In This Section


The Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture, in collaboration with faculty and departments, organizes conferences to delve deeper into topics integral to its mission. Most conferences are open to the college community and the public at large with pre-registration, and some content from past conferences is available here.

Spring 2021

The Intelligentsia in Russia: Spiritual and Moral Values

March 13-14, 2021

In preparation of their edited volume, "The Intelligentsia in Russia: Myth, Mission, Metamorphosis," Olga Partan, Associate Professor of Russian at Holy Cross, and Professor Sibelan Forrester of Swarthmore College virtually convene the book's contributors to present and solicit feedback on their draft work. The volume offers a multidisciplinary approach to addressing spiritual and moral missions of the Russian Intelligentsia, tracing its evolution over time from the 18th century to the post-Soviet era. View the schedule and register»

Past Conferences:

November 6-8, 2020
Divided Worlds? Contexts of the New Testament Then and Now—This virtual conference seeks to bring together scholars from two disciplines that have much in common but that have seldom been in conversation in recent times—New Testament studies and Classics. Sessions examine if and how the New Testament, an ancient collection of texts with its own distinctive set of religious, social, and rhetorical strategies, can serve as a helpful resource in understanding our obligations to take moral stands on issues that are dividing our world with increasing fury. Organized by Religious Studies and Classics faculty with support from the McFarland Center. View the conference schedule»

April 2-3, 2019
Readings from the Roots: Bible Translation and Its Impact — This two-day conference highlights a new, historically-sensitive translation of the Revised Common Lectionary intended to reduce the potential for anti-Judaism by enriching Christianity through its roots in Judaism. The conference will provide an opportunity for clergy and scholars to engage with the translation team and will feature talks by Taylor Burton-Edwards, Chair of the Consultation on Common Texts; Everett Fox, the Allen M. Glick Professor of Judaic and Biblical Studies at Clark University; Adèle Reinhartz, professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Ottawa; and a keynote by Mary C. Boys, vice-president of Academic Affairs and dean and the Skinner & McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at Union Theological Seminary, on "Seeing Judaism Anew: Jewish Christian Dialogue." The conference is supported by the Kraft-Hiatt Program for Jewish-Christian Understanding. Learn more»

April 11-12, 2018
Francis the Pilgrim: From Personal Devotion to Papal Diplomacy — This conference explores Francis’ own devotional life, as demonstrated through his pilgrimages and the symbols he chooses to surround himself with, as a starting point to interpret the papacy of Francis in its goals, objectives and outcomes. Speakers include Austen Ivereigh, London-based Catholic journalist and author of "The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope" (Henry Holt, 2014); Inés San Martín, an Argentinean journalist who covers the Vatican in Rome; Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J., senior analyst at Religion News Service and former editor-in-chief of the weekly Catholic magazine America; and Elise Harris, Rome correspondent for the Catholic News Agency. View the schedule»

Friday, March 16, 2018
Between the Sacred and the Profane: Love and Desire in Premodern China — This one-day conference focuses on the intersection of religion, literature, and the arts through examination of various circumstances by which the discourse of love and desire is represented, transmitted, transformed, and re-contextualized in traditional China. Held in conjunction with the Worcester Art Museum exhibition, “Dangerous Liaisons Revisited: Art and Music Inspired by the Chinese Tang Court." Co-sponsored with Asian Studies. View the schedule»

March 9-10, 2018
International Conference: Lived Catholicism from the Balkans to the Baltics — Europe’s history is permeated with the rich array of rituals and world views of Catholicism. On a local level, this history continues to inform the ways individual Catholics experience and understand the diverse practices and values that define Catholicism in various communities. This conference, held at Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Budapest, Hungary, offers scholars and observers an opportunity to attend to and study the diversity of Catholic practices in this region of Europe, from the Balkans to the Baltics, as well as the meaning of Catholicism in its various relationships with cultures. This conference is part of the McFarland Center's initiative on Catholics & Cultures. Learn more»

