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September 2013

What Good is God? A Perspective for Almost Everyone – and Their Dog

More than a dozen provocative and thoughtful speakers will participate in the annual Bannan Institute lectures throughout the academic year, under the theme "What Good is God?"

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Sept. 24, 2013 — 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 who will participate 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 April 15 on “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 Atheism.   On Oct. 7, Terry Eagleton, the famed literary critic who set the theology world abuzz with his critique of “new atheists,” will speak Oct. 7 about the problems created by misunderstanding classical theology.
Also, on Nov. 6, Jerome Baggett of SCU’s Jesuit School of Theology will discuss his upcoming book on American atheists.

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.

God and Violence.  On Nov. 12,  DePaul University professor William Cavanaugh 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.
On October 17, former editor of Poetry magazine, Christian Wiman, will examine what a credible Christian faith might look like at the beginning of the 21st century, moving among a variety of writings – poetry, prose, theology, and biography.

God and Animals. As part of a symposium session 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, Chicago, 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

 About the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education
The Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education promotes and enhances the distinctively Jesuit, Catholic tradition of education at Santa Clara University, with a view to serving students, faculty, staff, and through them the larger community, both local and global. The vision of the Ignatian Center is to be recognized throughout Silicon Valley as providing leadership for the integration of faith, justice, and the intellectual life. The Center supports four signature programs: Bannan Institutes,  which are yearlong thematic programs engaging contemporary religious, cultural, and theological issues; community-based learning programs connecting students, the classroom, and the local community; immersion programs engaging students, faculty, and staff with the realities of communities locally, nationally and globally; and sharing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius with the broader Santa Clara Community. More information is available at

Media Contact
Deborah Lohse | SCU Media Relations | | 408-554-5121


What Good is God,Marilynne Robinson,Terry Eagleton,Bannan Institute