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Georgetown University Press's 13th Annual Keenan Dinner

Cake for Keenan's Moral Tradition Series

The life of a scholar can be lonely at times. In working on a big writing project, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in your own head and your own questions, and to lose the sense that you’re part of a wider community and a broader discussion.  That sense of isolation can make it hard to do your work.

But the field of moral theology/Christian ethics is blessed to have in its midst a person who has consistently modeled the life of the mind as lived within an intense, communal conversation: James Keenan, S.J. , the Founders Professor of Theology at Boston College

That blessing became evident at a bittersweet event at the most recent Society of Christian Ethics meeting, which took place in Seattle about ten days ago. Georgetown University Press was sponsoring the thirteenth annual “Keenan Dinner,” for authors who have published books in the Press's "Moral Traditions” series, edited by Jim Keenan. As you can see if you click on the link, the series has published some of the most important books in the field in the past twenty years. I am honored to have my own book, Law’s Virtues, included in the series list.

And I have to say, that the prospect of being included in the Keenan dinners was a great incentive to finish the book! Jim has been a great series editor: he supports you when you need support, and he prods you when you need prodding.  His comments are always acute and always constructive. And the dinner, in some sense, embodies Jim’s attitude: an intense conversation about the most important issues is carried out best in an atmosphere of fellowship, not to mention fabulous food and drink. Jim has the gift of hospitality.

So what’s bittersweet about all that? After two decades of service, Jim is stepping down as general editor, passing the torch on to three new co-editors. Dave Cloutier (whom you all know from the blog), Kristen Heyer, and Andrea Vicini, S.J.  As you can see, the series remains in very good hands! The dinner in the Seattle celebrated Jim’s contributions—Georgetown University Press editor Richard Brown presented Jim with a cake featuring a photo of all the books published in series under Jim’s leadership, as well as a framed, non-edible version of the photo, signed by the series's authors. (Many thanks to Jackie Beilhart, G.U.P.’s publicist, for all her hard work on the event!)

By the way, the Moral Traditions series is by no means Jim’s only enterprise aimed at developing conversations and collaborations. Many people in the Catholic world know about his project on “Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church,” which has brought scholars from around the globe together for the first truly international conferences on moral theology in Padua (2006) and Trent (2010), and which has also sponsored regional conferences in Africa and India. The transformative effect of these meetings is remarkable; sharing meals and discussions with moralists from around the globe over a period of several days is the best medicine against the kind of provincialism that keeps Catholic moral theology from being truly catholic. Scholars with financial means paid their own way; generous donors insured that finances were not a barrier to attendance for scholars from developing countries.  And the opportunities for informal conversation are truly fabulous: no conference run by Jim Keenan is going to be a death-march (or better, death-sit) through an endless row of formal paper presentations!

So this is what I've learned: if Jim Keenan asks you to be involved in something, say "yes." You will learn a lot, have a lot of fun, and eat and drink very well too!