November 15-17, 2017
Religion, Protest, and Social Upheaval — The recent proliferation of social, political, and economic protest and populist expression, from Black Lives Matter to Hindu Nationalism, invites renewed exploration of religion's age-old power to fuel and shape cultural change. This conference brings together a diverse group of scholars across national and religious divides to examine the impact of religion on various social and political movements. Organized around six themes — nationalism, immigration, race, gender, ecological concern, and economics — the conference aims to illuminate the complex dynamics of religion in protest and social upheaval. Co-sponsored with Religious Studies. Learn more»

October 19-21, 2017
Rethinking the Afropolitan: The Ethics of Black Atlantic Masculinities on Display — Images, articles, and even a Guinness commercial about Congolese men known as sapeurs (the Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People) raises new ethical questions about how we read race, gender, and identity in images and texts. Sapeurs appear to be the epitome of  the "black dandy." However, these extravagantly dressed men also engage in friendly fashion competitions and do so against bleak West Central African urban landscapes. The conference aims to examine the intersections of  gender, race, and visual culture, in the Atlantic, spanning Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe from the 16th century to the present. Learn more and watch the keynotes by Silvio Torres-Saillant and Robert Trent Vinson.

April 21-22, 2017
Tolstoy and Spirituality — This conference explores Leo Tolstoy's controversial quest to re-examine and revitalize Christianity. His highly original, almost paradoxical view defended the moralizing mission of Christianity, maintained the innocence of nature, and blamed social institutions such as the State and Church for the "fallen" nature of our sins. Supported by the Rehm Family Fund. Learn more, view photos from the conference, and watch the keynote address by Mikhail Shishkin.

March 24-25, 2017
The Globalization of Science in the Middle East and North Africa, 18th-20th Centuries — This conference brings together scholars to explore important issues related to the history of science in the Middle East and North Africa region during the 18th-20th centuries — a critical period of change and modernization when Middle Easterners were concerned about rising power of European states and societies and the relative weakness of Islamic ones. All conference sessions are free and open to the public. Supported by the Rehm Family Fund. Learn more and watch the keynote address by Carla Nappi.

April 9-10, 2016
The Future of Scholarship on the Quran — What does it mean to study the Quran? This two-day workshop explores the relationship of traditional Islamic scholarship to Western academic study, considering matters such as who should interpret the Quran, what standards for scholarship should be set, and how scholarship can inform public conversation on the Quran. Featuring a keynote address by Ingrid Mattson, London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario. Learn more.

January 18-20, 2016
From Cradle to the Grave: Catholicism and Stages of Life in the Philippines — A rich variety of religious and cultural practices mark different steps in the journeys of Filipino Catholics here on earth. Such practices prepare us for important transitions in our lives and give us ways to express our hopes, gratitude, fears and faith. This conference is an opportunity to describe these diverse practices, to explore what they mean to the people who celebrate them, and to examine how they relate to the particular social and cultural contexts that give them meaning. Part of the Catholics & Cultures initiative, this conference was sponsored by the College of the Holy Cross and the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, Philippines, where the conference was held. Learn more.

January 12-15, 2015
Catholic Cultures, Indian Cultures: A workshop on rites, religiosity, and cultural diversity in Indian Catholicism - India is a multicultural society and home to three rites (Roman, Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara) within the Catholic Church. This unique combination has created a particularly rich and diverse context for Catholic religious life. This workshop will examine how Catholic life is practiced in India’s different cultural and Catholic contexts. The intent of the workshop is to move away from the often contentious jurisdictional issues surrounding the rites and instead focus on the perspectives gained from considering the lived experience of ordinary Catholics. Sponsored by Dharmaram Vidhya Ksetram and the College of the Holy Cross. Learn more.

November 14-15, 2014
Moral Sentimentalism and the Foundations of Morality — In recent years there has been a tremendous resurgence of philosophical interest in moral sentimentalism, an ethical and meta-ethical tradition first articulated in the context of the Scottish Enlightenment and particularly associated with David Hume and Adam Smith. This renewed interest in moral sentimentalism is best understood as being due to the convergence of a vigorous philosophical debate about the nature of and interdisciplinary research into the psychological mechanisms underlying our capacity for moral judgment and moral agency. The speakers highlight both the promises and potential pitfalls of moral sentimentalism and suggest ways of thinking through its problems. Co-sponsored with the Department of Philosophy.  Learn more.

