‘Transformations’ is the theme of the autumn 2020 issue of Studies. Though the essays appear to be very diverse, most of them do indeed have one or other kind of transformation at their centre – large social or political transformations; personal transformations through growth in either one’s mental or one’s moral understanding of the world; or the transformation of structures in the Church.
Right now, of course, we are living through a time of substantial social and cultural transformation with the coronavirus pandemic. Its impact has been felt in every area of life in every part of the globe. In his essay on ‘Universities in the post-COVID-19 era: crisis or catharsis?’, UCD emeritus Professor Ray Kinsella reflects on how the pandemic, which he sees as “an existential crisis”, has already had a 360-degree impact on universities and higher education institutes. No aspect of university life has remained untouched. At the managerial level, the crisis has exacerbated financial, logistical and operational pressures, and coupled with already existing pressures “raise questions not alone about the sustainability of their business models but even more fundamentally of their purpose”. These questions concern the commercialisation of the knowledge economy (“Are universities now essentially a training facility for Ireland Inc.?”); changes in the nature of the engagement between students and academics, especially with the dramatically increased reliance on virtual learning environments (VLEs) for the delivery of subject content; and the meaning and purpose of the campus and the academic community.
Has Covid-19 necessitated, Prof. Kinsella asks, “radical surgery of mission, capacity, and delivery of services” in the university, or should we see it as an opportunity for universities to look beyond their business models and assess their role as ‘public good’? He finishes by acknowledging that Covid-19 does indeed present place universities in a crisis, but he judges that it might cause them to reflect on the unsustainability of the present model of ‘corporatisation’ and lead them “to reaffirm their true and broader identity and the autonomy they need to vindicate their deeper purpose and mission”.
Political transformations are considered in essays by Edmond Grace SJ, on the need 100 years later to question the acceptance of violence in the Irish republican struggle for independence, and by Dr Anthony White, on the dramatic change in the political landscape of Ireland brought about by the 2020 general election.
In an incisive and imaginative essay, William Mathews SJ takes the human passion for meaning-making, which he sees as a potentiality which gives shape to one’s life, and looking through this lens he finds a commonality in the lives of such disparate persons as Seamus Heaney, Albert Einstein, and Etty Hillesum. “Viewed in its totality,” Dr Mathews says, “this making and assimilation of meaning is an irreducible power.”
Dr Vincent Twomey SVD takes Joseph Ratzinger as his guide through the foundations of moral theology. He notes in particular Ratzinger’s stress on the interaction between the contents of faith and the insights of human reason and how the process of assimilation, purification and clarification leads to the transformation of reason’s insights into what is specifically Christian.
Two essays examine questions of transformation in the Church. Phyllis Zagano, who was a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women, finds signs of hope in the Amazon Synod of the Church shifting its attitude to the role of women in the Church; and Séamus Lillis reflects on the community dimension of Parish Pastoral Councils.
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