are created in the image of a specifically Trinitarian God. Arguing this idea in the public university, one is likely to receive opposition from several religious and philosophical traditions with more individualistic accounts of human identity. In the context of respectful and collegial dialogue, however, this conflict generates an opportunity ask important questions about one’s own tradition and the traditions of others. Does Catholic theology say enough about personal faith and individual rights? Do more individual-centered traditions say enough about social obligations or the necessity of a common good?

And as students bring their perspectives to bear on Catholicism, our theological tradition offers them essential resources for engaged citizenship in the 21st century. Catholic theology offers distinct and identifiable definitions of concepts like dignity, solidarity and mercy. As a global religion with adherents across the world from all walks of life, Catholicism offers a distinctive perspective on our common humanity and the necessity of justice and solidarity for the sake of societal flourishing.

You can read the full article here.