Method and Conversion
in Catholic Studies
RICHARD M. LIDDY
A former editor of the prestigious theological journal Theologi- cal Studies is reported to have remarked that Bernard Lonergan’s work was the most frequently cited in that journal. Whether accurate or not, as Lonergan’s former student in Rome in the 1960s, and as someone who owes him an immense debt of gratitude, I can testify to the great explanatory power of his work. It is no wonder that the University of Toronto Press is now publishing the many volumes of his Collected Works. In this essay I employ Lonergan’s work to delineate the methodological issues emerging in the relatively new field of Catholic Studies. In line with Lonergan’s fundamental emphases, I highlight the importance of intellectual conversion or epistemological awareness— “knowing what you are doing when you are doing it”—in Catholic Studies.
Catholic Studies represents the emergence of a new specialization within the academy, along with other cultural studies such as Jewish Studies, Women’s Studies, and African American studies.1 For some, Catholic Studies is obviously a branch of historical cultural studies. For others, it is a subspecies of religious studies. For still others, it can be seen as rooted in Catholic theology but prescinding from any practical purpose. For still others it can be seen as having an avowedly practical purpose: that is, as linking the Catholic tradition with all of culture, that is, with the transformation of the disciplines, professions and human society in general. So the question arises: is there any way of both distinguishing and integrating these various approaches? Is there any way of seeing the various methods as complementary? I will begin by highlighting various contemporary issues in Catholic Studies and then employ Lonergan’s work on method as especially helpful in sorting out these issues.