This weekend I’m at the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) annual conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I spent last weekend at the College Theology Society (CTS) annual meeting at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. In between these meetings, the Black Catholic Theologians (BCT) and the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) held a joint meeting in Albuquerque. Add into this mix the Academy of Catholic Theology (ACT) which meets toward the end of May in Washington, DC, and you have a lot of meetings.
Conferences can be energizing and exciting. Going means you not only get to hear good research but also talk about it with smart people. Many people do one, a lot do two, and some end up doing three of four. It is difficult and challenging to do this, but the problem, I think, is more than just exhaustion. I see the current divisions working against three principles of Catholic Social Teaching
First, it is a system that is the hardest on the poorest of those in theology. Graduate students, adjuncts, and contingent faculty often are not supported by their institutions to travel to conferences. Moreover, those working at colleges and universities on a strict budget struggle to get funding to cover one conference completely, much less three or four. As only about 35% of faculty are tenure or tenure track, it means a large portion of theologians struggle to be present at and participate in these conversations.
Second, it is a system that works against the common good of the theological enterprise. If our end is the advancement of theological understanding, this becomes difficult if our societies are isolated from one another. In going to one meeting, we miss going to the others, and so we struggle to be “catholic” in the sense of “wholeness” or “completeness.” This problem is not solved by an absorption of each societies into one large society. This would be the loss of each and so a loss for all, the opposite of the common good. Instead, I mean some way these societies could be in conversation with each other, advancing our understanding of the God who is love.
Finally, it is a system that works against solidarity, both structurally and personally. Structurally, we end up belonging to different societies, and these societies compete for members, dues, and conference attendees. Personally, different groups of people attend different meetings, so we get to know fewer people and make fewer friends. Our relationships become more purely academic and less personal.
Given these structural problems, it doesn’t surprise me that the organizations that lessen the strain of multiple conferences in a short amount of time are ACHTUS and BCT who held a joint meeting right before and in the same city as CTSA. For those that attended these meetings, it meant one trip. Something like this seems to be the right approach. It enables more people to participate in more meetings, preserves the distinctiveness of the societies so that they can contribute to the overall good of theology, and brings societies closer together to talk with each other. I’m not sure how to bring this about for all of these groups, but it seems like ACHTUS and BCT are a good example of how to start.