In This Section

Deitchman Family Lectures on Religion and Modernity

This series explores the place of religious and spiritual life in a world that is sometimes at odds with faith, other times in search of it, and always at work reshaping it.

Spring 2023 Lecture:

Can Robots Feel Pain? Theorizing AI from Ibn Rushd’s ‘Science of the Soul’

Monday, February 13, 2023
4:30 p.m., Rehm Library

Sylvester Johnson

In an age of intelligent machines and human-machine synthesis (cybernetics), how might experts in the study of religion interrogate the capacity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to think, be sentient or feel pain? In this lecture, Sylvester Johnson,  founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities, interprets theoretical claims about the “science of the soul” in work of Ibn Rushd (Averroës), the 12th-century Islamic scholar of Andalusia who achieved renown as the father of secularism and leverages Rushd’s distinction between sensing and knowing in order to examine contemporary, sensory-driven AI technology (particularly brain-computer-interface architectures) as a uniquely generative problem of interest for humanists and technical experts alike.

Fall 2022 Lectures:

Contemplation in an Age of Anger 

Brian Robinette

Thursday, October 20, 2022
Watch the lecture online»

Inspired by Thomas Merton’s classic essay, “Contemplation in a World of Action,” Brian Robinette, associate professor of theology at Boston College, explores the importance of contemplative practice in the midst of widespread social upheaval. Focusing on the challenges of polarization, social resentment, and empathy fatigue, the lecture draws upon both Christian and Buddhist contemplative traditions in order to help us rediscover and cultivate sustainable resources of wisdom, compassion, and hope.

Confronting America's Real Sister Act: Black Catholic Nuns in United States History

Shannen Dee Williams

Thursday, November 10, 2022
Watch the video»

For many people, Whoopi Goldberg's performance as Sister Mary Clarence in "Sister Act" is all they know of African American nuns and the desegregation of white Catholic sisterhood in the United States. The real story, explains Shannen Dee Williams, associate professor of history at the University of Dayton and authorof "Subversive Habits" (Duke University Press, 2022), is of a radical group of Black women and girls called to the sacred vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, who fought against racism, sexism, and exclusion to become and minster as consecrated women of God in the Roman Catholic Church. In this talk, she turns attention to women's religious life as a stronghold of white supremacy and racial segregation, and thus an important battleground in the long African American freedom struggle.

Lectures Online

Click on the lecture title for a link to the video.

March 31, 2022
Hans Zollner, S.J. | Justice and Care: Reflections around Past and Current Abuse and Safeguarding in the Church
Rev. Hans Zollner, S.J., founder and president of the The Centre for Child Protection, now the Institute of Anthropology, at the Pontifical Gregorian University and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, describes responses to the global crisis of abuse by Catholic clergy reported over the last 20 years and what needs to be done to administer justice, care and mercy.

March 16, 2022
Brenna Moore | Fragments of Friendship: Spiritual Undercurrents of the Global Catholic Resistance to Fascism
Brenna Moore, professor of theology at Fordham University, explores a remarkable network of Catholic historians, theologians, poets, and activists who formed "Spiritual Friendships" as a form of resistance to the rise of fascism in the early to mid-20th century.

November 16, 2021
Ross Douthat and Matthew Sitman | What Has American Politics Done to the Catholic Church?
Holy Cross President Vincent Rougeau leads a discussion with Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times and author of To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, and Matthew Sitman, associate editor of Commonweal, who hosts "Know Your Enemy," podcast critical of the right. The three talk about the entanglements of politics and religion, advantages and drawbacks, and whether and how to decouple them.

November 8, 2021
Kalpana Jain | Politics in the Name of Lord Rama in Narendra Modi's India 
Kalpana Jain, an award-winning journalist and senior religion and ethics editor at The Conversation US, discusses how politics is being reshaped in India and religious sentiments are being mobilized under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

September 16, 2021
Teresia Hinga | African, Christian, Feminist and More: Mapping and Engaging African/a Women’s Theo-ethical Footprint in the Age of Globalization
Teresia Hinga, associate professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University and a founding member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, traces the historical footprint of African/a women’s theology and ethics, highlighting key themes, roadblocks to flourishing, and proposals for morally viable ways out of the precarity that characterizes the lives of women and children.

February 19, 2020
James Chappel | A Church Renewed: Sex, Capitalism, and the Making of Modern Catholicism
Drawing on his recent book, “Catholic Modern” (Harvard University Press, 2018), James Chappel, Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History at Duke University, describes the transformation of the Catholic Church in the 20th century, weaving themes of sex, economic depression, fascism, Communism, and war.

