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CTSA Annual Meeting: Reflections

I just returned from the CTSA’s Sixty-Eighth Annual Convention in Miami Florida.  It was my first.  Since my days in graduate school (over a decade ago), I had long labored under the impression that the organization was exclusive, mainly for established scholars and only for certain schools of thought.

While this perception was partly my own biases, it was not a complete fabrication.  The conference organizers and society members emphasized and reemphasized the changes the organization was making to be more inclusive.  Moreover, they backed this up in practice.  The president-elect, Richard Gaillardetz, greeted me and expressed gladness that I was there.  The 2006-2007 President Dan Finn also welcomed me to the conference as did Jim Keenan, a board member.  At the banquet, I sat at a designated table for new members and enjoyed a conversation with Joe Zalot, the treasurer, about the Big Red Machine.

The papers themselves also expressed this attempt to build bridges across ideological boundaries.  In “Conversion of Heart and Home: Expanding the Marital Vocation to be Fruitful and Multiply”, Kari-Shane Davis Zimmerman and Kent Lasnoski came from two different sides of the theological spectrum to see what they could mutually affirm about the Church’s sexual ethics, finding common ground by expanding the notion of marital fecundity.

There was also the section “Conversion and Catholicity within the Guild of Theologians: Overcoming Barriers to Dialogue and Communion” where Christopher Ruddy and Christine Firer-Hinze explored in distinct but complementary ways to overcome divisions.  Ruddy’s paper was an exploration of Henri de Lubac’s thoughts on being a “truly ecclesiastic” theologian.  Set against the backdrop of de Lubac’s silencing, Ruddy explored how a theologian thinks with the Church.  It requires “a spirituality of communion and dialogue [that] is as demanding in its asceticism as a spirituality of the desert”.  It is also fraught with temptations.  Ruddy noted six set out by de Lubac:  self-centeredness, destructive criticism, superficial adaptation, “successful” adaptation, and elitism, spiritual worldliness.

Firer-Hinze’s paper provided a communal approach to addressing division.  Drawing on political science, she examined the importance of bonding and bridging types of social capital.  Bonding capital—social connections that foster cohesion—is the default mode for most of us. It is a necessary good as it provides security and comfort and prevents overwhelming anxiety and fear.  Bridging capital—social connections that link between groups—is also necessary.  It not only provides communication and peace between groups but also increases resources for each. Firer-Hinze then applied these concepts to the theological community noting that we have bonding groups—like the CTSA—but need to build more bridging capital between these groups.  As she concluded her paper she gave a shout out to this blog as an example of fostering bridging capital, especially noting our policy on comments.

We were grateful for the shout out, but it also forced those of us at the conference to reflect a bit on our own practices.  Were we as irenic and capaciously Catholic as we hoped? To be honest, we realized we struggle to live up to our goal to “avoid the standard ‘liberal /conservative’ divide that often characterizes contemporary conversation, as well as the bitterly divisive tone of so much ethical discussion”.  We’ve invited a diversity of people to be members of the blog, but it is hard to participate given time and previous commitments.  Then, as the blog progresses, it inevitably takes on its own perspective that might discourage some to participate.  Moreover, in attempting to build bridges, it becomes difficult to engage certain topics.  Same-sex marriage is perhaps the best example of this.

This was a moment of self-reflection, but one brought about by the CTSA and their attempts to reflect on their own boundaries.  I am happy that the conference and organization was much more than what my biases had led me to believe.  I hope to be there next year in San Diego.



  1. Terrific post, Jason. I too, wonder about the extent to which we’re able to bridge the divides we seek to bridge. Try our best, and participate in the Eucharist as the source of unity?

  2. Thanks for this post, Jason, especially the part about the Big Red Machine! 😉

    One thing, though: Toward the end you refer to “the CTSA and their” as if you are not a part of it. I am glad you are now a member and plan to attend next year. A number of us contributors to have been active for years now, including but not limited to David Cloutier, Julie Rubio, Chris Vogt, Meghan Clark and myself. Indeed, we have been not only members/attendees but participants. In short and to paraphrase, we have met the CTSA and they are us. I think this has been the case at least for several years now. So, welcome to the CTSA!

  3. Jason, thanks for getting conversation started and again- welcome to the ctsa!

    I just want to echo Tobias. I have been an active member of the ctsa since it was in Halifax four years ago and had the good fortune to present the last three years. I have found a welcoming and genuinely challenging dialogue from my first conference. It is that challenging dialogue on my work and that of others that I really think made me feel no longer like a student but a colleague when I joined.

    Ctsa has a history, but as chatting with some senior scholars about the first women to join….it is a fascinating and complex . As anne Patrick in her JC Murray acceptance speech noted, someone needs to write down the history! Catholic theology has come along way in the USA in the last 68 years. I have found the discussions where people tell stories over coffee and drinks to be the most fun –

    I wanted to say to Jana…we had mass at the Shrine of Our lady of charity which is significant to the Miami Cuban community. It was by far the best conference Eucharist I’ve ever been to and the music ministry for the shrine led all the music. We were the big group but there were pilgrims there too…I felt a sense of unity not only with the ctsa but with the pilgrims. It was amazingly beautiful

  4. Oh, and I neglected to note what a great paper Kathryn Getek Soltis gave this time! Plus Matthew Shadle consistently lives up to his ever-growing reputation for practicing a Catholic work ethic at CTSA (as well as CTS and SCE and beyond). Indeed, I believe the majority of contributors to have been active participants at all levels of CTSA for several years now. Maybe some of this is due to the CTSA’s efforts over the last several years to be more inclusive, but I don’t think that this had much to do with a good number of us, whether generationally or because of association with “certain schools of thought.” I think the narrative here is more nuanced. Nevertheless, I was delighted to see you in the fitness room with me that one morning!

  5. Thanks for the comments! They are extremely helpful. I would really like the more nuanced (and thus more truthful) narrative of the CTSA. From having worked at different institutions, I know that the more I knew the history, the better I understood the place. So, hopefully someone heeds Anne Patrick’s call. Also, what a great line, “we have met the CTSA and they are us.” Agreed! Thanks for the welcome!

  6. :) and I feel terrible for failing to note and name the many contributions Charlie Camosy makes at CTSA (and CTS and SCE) nearly every year!

  7. On Anne Patrick’s call: Some years ago Jeff Marlett (College of St. Rose) began a history of the CTSA, but he was unable to complete the project. He probably has some notes. I hope that the CTSA has in its ranks someone who can do what Sandra Yocum did for the College Theology Society in *Joining the Revolution in Theology.* (Sorry I had to miss what appears to have been a good meeting.)

  8. This is very encouraging. I just finished my PhD a month ago, but was not able to attend the CTSA. I really hope that I can go next June!

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