Society of Christian Ethics 2024 Annual Meeting

Future Scholars Interest Group January 4-7, 2024 

Call for Proposals: Methods in Christian Ethics: Ressourcement, Canon Deconstruction, and the Alternatives

Proposal Submission EXTENDED Deadline: July 31, 2023, 11:59 p.m.

Alasdair MacIntyre described the following dilemma that often occurs when scholars draw on thinkers from the past: “Either we read the philosophies of the past so as to make them relevant to our contemporary problems and enterprises, transmuting them as far as possible into what they would have been if they were part of present-day philosophy, or instead we take great care to read them in their own terms, carefully preserving their idiosyncratic and specific character so that they cannot emerge into the present except as a set of museum pieces.”1

In keeping with the theme of this year’s conference, the Future Scholars Interest Group invites papers that explore what it means to think with the historical figures of the Christian tradition whom we have encountered in our doctoral studies. What does it mean to engage past thinkers without making them images of our present problems or idiosyncratic museum pieces?

What makes turning to the past worthwhile given the past’s differences from us? If so, how do we turn to the past–whether a figure, a moment in history, or a text–without treating the past as a mirror or time capsule of nostalgia? Or should we reject turning to figures for our claims, looking instead at other methodologies to pursue our questions? Or should anachronism be embraced boldly? This paper invites proposals that reflect critically on various methodological approaches to Christian ethics. We particularly invite papers in three areas.

Ressourcement and its problems: As an influential movement born out of French Catholic theology, “ressourcement” stood for a hermeneutical approach to theology that stressed engagement with historical sources in order to creatively reinterpret past figures and texts with pressing questions. We are interested in papers that claim a ressourcement approach and demonstrate how a figure can shed light on contemporary social, economic, and political problems. For example, a paper might engage with recent work by political theologians like Vincent Lloyd that re-read figures in Black political thought in a “liberative” tradition of Black natural Law; or Eric Gregory’s ressourcement of the Augustinian tradition for proposals of civic virtue; or by Eleanor Stump’s engagement with Thomas Aquinas for insights about ever present questions about evil and suffering. What emerges from re-reading figures with explicit questions in mind about natural law, just war, political responsibility, evil, and so forth? Does turning to a figure, in fact, help us answer our present questions? Or does turning to past figures obscure more than illuminate? Would we gain more insight by focusing less on individual figures, but on a particular social movement, social location or place, an organization, or cultural artifact instead?

Canon deconstruction: Turning to the past is not without its risks. In the past several decades, various disciplines in the humanities have faced “canon wars,” battles fought over who is to be included over the list of figures that are taught in the classroom, studied in our dissertations, and present in our contemporary conversations. Worries about canon formation are accompanied by efforts at canon deconstruction. Given that educational spaces have unjustly erased valuable voices from discussions, to what extent do studying particular figures perpetuate canons, canons that are not worth having, that perpetuate exclusion and loss of scholarly insight? Do canons and the figures that constitute a canon serve any positive purposes in an
academic field? Might canons stand in for a particular mastery of a disciplinary interpretation (“liberative” theologian, “Catholic” ethicist, “critical studies” scholar), or a commitment to a particular kind of scholarly identity? Or ought we rid ourselves of the idea of a canon altogether?

Interdisciplinary Methodologies. Christian ethicists have long turned to methods that do not just involve past figures and their texts–they have drawn on ethnographies, cultural and material artifacts, histories, case studies, thought experiments, and data sets to construct their claims. These methodologies may not face the exact difficulties raised by MacIntyre, but they do face their own problems–such as deriving normative claims from empirical observations, or the difficulty of exploring first principles in light of wavering intuitions. This call also extends to those who have taken up non-figure based approaches to their research to show how their particular methodological approach illuminates a contemporary ethical, social, or political problem. How might ethnography illuminate aspects of ethical discourse or speech unnoticed by the ressourcement methodology? How might an analysis of a film or fiction throw light on issues of race or gender unnoticed by past figures? How might data analysis temper or alter the
conclusions of abstract theorizing about big categories like “freedom” or “politics” or “economy” or “debt” or “violence”?

In sum, this call for papers invites papers that forefront their reflections on a particular methodological choice. Strong papers will not merely discuss methodology in the abstract, but will offer a thesis, such as a particular claim about an ethical or political issue, a line of criticism, or an argument showing why one methodological approach is superior at resolving a particular problem at hand. Students are encouraged to incorporate their current research in their proposal, whether in their dissertation or otherwise.

Presentation of the papers will be followed by a response from Professor Mary Hirschfeld and a larger conversation among the interest group. Dr. Hirschfeld, Associate Professor of Moral Theology/Christian Ethics at the University of Notre Dame, works on the boundaries between theology and economics using an approach rooted in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. She has written on economic inequality, the technocratic paradigm, the financial crisis and the common good.

1 MacIntyre, Alasdair. “The Relationship of Philosophy to Its Past.” In Philosophy in History: Essays on the Historiography of Philosophy, 31–48. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Submission Guidelines:
Three 20 minute papers will be accepted from graduate students (MDiv, MAT, and other master degree programs accepted.) Before presenting, students must register for the conference, which includes student membership.

By the time of the conference, eligible students will be enrolled in a graduate program of study, will have applied for/renewed student membership with the Society of Christian Ethics for 2024, and will have paid the registration fees for the 2024 Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL. (Please note that those who do not attain/renew membership and register on time will forfeit their spot on the panel.)

Please submit your paper using this Google Form.

If you have any questions, please contact either Student Caucus Co-Convener:
Cait Duggan: [email protected]
Darren Yau: [email protected]

Due Date: Paper proposals must be received by 11:59 pm EST on July 31, 2023.

Note: Final papers must be submitted by December 1, 2023 in order to allow time for Dr. Hirschfeld to prepare a response. Late papers may be withdrawn from the panel.