November 14, 2019
Holland Cotter | Believe in Belief: Looking at Religious Art — Holland Cotter, co-chief art critic of The New York Times, will speak on his approach to viewing and critiquing religious art. In connection with the Cantor Art Gallery exhibition Dharma and Puṇya: Buddhist Ritual Arts of Nepal.

September 26, 2019
John Guy | Crowns of Transformation: How Vajrācāryas become Bodhisattvas
John Guy, Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of the Arts of South and Southeast Asia at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, describes the ritual use of Vajrācāryas crowns and the windows that their contemporary use provides into the medieval Indian origins of these key objects of Vajrayana practice. His talk is in conjunction with the Cantor Art Gallery exhibition Dharma and Puṇya: Buddhist Ritual Arts of Nepal.

September 19, 2019
Daniel Philpott | The Islam Question: Why Religious Freedom is the Answer
Daniel Philpott, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, drawing on his book “Religious Freedom In Islam” (Oxford University Press, 2019), intervenes in our culture war over Islam, arguing that religious freedom can contribute to finding a consensus, showing why and how religious freedom can be expanded in the Muslim world, and how the Catholic Church's own journey to religious freedom can help.

April 9, 2019
Is Theistic Belief Rational in a Scientific Age? — A dialogue between a William Lane Craig and Jeff Hester on theism, atheism and science. Named by The Best Schools as one of the 50 most influential living philosophers, Craig is research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University. An astrophysicist, Hester is well known for his work with the Hubble Space Telescope. He is professor emeritus in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.

April 1, 2019
Derek Chang | A New Curve in the Well-Known Color Line: Race, Respectability, and the Multi-Racial South
Derek Chang, associate professor of history and Asian American studies at Cornell University, discusses how Chinese Americans in 1920s Mississippi turn to white churches for education, racial and social mobility. Chang is author of “Citizens of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century” (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). Co-sponsored with Asian Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies.

March 19, 2019
Rev.  Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J. | Of Ancient Deities and Modern Gods: Making sense of the promises and pathologies of religion and faith in Africa
Drawing on his most recent book, “Religion and Faith in Africa: Confessions of an Animist” (Orbis, 2018), Rev.  Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J., president of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, offers a critical assessment of contemporary African religious experience and the tension between ancient and modern religious traditions, beliefs and practices, which continue to shape the past and present of Africans.

February 26, 2019
Samuel Moyn | The Christian Invention of Human Dignity
Samuel Moyn, the Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School and Professor of History at Yale University, traces the idea of human dignity to the rise of Christian democracy across Europe in the late 1930s and 1940s. Moyn is author of "Christian Human Rights" and "Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World."

November 28, 2018
Willie Jennings | Finding the Essence of Christianity in Racial America
Willie Jennings, associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale Divinity School, addresses what he calls a Christian crisis in America and suggests how we might articulate the essence of Christianity for this moment. Jennings is the author of "The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race" (Yale, 2010).

October 15, 2018
Fenggang Yang | Is China the New Roman Empire? Christian Growth in China and Global Implications Fenggang Yang, professor of sociology and director of the Center on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University, talks about the social and cultural factors for rapid growth of Protestantism and Catholicism since 1980. He is author of “Atlas of Religion in China” (Brill, 2018). Part of the McFarland Center's initiative on Catholics & Cultures.

September 17, 2018
Robin Jensen | The Holy Cross: Symbol of Victory and Sign of Salvation
Robin Jensen, the Patrick O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, considers reasons for the late emergence of the cross and crucifix in early Christian art and illustrates how their earliest examples of the Holy Cross evolved as a symbol of victory and imperialism to suffering and salvation.

April 23, 2018
Randy Boyagoda | “My Flannery O’Connor Problem, and Yours: Being a Catholic Novelist in 2018
Randy Boyagoda, a Catholic writer and professor of English at the University of Toronto, discusses the challenges of trying to write religiously serious fiction today, when the terms for doing so are often overdetermined by the outsized influence and popularity of writers like Flannery O’Connor and Marilynne Robinson. He then reads a preview from his forthcoming novel, "Original Prin."

