By Brendan W. Clark ’21
On Columbus Day, the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College held a conference at the Smith Alumni and Faculty House, titled “Natural Law & Co.: Making Faith-Based Claims in the American Public Square,” on Catholic law and natural rights. The conference, which was inspired by Mark Massa’s The Structure of Theological Revolutions: How the Fight Over Birth Control Transformed American Catholicism, included two panels of speakers addressing natural law and its alternatives in various iterations of natural law in the public sphere.
Speakers on the first panel, which spoke to questions of natural law, were from several institutions and included the Darrald and Juliet Libby Professor of Theology M. Cathleen Kaveny (Boston College Law School), President of Hartford Seminary Joel Lohr, Professor of Political Science Paul Brink (Gordon College), Professor of Philosophy Maurice Wade (Trinity College), and Professor and Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Life (Boston College). The speakers on the first panel spoke, in order, from the Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, Evangelical, and secular perspectives. Massa offered his response to comments and critiques on his text and attendees had an opportunity to share their responses and thoughts.
Speakers on the second panel, which spoke to alternative approaches to natural law, included Director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and Professor of Religion in Public Life Mark Silk (Trinity College), Professor of Religious Studies Emerita Ellison Findly (Trinity College), Associate Professor of Islamic Studies Hossein Kamaly (Hartford Seminary), Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution Elizabeth H. Prodromou (Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University), and Massa. The speakers on the second panel spoke, in order, from the Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and Greek Orthodox perspectives. Similar to the first panel, Massa also offered a response to the commentary.
Silk spoke with The Policy Voice and emphasized that “there is a tradition in Roman Catholicism of appealing to natural law and this conference serves to examine this tradition and how other traditions approach this too.” Silk was pleased that the conference address the “various philosophical and theological perspectives that came to the forefront of discussions.”
The conference was followed by a reception and dinner. Silk, Director of the Greenberg Center at Trinity, is a frequent contributor to the Religion News Service (RNS) and mentioned discussion s from the conference and Massa’s work in a recent post addressing United States Attorney General William Barr’s comments on religious liberty. You can read Silk’s post here to learn more and explore the implications of this discussion!