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A Symposium of Intellectual Powerhouses

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A Symposium of Intellectual Powerhouses

The Dome of Creation in Venice, Italy, expresses human gratitude for the divine gift of creation. A few years ago, a key Vatican official — the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — wrote to Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., university president, requesting that Catholic University look into organizing a symposium.

A short time thereafter, that prefect — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — became Pope Benedict XVI, and now, after more than two years of planning, the university is finalizing preparations to host a first-of-its-kind international symposium, tailored to the pope’s request.

That symposium, hosted by CUA’s Center for Law, Philosophy and Culture, will ask whether today’s global culture can reclaim an original attitude of acknowledgement of — and respect for — the gift of existence that historically informed the world’s moral and cultural traditions. It will ask, as well, whether, by doing so, that culture can bolster its capacity for the moral insight needed to address the world’s pressing problems. The symposium will seek to elicit ideas advancing a more widely shared understanding of these questions and the answers they provoke.

Titled “A Common Morality for the Global Age: In Gratitude for What We Are Given,” the symposium will feature 22 speakers who constitute a “who’s who list” of leading philosophers, political scientists and theologians from around the world, says William Wagner, director of the CUA center and a professor at the Columbus School of Law. The symposium is scheduled for March 27–30, 2008.

A first-rate scholarly gathering takes years of planning, says Wagner. But he described the cardinal’s letter to Father O’Connell as “conceptually brilliant, providing an excellent protocol for developing a cogent symposium.”

Some of the highlighted speakers include Rev. John Polkinghorne, a leading particle physicist and the president emeritus of Cambridge University’s Queens’ College, who will discuss “The Christian Belief in Creation and the Attitude of Moral Accountability,” and Princeton University’s Robert George, who will deliver a paper on “Natural Law, God, and Human Rights.” Cardinal Angelo Scola, patriarch of Venice, Italy, will give the keynote address, “The Luminousness of Being and the Light of Moral Insight,” via video.

Other noted speakers will include Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University, author of a work on Christian social ethics that was named one of the 100 most important books on religion in the 20th century; Paul Vitz of New York University, who has written several books on the relationship of Christianity and psychology; and Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago, a prolific author on the connections between political and ethical convictions.

The conference, Wagner stresses, is an ecumenical one: About half of the speakers will be non-Catholics. Cardinal Ratzinger’s objective was to dialogue across national boundaries, combining a Christian sponsorship with a broader universality that would allow for a common conversation. The shared question, says Wagner, is whether the global community can find access to an underlying attitude of respect for the gifts of existence, which can give it a capacity to recognize moral truths necessary to respond to critical moral questions. Two examples of such questions include the stewardship of the earth and humanitarian response to international conflict. The symposium seeks to re-explore the core meaning of what the Catholic tradition terms “natural law” and to uncover parallel and converging directions in the world’s other religious and moral traditions.

“Outstanding” is the way Father O’Connell describes Wagner’s efforts in organizing the symposium. “Professor Wagner has gone out and recruited the finest minds we have, to grapple with issues that are universal, complex and deserving of the most serious scrutiny. We are honored that His Holiness invited Catholic University to organize this symposium and pleased to fulfill a role that is so consonant with our mission.”

To view the complete program for the symposium, see http://law.cua.edu/CLPC/internationalsymposium.cfm.

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Revised: November 2007

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