October 24, 2017
Charles Camosy | Beyond the Abortion Wars: Finding a Way Forward in a Time of Polarization
Charles Camosy, associate professor of theological ethics at Fordham University, argues that despite the deeply divisive rhetoric on the issue of abortion, most Americans' beliefs fall along a spectrum where it is possible to find common ground. He is author of "Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation" (Eerdmans, 2015).

October 23, 2017
Book Launch: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits
Rev. Thomas Worcester, S.J., general editor, and Rev. James Corkery, S.J. and Alison Fleming, associate editors, share some of the interesting items and visual richness that can be found in the pages this new volume spanning the Jesuits’ 500-year history. They also talk about the years-long process to bring the book from concept to completion. Co-sponsored with the College Committee on Mission and Identity.

October 4, 2017
Julie Hanlon Rubio | Dare We Hope for Common Ground?
Julie Hanlon Rubio, professor of Christian ethics at St. Louis University and author of “Hope for Common Ground” (Georgetown University Press, 2016), draws on moral theology and Catholic social teaching for resources on how we can find common ground with people with whom we disagree politically.

April 6, 2017
Cyril O’Regan | The Gift of Modernity
Cyril O’Regan, the Huisking Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, speaks to the ambiguity of modernity from a Catholic theological and philosophical point of view. Using Charles Taylor's overarching narrative of modernity as a framework, he addresses responses and justifications of those who accept modernity as a gift, those who reject it, and those who view it with ambiguity and doubleness.

March 23, 2017
Kevin Madigan ’82 | The Crusades and Crusaders: History and Historiography
Kevin Madigan ’82, Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Harvard Divinity School, offers a historical perspective on what the Crusades were and reflects on the historiography of the Crusades from the late 19th century onward.

February 21, 2017
George Weigel | St. John Paul II on the Free and Virtuous Society: Democracy, the Market, and Culture
George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading public intellectuals. He explores the social teachings found in Pope John Paul II's encyclicals that connect culture, economics and politics. Co-sponsored with the Department of Political Science’s Charles Carroll Program.

November 29, 2016
John T. McGreevy | American Jesuits and the World: How an Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global
John T. McGreevy, I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, speaks about his newest book, which tracks Jesuits who left Europe for America in the mid-19th century and places them at the center of the worldwide clash between Catholics and liberal nationalists.

November 16, 2016
Miguel De La Torre | A Latinx Political Ethics for the Hopelessness of Our Community
Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics and Latino/a studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, argues for a Latinx political ethics which embraces hopelessness, and explores why such a move is more salvific for the oppressed than Eurocentric Christian thought. Co-sponsored with Latin American and Latino Studies and Peace and Conflicts Studies.

September 14, 2016
Kristin Heyer | Kinship with Migrants in the Year of Mercy
Kristin Heyer, professor of theological ethics at Boston College and author of "Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration" (Georgetown University Press, 2012), suggests reframing the immigration debate from one based on fears about threats to our security, economy and culture to one focused on human rights, worker rights and family ethics.

April 6, 2016
Rev. David Brown, S.J. | Catholicism and Science in the Modern Era: A New Rapprochement — Vatican Astronomer Rev. David Brown, S.J. talks about the Vatican Observatory and his roles there, as well as current research and trends in astronomy. He then considers the larger questions of the universe and how scientific work fits in with Catholic belief.

March 15, 2016
Robert Ellsberg and George Horton '67 | Dorothy Day: A Saint for Today
Robert Ellsberg, editor in chief and publisher of Orbis Books, worked with social justice activist Dorothy Day at the Catholic Worker and later edited her selected writings, diaries and letters. He speaks about her life and service and argues for her canonization. George Horton '67, Catholic Charities Director of Social and Community Development for the Archdiocese of New York, is working on Day's case for canonization and talks about the process under way.

February 29, 2016
Shaji George Kochuthara | Patriarchy and Gender: Understanding the Spiraling Incidences of Sexual Violence on Women in India
Shaji George Kochuthara, associate professor of theology at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, Bangalore, India, talks about the prevalent patriarchal society in India and how it contributes to escalating incidences of sexual violence and gender violence on women.

February 4, 2016
William Cavanaugh | Does Religion Promote Violence?
William Cavanaugh, director of Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and a professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul University, talks on the myth that religion is more prone to violence than secular orders. He is author of "The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict" (Oxford University Press, 2009).

