Conference on Catholic Legal Thought

2008 Summer Institute
May 28, 29 & 30, 2008
Seattle University School of Law; Seattle, Washington

Last June, at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and the previous year at Fordham University School of Law, Catholic law professors from all over the country met for three days to explore ways to foster the development of the emerging body of “Catholic Legal Thought” (“CLT”), rooted in Catholic social thought and teaching. The law schools represented at those meetings included Ave Maria, Boston College, Catholic University, Campbell University, Duquesne University, Fordham University, Loyola University Chicago, Loyola University Los Angeles, Notre Dame, University of Oklahoma, St. John’s University, Seattle University, Seton Hall University, Texas Wesleyan University, the University of St. Thomas and Villanova University.

At the initial Fordham meeting, we named our coalition of scholars the “Conference on Catholic Legal Thought.” We decided to organize annual meetings to support the development of CLT, to be hosted on a rotating basis by different law schools around the country. These annual meetings are directed both at those who are just beginning the enterprise of integrating Catholic thought into their teaching and scholarship and at those who are more experienced.

This year’s meeting will be hosted by the Seattle University School of Law in Seattle, Washington. The first day will include an introduction to basic aspects of Catholic social teachings and begin a deeper discussion of authority, led by Fr. Frank Sullivan, one of the leading experts on magisterial authority. The second and third days will consist of interactive workshops exploring particular topics through the lens of CLT, or the application of fundamental principles of Catholic thought to the development of CLT in general. The workshops will offer combinations of lectures, debates, and discussions by members of the Conference, as well as outside experts from other disciplines and other faith traditions. The four topics for this year will be:

  • Teaching and Our Pastoral Role. Teaching CLT in a law school setting presents myriad occasions to make our own "the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties" of the students of our times. This panel discussion will explore some of the pastoral issues that may arise in the course of our teaching, and will explore some practical ideas for a faith-informed response. Questions will include how to present CLT when students lack formation in Catholic or Christian traditions and teaching; and how to approach CLT topics such as abortion, divorce, and sexual identity knowing that for some students these issues have been a source of "grief or anxiety" for themselves, family members or close friends.
  • Catholic Thought and Legal Theory. The body of CLT that has been developed over the last century-plus defies easy categorization; it is neither "liberal" nor "conservative." This session will focus on several of the concepts/judgments that set CLT apart from other social theories; it will also focus on the question of what concepts/judgments give CLT an internal unity and make it a coherent body of thought.
  • Scholarly Career Planning as a Christian. This panel will discuss scholarship in CLT from both theoretical and practical perspectives with the hopes of encouraging a discussion of the ways in which conference participants may contribute to the developing body of scholarship in this field. Speakers will discuss those areas in CLT that deserve additional attention, the gaps that exist in current scholarship and the contributions that law professors (often not theologically-trained) can make to this field. More practically, this panel will also offer the opportunity to discuss how junior faculty may develop a scholarly agenda in this area, how scholarship on religious themes may be received in the tenure process (especially at secular schools), how to find mentors in the field, and how to combine this scholarship with more traditional legal scholarship.
  • Works in Progress. This session provides an opportunity for presenting new scholarship related to CLT. Contact Russ Powell if you are interested in presenting.

The conference will also offer time for communal prayer and reflection, a field trip to the famous Pike Place Market, and plenty of opportunity for fellowship with Catholic legal scholars. There will be no fee to attend any of these events, but participants will be responsible for their own travel, lodging, and expenses.

If you are a legal academic interested in attending or would like more information, please fill out the registration form and e-mail it to: Russ Powell:

We look forward to seeing you in May!

The Executive Committee of the Conference on Catholic Legal Thought