Catholicism and Culture Intersect

By Mike Thee

The Catholic Heritage Lecture Series kicks off this month with an impressive lineup of nationally renowned and thought-provoking scholars. The theme is “Religion in ‘Secular’ America," and Patricia O’Connell Killen, academic vice president at Gonzaga University, will give the first lecture at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27, in Pigott Auditorium.

Killen has extensively researched the religious landscape of the Pacific Northwest, and particularly its “unchurched” nature. Peter Ely, S.J., vice president for Mission and Ministry, says Killen is “the most sophisticated analyzer of this phenomenon of the ‘none zone,’” the term frequently given to this region because so much of its populace claims no affiliation with organized religion. 

Following Killen will be Robert Putnam (Jan. 17) of Harvard University, who has written American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us. Some will recognize Putnam as the author of the groundbreaking 1995 book Bowling Alone. Peter Steinfels will deliver the last lecture, “Catholicism and Politics: Secularization and Secularism” on May 8. Currently a professor at Fordham University, Steinfels previously was a columnist with The New York Times and was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

In its second year, the lecture series, as Father Ely sees it, is a way to bring the Catholic intellectual tradition into dialogue with the issues of the day. “Sometimes people are not aware of how pervasive the ideas (of the Catholic intellectual tradition) are in contemporary life. The purpose of the lectures is to reclaim the vitality and dynamism that comes out of the intersection of our religious tradition and culture, and to see how religion is, in fact, a leavening force in our culture.” You can learn more at

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