Upcoming symposium to develop social theology of the child

September 6, 2022

Human dignity is central to Catholic social tradition, so what does it mean to apply that teaching to children? Clemens Sedmak, Ph.D., director and professor of social ethics at the Nanovic Institute for European Studies and faculty fellow at the Center for Social Concerns has been thinking about this question for years. Then the continuing impact of the child sex abuse crisis in the Church created a deep need to better understand what a theology of the child would look like and how institutions, such as the Catholic Church, can become child-centered. 

The research that has grown out of this question began in 2021 and was a joint collaboration between the Center for Social Concerns, SPIRE: The Global Catholic Social Tradition Network, and the University of Salzburg Centre for Ethics and Poverty Research. It took two primary forms: a series of interviews and three workshops. The interviews featured theologians from around the world along with other academics and practitioners in fields focused on understanding childhood experience. 

The series of interviews highlighted a number of interrelated ideas. They tended to emphasize the importance of each child being their own person with a unique set of experiences and traits. This included not just personality traits, but age, gender, culture, politics, and finances, which all play a role in a child’s life. Sedmak noted that the connection between this concept and institutions is that institutions cannot oversimplify or take a singular approach to work with children. “Institutions of all kinds should be wary of viewing children as naive or romanticizing childhood,” Sedmak said. Instead, interview participants noted that a relational approach should be taken when interacting with children, just as with a person of any age. 

This October, an interdisciplinary symposiun will be held on Notre Dame’s campus to promote further dialogue on research findings with the goal of creating concrete ways for institutions to become child-centered. It will be organized around three questions: 1) What does it mean to privilege the perspective of children?; 2) What does it mean to listen and learn from children?; and 3) What does it mean to pursue the common good in a way that respects all children? Using both results from the interviews and dialogue from the upcoming conference, Sedmak plans to create a handbook on the theology of the child that can be used by parishes and institutions to center children and young people. 

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Upcoming Events

December 2022

Arts of Dignity | La Casa de Amistad Mural Unveiling
Monday, December 12, 2022 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

February 2023

Signs of the Times
Friday, February 3, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

March 2023

Signs of the Times | Hope for Health Equity
Friday, March 3, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
2023 CST Conference: Justice Sown in Peace
Thursday, March 23, 2023 - 12:00am to Saturday, March 25, 2023 - 11:45pm