November 18, 2015
Mary Jo Bane | Bringing Equal Opportunity for Children to an Unequal Society
Mary Jo Bane, Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management at Harvard Kennedy School, looks at what governments, the private sector, civil society and churches should do to make sure that all children can grow up to lead productive and fulfilling lives. Bane is former Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

October 5, 2015
Frank Graziano | Miraculous Images and Votive Offerings in Mexico
Frank Graziano, John D. MacArthur Professor of Hispanic Studies at Connecticut College, explores how Mexican devotees make petitionary and votive offerings to certain statues and paintings—the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Lord of Chalma, the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos—which are endowed with sacred presence and consequently have the power to perform miracles.  The talk is part of Catholics & Cultures.

September 24, 2015
Paul Bloom | Against Empathy
Paul Bloom, Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Cognitive Science Program at Yale University, draws upon his research into psychopathy, criminal behavior, charitable giving, infant cognition, cognitive neuroscience and Buddhist meditation practices to argue that empathy is a poor moral guide and we are better off without it.

April 23, 2015
Vincent Miller | Consumerism, the Architecture of Indifference, and the Work of Solidarity
Vincent Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, talks about how the full consequences of our consumption are hidden from us, and how we might change these shallow economic relationships to relationships of responsibility and solidarity. He is author of "Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture" (New York: Continuum, 2003) and working on a book about how globalization is affecting religious belief and communities.

October 28, 2014
Rev. Bryan Massingale | Unconscious Racial Bias and the Challenge of Solidarity: Catholic Social Teaching Post Trayvon Martin (and Michael Brown and ...)
Rev. Bryan Massingale, professor of theological ethics at Marquette University, is author of "Racial Justice and the Catholic Church" (Orbis, 2010). He explores the culture of unconscious racial bias, racially-select sympathy and racial isolation that make the shootings of unarmed Black men seem normal and reasonable. And he reflects on Catholic social teaching about solidarity and being our brothers' and sisters' keeper to address the problem.

October 23, 2014
David Yamane | How Do People Become Catholic? Formation, Incorporation, and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
David Yamane, associate professor of sociology at Wake Forest University, is author of “Becoming Catholic: Finding Rome in the American Religious Landscape.” He talks about the significance of Americans who convert to Catholicism and why, when the focus is more typically on those leaving the faith.

October 2, 2014
Vern Bengtson | Millennials, Parents, and Grandparents: Are families still passing on their faith?
Vern Bengtson, faculty research associate with the Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging at the University of Southern California, talks about his 2013 book, “Families and Faith: Generations and the Transmissions of Religion.” In the largest-ever study of religion and family across generations, Bengtson and his colleagues followed more than 350 families for nearly four decades to find out how religion is, or is not, passed down from one generation to the next.

April 8, 2014
Cathleen Kaveny | Prophetic Rhetoric in the Public Square
Legal scholar and moral theologian M. Cathleen Kaveny, the newly named Darald and Juliet Libby Professor at Boston College, will discuss how Catholics in a pluralistic society should frame their public discussion of controversial issues. She will analyze both effective and divisive forms of prophetic speech and suggest various ways in which the tension between truth and civility can be identified and managed. Read more.

October 29, 2013
Mary McAleese | Shared Responsibility: Re-imagining the Future of Governance in the Church
Mary McAleese is the popular former president of Ireland, serving two terms from 1997 to 2011, and author of "Quo Vadis? Collegiality in the Code of Canon Law" (Columba Press, 2013). She brings her experience in civil law and governance and her study of canon (church) law to a discussion of how authority might be more effectively shared in the church for the sake of realizing the vision of Vatican II.

March 18, 2013
Martin Nowak | God and Evolution
Martin Nowak, professor of biology and of mathematics and director of the program for evolutionary dynamics at Harvard University, proposes that cooperation is the third fundamental principle of evolution after mutation and selection. He also addresses the tension between science and religion and suggests that science does not disprove the existence of God, and evolution should pose as little a problem for religion as gravity.

February 18, 2013
Robert P. George | Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity
Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and founder and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. In this lecture, he explains that, according to natural law theory, all persons possess irreducible capacities for reason and freedom, and that moral norms are rooted in the good of human beings.

February 12, 2013
Pericles Lewis | The Burial of the Dead in the Modern Novel
Pericles Lewis, professor of English and comparative literature at Yale University, is assuming duties as president of the New Yale liberal arts college in Singapore. His talk explores the theme of the burial of the dead in the work of such authors James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, and William Faulkner.

November 7, 2012
Kenneth Parker | Coming to Terms with the Past: How our Understanding of the Christian Past shapes our Future
Kenneth Parker, associate professor of historical theology at Saint Louis University, will discuss how competing accounts of historical narrative are used to define the church today.

