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Catholic theology thrives in heart of Anglican England

DURHAM UNIVERSITY
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Center for Catholic Studies brings thinkers together at Durham University.

In the heartland of Anglican England, in one of its most venerable universities, a Center for Catholic Studies has been bringing Catholicism into the conversation for over a decade now.

The Center for Catholic Studies (CCS) at Durham University was launched in May 2008, along with the endowed Bede Chair in Catholic Theology. Funding came from the Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, the Sisters of Mercy (Oaklea), and the Sisters of La Retraite (Britain and Ireland), among others.

The CCS bills itself as the UK’s “first permanent center devoted to pioneering world-class research and teaching in Catholic theology in the public academy.”

“We operate within the UK’s premier research Department of Theology and Religion,” the center says, “and work in close partnership with the Catholic Church and other organizations, in multiple ways, to produce future leaders, foster talent, and foment Catholic scholarship locally and globally.”

The CCS pursues research projects in the areas of Constructive Catholic Theology, Catholic Social Thought and Practice, and the History of Catholicism. It offers research seminars and lectures and provides postgraduate training, teaching, and supervision.

At its 10th anniversary celebration in April 2018, Bishop Séamus Cunningham of Hexham and Newcastle spoke of the CCS as coming in the long line of Catholic spiritual and intellectual giants in northern England.

“We are all very fortunate in these northern lands to be heirs to a very rich shared Christian heritage,” Bishop Cunningham said. “The great northern saints like St. Aidan and St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne; St. Hilda of Hartlepool and Whitby; St. Benedict Biscop and St. Bede of Jarrow provided this region with great centers of Christian learning. From these came Durham Cathedral, out of which some of the oldest colleges of Oxford University were founded. The more recent establishment of the English College of Douai at Ushaw in the 19th century adds to this picture of unique growth in our regional Christian heritage. Together with the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham, the CCS I think continues this great tradition of Christian learning. In particular the CCS offers a place of Catholic formation, which I know is both greatly valued and respected.”

The center is working with a group called women@thewell and the UK Center for Catholic Social Thought and Practice on a project examining the problem of prostitution.

“Across the globe 33 million women and girls are affected by prostitution. While there are significant bodies of work in relation to Catholic social thought in areas related to prostitution—for example, trafficking and modern slavery, dignity of work, and family life—there has been very little done to explore prostitution with women affected by prostitution specifically within the context of Catholic social thought,” CCS says.

The research will work across a number of areas including trauma theory, feminist thought, and a range of theological perspectives, the center says. It will include research with women affected by prostitution and with the practitioners who support them. The project aims “to support the development of Catholic social thought in relation to prostitution.”

Another ongoing project is analyzing “the potential complicity of Catholic ecclesial self-understanding … in allowing clerical sexual abuse to be at once endemic, hidden, unthinkable, denied, and mismanaged.” Marcus Pound, the lead researcher, has called this a “welcome move to address what some have called the need for a second Reformation in Catholic thought and practice to tackle the systematic abuse that has been manifest in our institution.”

The center’s website has a collection of audio and video files of past lectures and conferences.

 

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