April 3-4, 2014
Adam Smith: Moral Philosopher and Economic Theorist — This two-day event explores the ethical, political and economic thought of Adam Smith, the 18th century Scottish moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. Keynote speakers are Charles Griswold, Jr., a prominent Smith scholar and professor of philosophy at Boston University, and Ryan Patrick Hanley, associate professor of political science at Marquette University. Part of the Charles Carroll Program, this event is co-sponsored with the Department of Political Science and the McFarland Center.
Learn more, and watch the videos.

March 28-29, 2014
Celebrating Philosophy: A Dialogue on the Nature of of Morality, Reality and Knowledge — This two-day undergraduate conference, sponsored by the McFarland Center, the Office of the Dean, and the Department of Philosophy, explores themes such as Divinity & Morality; the Rationality of Religious Belief; Mind, Perception & Knowledge; Art, Morality & The Social Sphere; Forgiveness and Repentance; Philosophy & The Arts; and finally, Vernunft! Owen Flanagan, the James B. Duke Professor at Duke University gives the keynote address on the “Varieties of Moral Possibilities." Learn more.

March 22-23, 2012
The Other America: Then and Now — This conference marks the 50th anniversary of The Other America, a seminal analysis on poverty in the United States by Holy Cross alumnus Michael Harrington '47. Speakers including Harrington's biographer Maurice Isserman, David O'Brien, Thomas Sugrue, Peter Dreier, and Alan Wolfe explore the impact of Harrington's book during the 1960s and '70s and its influence on the development of Great Society programs. On the second day of the conference, events focus on the "other America" of today - including policies to address poverty, mass incarceration, child farm workers, marginalized men, and youth and education - featuring a keynote address by Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson, and with guest speakers including Annette Lareau, Bruce Western, Timothy Black and Zama Coursen-Neff. Learn more and watch the videos here.

April 1-2, 2011
"Let Justice Roll Down" - A Conference on the Practice and Pedagogy of Organizing in the 21st Century — This conference examines community organizing as a strategy for addressing poverty and inequality in the United States. Leading scholars and practitioners come together to consider how community leadership development can impact local and national policy, and what pedagogical tools are best suited to train a new generation of organizers. The conference seeks to pull together new ideas from scholarship, field organizing work, and policy leaders to best respond to 21st century political, social and economic challenges. View the conference agenda.
Listen to Mark Warren's keynote speech online: Free iTunes Download

January 27-28, 2011
Framing Mary: The Mother of God in Modern Russian Culture
This working symposium offered in partnership with the Museum of Russian Icons will bring together scholars of Russian literature, religious history and art history to focus on the various ways the iconic image of Mary has been used to frame and shape Russian national, cultural and spiritual self-expression. The symposium will result in a volume on the Mother of God in modern Russia to be edited by Amy Adams, associate professor of Russian literature at Holy Cross, and Vera Shevroz, associate professor of religion at Smith College. Learn more.

December 3, 2010
Religion and Reason in the American Founding
This one-day conference explores the confluence of biblical and enlightenment ideas that the American founders wrestled with to shape American polity and civil society. Jonathan Israel, professor of modern European history at the Institute for Advanced Study and one of the world's leading historians of the Enlightenment, will give the keynote address. Other speakers include: Carla Mulford, associate professor of English at Pennsylvania State University; Vincent Phillip Munoz, associate professor of political science at Notre Dame; and Robert Faulkner, professor of political science at Boston College. Learn more. View the publication.

March 18-19, 2010
Biological Foundations of Morality? Neuroscience, Evolution and MoralityConference video available online!
This two-day conference considers the latest developments in neuroscience to approach discussions on morality. How does what we are learning about the brain influence how we ought to think about ethics? Speakers include Michael Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara; Patrick Haggard, a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London; ethicist Robert Kane '60, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Texas at Austin; James Blair, chief of the Unit on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience in the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, National Institute of Mental Health; and others. Learn more.

April 10-12, 2008
Art, Creativity, and Spirituality in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov - A conference organized by Professor Predrag Cicovacki, Department of Philosophy.
Learn more. See the publication.