October 16, 2012
Bishop Robert W. McElroy | Catholicism, Citizenship and Conscience: What Does It Mean to Be a Faith-filled Voter in our Polarized Society?
Bishop Robert W. McElroy is auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and the author of "Morality and American Foreign Policy" (Princeton, 1992). He holds degrees in history, political science and moral theology from Harvard, Stanford and the North American College in Rome.

October 3, 2012
Rev. Paul Mariani, S.J. | Living in China's Highly Politicized Church Today
Rev. Paul Mariani, S.J., assistant professor of history at Santa Clara University, will talk about religious policy and conflict in the People's Republic of China since 1950 and how Catholics in China understand their faith today. He is author of "Church Militant: Bishop Kung and Catholic Resistance in Communist Shanghai" (Harvard University Press, 2011).

April 19, 2012
Eliza Griswold | Along the Boundary of Faiths: Christianity and Islam on the 10th parallel
Journalist and poet Eliza Griswold, author of The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, talks about her travels and research in North Africa and Central Asia, where high concentrations of Christians and Muslims live together.
Read the interview with Griswold by sociology major Emily Comstock '12

February 2, 2012
Lisa Sowle Cahill | Catholic Social Teaching, Bioethics and Justice
Lisa Sowle Cahill, the J. Donald Monan Professor of Theology at Boston College, talks about access to health care in the U.S. and globally from the perspective of a theological ethicist and progressive Catholic.

November 8, 2011
Philip Endean, S.J. | Ignatius Loyola and Why It's Not Quite Enough to Do What Jesus Would Do
Philip Endean, S.J., who teaches theology at Campion Hall, Oxford University, suggests that knowledge of God is more than any encounter with Jesus Christ and that Ignatian spirituality calls on believers to continue where Jesus left off.

October 18, 2011
Monica Duffy Toft | The Resurgence of Religion in Global Politics
Monica Duffy Toft, associate professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and director of the Initiative on Religion in International Affairs offers fresh perspectives on how and why religion's influence on politics is surging. Read more.

April 26, 2011
Diana Hayes | Standing in the Shoes My Mother Made: My Journey to Womanism
Diana Hayes, professor of systematic theology at Georgetown University, speaks on womanist theology and themes in her 2010 publication, Standing in the Shoes My Mother Made: A Womanist Theology.

March 16, 2011
Living with Hope in a Crucified World: Resurrection Faith, Ignatian Spirituality and Liberation Theology — J. Matthew Ashley, who chairs the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, shares a first glimpse of his new book on the impact of Ignatian spirituality on three 20th-century Jesuit theologians.
iTunes download»

November 8, 2010
Sacrifice and the Sacrifices of War — Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University Divinity School, a distinguished contemporary ethicist and pacifist, asserts that war is a moral practice and its Christian alternative is worship.
iTunes download»

October 5, 2010
An Ecological Inquiry: Jesus and the Cosmos — Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University, will explore the traditional role of Jesus Christ as Savior of the human race and consider if his teachings can be applied to a more bio-centric or cosmos-centric theology. Part of the yearlong series In Our Lifetimes: Environmental Changes and Stewardship.
iTunes download»

April 7, 2010
Understanding the Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults in America - Christian Smith, director of the National Study of Youth and Religion, shares findings from the third wave of NSYR data collection of 18-23 year olds.
iTunes download»

October 5, 2009
The Mission of the Church in the Asian Context— Peter C. Phan, the Ignacio Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, provides an overview of the history and current situation of Catholicism in South and East Asia and then discusses how Christian mission is to be understood in that context.
iTunes download»

September 28, 2009
Mystical Transfers, Local and Global: The Modernity of 'Folk' Catholicism in the Philippines — Smita Lahiri, associate professor of anthropology at Harvard University, talks about her research at Mt. Banahaw, a major center of folk-Catholic pilgrimage in the Philippines. 
iTunes download»

March 16, 2009
The Religious Enlightenment - David Sorkin, Professor of History and Frances and Laurence Weinstein Professor of Jewish Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison, presents a comparative Jewish, Protestant and Catholic intellectual history, and suggests that the Enlightenment, which gave birth to Modernity, should best be understood as a religious, not an anti-religious project.
iTunes download»

February 2, 2009
Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, visits from the Vatican to talk about the church's understanding of Christian responsibility for migrants, refugees and itinerant people.
iTunes download»