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High Praise—and an Award—for Professor’s New Book

Catholic Press Association recognizes Cathleen Kaveny's "A Culture of Engagement" for her collection of essays on citizenship and religious freedom.

Portrait of newly named professor Cathy Kaveny, a prominent expert in law, ethics and medical ethics. Photographed for the 1/30 issue of Chronicle. 

In a world in which pundits and bloggers fill the airwaves, internet, and newspapers at such a frenetic pace that superficiality often overrules depth, BC’s Darald and Juliet Libby Professor of Theology and Law Cathleen Kaveny distinguishes herself by entering the national conversation with a deliberate and scholarly stride.

And since she’s a master at illuminating the relevance of moral and cultural traditions to today’s social, legal, political, and economic realities—and doing so in a manner that is both accessible and engaging—her contribution has won the respect of those who value an academic’s thoughtful exploration of the complexities that lie beneath easy opinions, extreme voices, and slippery rhetoric.

A sign of that recognition is the 2017 Catholic Press Association’s second place award for her new book in the Georgetown University Press Moral Traditions series, A Culture of Engagement: Law, Religion, and Morality. Kaveny won in the Faithful Citizenship/Religious Freedom category. The book is an edited and updated collection of 56 columns she published in Commonweal magazine.

America magazine said of the work, “Kaveny doesn’t offer a thin guide to complex issues too often reduced to superficial slogans. She is a Sherpa who can take us to the top of the mountain.” And Georgetown Emeritus President Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, wrote, “The precision of her language matches the precision of her judgment in one urgent chapter after another.”

“I’m not trying to tell people what to think, but rather to provide the analysis so that they can think more fully themselves,” said Kaveny. “In a flourishing democratic society, we need people to think independently.”

As the title of her book suggests, Kaveny calls for a “culture of engagement.” Georgetown University Press explained it this way: “Kaveny demonstrates how thoughtful and purposeful engagement can contribute to rich, constructive, and difficult discussions between moral and cultural traditions,” and called the book “a welcome reminder of what can be gained when a diversity of experiences and beliefs is brought to bear on American public life.”

Kaveny’s insights are not limited to America, however. Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin recently commended A Culture of Engagement in the annual University of East Anglia Newman Lecture, titled “The Church in the Public Sphere—a perspective from Ireland.”