I am often asked, especially at gatherings of theologians such as annual conventions of the Catholic Theological Society of America, what I see–from my vantage point as editor of this journal–as trends in contemporary theological writing. Its a question I dread, especially if the interlocutor expects a quick answer. But even over a leisurely dinner, during a long flight from one city to another, or at a discussion group, answering the question is still challenging.
An answer based exclusively on the titles of articles submitted each month to our editorial office may not be all that indicative. Who is writing and who is silent often depends on the teaching load of the theologian, the weight of unexpected family responsibilities, or even the mood of the scholar. Serendipity plays its role. Who can explain why writers dip into a particular author from the distant past, and or why they poke at a dormant theme to awaken it? Some theologians may be actively engaged in research on a topic that is something of a hot potato, a theme about which the Vatican has definitive, alternate views, and hence ruminations are unlikely to be shared in published form–at least for the time being.
Then too, articles are only one source for tracking trends in theology. Published books provide valuable indications. I am sure my colleague Book Review Editor David Schultenover could shed considerable light on current trends from the wide assortment of books mailed to him from publishing houses.
All this having been said, I nonetheless permit myself some broad generalizations about theological trends in publishing. Christian ethics continues to provide the single, largest number of article submissions. This includes our annual Notes on Moral Theology but besides that feature, many ethicists or moral theologians are writing more than their counterparts in systematic, historical, or biblical theology. This may well be because our contemporary scene offers so many moral challenges: oppression, starvation, genetic research, surgical intervention–the list of issues is lengthy. Beyond these specific ethical questions are theoretical ones relating to the formation of conscience, casuistry, virtue ethics, sexual conduct, globalization, etc.
Fewer submissions in recent years explore complex dogmatic treatises contemplating the Triune God, christology, pneumatology, or even the nature of faith and revelation. The waning of publication in these areas may originate in the growing conviction that these themes require collaborative efforts of several theologians rather than the work of a single individual. When dogmatic themes are discussed, they are more typically in the realm of ecclesiology, especially the nature of magisterial authority, the pertinence of papal, episcopal, and presbyteral ministry, as well as church-dividing issues that hinder the imperative of Christian unity. Catholics have felt drawn also to write commentaries on papal documents such as Ut unum sint, Fides et ratio, Ad tuendam fidem, Dominus Iesus.
The violence and human suffering that haunts so many parts of todays world as well as the self-inflicted wounds in the U.S. (and other) local churches in the wake of sexual abuse and episcopal coverups have not left the theological community untouched. Theologians are formulating vigorous calls to end silence, to seek healing for the harmed, and to suggest structural reforms. On these matters, written studies have generally not yet reached our pages, and, more commonly, are impacting weekly or bi-weekly journals of opinion or the national Catholic newspapers. The focus on ethical and ecclesiological issues will continue to predominate as more comprehensive assessments of the roots of these issues emerge. The various compartments of modern theology–systematic, moral, biblical, historical, liturgical, and pastoral–do not interact easily. Just as in the modern university departments typically remain isolated from one to the other, so too the same phenomenon appears even within a single department of theological studies. Even the numerous simultaneous workshops at the theology conventions are becoming more and more diversified, and plenary sessions struggle to intertwine theologys separate strands.
I am pleased to report that several projects planned for next years fascicles are already well underway. The Notes on Moral Theology for March 2003 will be devoted to human sexuality with contributions by Lisa Sowle Cahill on marriage and family, James Keenan on homosexuality, and Peter Black of Australia on the human body and the erotic. Also, after several years of planning and collaboration, our June 2003 theme issue will describe how various world religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) react to Christianitys claims of exclusivity or superiority. Francis Clooney of Boston College and Oxford has been a valued coordinator of this all important topic.
Also, still in early stages of planning and production is a long overdue salute to the valuable and unique contributions of the U.S. Hispanic or Latino/a theological and faith communities not only to our contextual theology but to the Church universal. Collaborators and writers have begun their work and, after sharing sessions and consultations, we hope to publish a theme issue in early 2004 on the fruits of this collaboration.