Religion professors ponder their role in modern era

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Elizabeth Johnson, the professor of theology at Fordham University, whose book was criticised by the US Bishops' Conference

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There’s not one habit or Roman collar in the crowd. As some 260 religion professors sit in an auditorium in New Rochelle, New York earlier this month, not one is wearing clerical garb. Most are dressed in skirts and blouses, shirts and ties, reports NCR Online.

Later, as professors present papers for the Iona College Theology Society’s annual convention, which revolved around the theme “They Shall Be Called Children of God: Violence, Transformation, and the Sacred,” a few carry their own children with them into breakout and plenary sessions.

Taken together, it’s a set of images that captures a social and cultural shift that has marked the field of theology in recent years -- and one that has made it more difficult for collaboration between bishops and theologians.

Thirty years ago, says Bradford Hinze, president of the society, “almost all” theologians were priests. That meant they had “pretty close relationships with their bishops.” They might play golf or racquetball together -- “there was a context to form a relationship.”

But today, Hinze said in an interview during the June 2-5 convention, “there is no context for these predominantly laypeople to form good relationships, living relationships, with [bishops.]”

“It all tends to get sorted out in terms of the prism of authority -- the bishops’ authority and their concern about the college or university.”

At the gathering, however, those concerns weren’t at the forefront. Coming together from across the country, the theologians were looking at more basic issues facing society.

The theme itself was chosen to acknowledge that we live in a society that’s “kind of surrounded” by “sacralized violence,” said Jesuit Fr. William Clark, an associate professor at College of the Holy Cross and one of a handful of clergy attending the gathering.

We need “to be able to think that through in some way,” said Clark. “When I say that I believe, and when I speak about God and I try to teach about prayer and so forth, where is all of this violence in the midst of all that?”

FULL STORY Religion professors' convention shows theology's lay face (NCR Online)

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