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What Good is God?

Ignatian Center series probes faith

A Marxist who says atheists and believers alike are woefully misinformed about the nature of faith and God.

A theologian whose work explores animals as spiritual beings.

An editor who worked with famed Catholic activist Dorothy Day through the final years of her life.

These are among the provocative and thoughtful speakers participating in the annual Bannan Institute lectures throughout the academic year at Santa Clara University. 

The Institute’s theme “What Good is God?” is especially pertinent at a time when one-fifth of the U.S. public and one-third of adults under age 30 identify as religiously unaffiliated, and when violence is justified erroneously as necessary for religious devotion, says Michael McCarthy, S.J., executive director of Santa Clara’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education.

“‘God’ is one of those topics that lots of people are afraid to talk about for lots of reasons,” said McCarthy, who will give a talk on April 15 titled “How can a thinking person still believe in God?”

“At Santa Clara University, we are not afraid," he added. 

Speakers will approach the question “What Good is God?” from multiple angles, such as:

God and Conscience. On Oct. 30, Catholic writers including Ron Hansen, Tobias Wolff, Bo Caldwell, and Robert Ellsberg will discuss the influence of heroes of conscience such as Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero on their journeys of faith. Also, on Nov. 6, Jerome Baggett of SCU’s Jesuit School of Theology will discuss his upcoming book on American atheists.

God and Violence. On Nov. 12, Professor William Cavanaugh of DePaul University will discuss the relationship between “secular” violence and “religious” violence, inviting us to question if there is any significant difference.

God and Google. Noreen Herzfeld, a professor of theology and computer science at St. John’s University, studies the social and religious impacts of computer technology on our collective memory. She argues that as we rely more on technology as an external memory, we alter how and what we remember and alter our capacity for forgiveness. She’ll discuss her research on this topic on Feb. 2, 2014.

God and Space. Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the conservator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory in Rome will discuss the relationship between the assumptions of science and faith in God on Feb. 11.

God and Literature. On Feb. 26, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson will discuss the way in which grace is manifested in Shakespeare and what this may suggest about our engagement with God in human tragedy and comedy. 

God and Animals. As part of a symposium session on March 1, Santa Clara University religious studies lecturer, Oliver Putz, will discuss the possibility of nonhuman spiritual beings and consider the challenges this possibility issues to human primacy from a theological perspective.

God and Higher Education. On April 22, a Harvard professor who has studied the marginalization of religion at educational institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford will discuss why the religious roots of such schools devolved over time.  She will be joined by two professors from the Religion in the Academy project, who will discuss their findings regarding the surging interest in religion on college campuses today, as students grapple with the importance of religious literacy and inter-religious understanding in a globalized world.

God and Grief. On May 7, SCU counseling psychology professor David Feldman and Cal State Northridge philosophy professor Robert Gressis will share their research to date about how faith and religious belief impacts one’s anxiety about death. Their talk will be based on their SCU Bannan Institute-funded study of Jesuit priests, philosophy professors, and college students. 

A full list of speakers and the exact dates and times of their talks can be found at


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