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Woodstock's Mission & Method

Mission Statement

The Woodstock Theological Center is an independent, Jesuit-sponsored, nonprofit institute located at Georgetown University that engages in theological and ethical reflection on topics of social, economic, business, scientific, cultural, religious, and political importance.

The Center’s purpose is to provide a method of inter-disciplinary reasoning and reflecting on human problems from a Roman Catholic Faith perspective, so that public policy makers, the business community, religious groups, educational institutions, other research centers, and the media may better contribute to a greater understanding of the global common good and deeper solidarity with those in need.

It distributes the products of its work through publishing books and articles, conducting conferences and seminars, and using other channels of communication designed to appeal to persons of all ages, including the young.

Its work is inter-religiously and ecumenically open and promotes the contemporary mission of the Society of Jesus: the service of faith through the promotion of justice in a pluralistic and globalized world.

Woodstock’s Methodology

Theological reflection — with its accompanying theologically grounded ethical reflection — is faith seeking understanding of the human problems of today, with particular attention to the poor, marginalized and voiceless members of society. It constitutes the thinking heart of the Woodstock Theological Center. All strategic initiatives and all particular programs undertaken by the Center are assessed in the light of, and viewed through the lens of, theological reflection. This kind of reflection involves a number of dimensions: the method employed; who does the reflection; where they stand and with whom they are allied (i.e., whom they most care about); the issues engaged; the reflection’s forms of expression; the desired collaborators; the hoped-for audiences; and the desired outcomes.

What is Woodstock's approach to theological reflection?

The method of theological reflection and theologically grounded ethical reflection is an instance of faith seeking understanding — one of the fruits of which can be to aid those who are victimized or marginalized by the world’s processes. The Center’s method calls for compassionate and loving attention, skillful development of hypotheses or interpretations, and careful assessment of the truth of the hypotheses or interpretations. The truth arrived at in turn grounds responsible action on behalf of neighbors in need, and this action and its effects provide new data for the process of attention, interpretation-forming and assessment of truth. The Center’s reflective processes are nourished by basic metaphors and symbols drawn from Scripture, Tradition and contemporary human experience. The Ignatian discernment of spirits helps the fellows to become free of the power of distorting moods, and personal and collective biases, all for the sake of seeking, not just the good, but the better, the magis, in particular situations. The reflection seeks to help the fellows and those with whom they collaborate to co-operate more fully with God’s action in the world.

Who carries out this reflection, and where do they stand?

The reflection is carried out by fellows of the Center and selected collaborators from around the nation and the world. The work is ordinarily done by interdisciplinary teams, each of which includes a theologian. They stand explicitly in a world that they interpret through faith as graced by the self-communicating God, Source of all, who shares the divine life and love through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. The teams comprise men and women who exercise the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, whose reflection is nourished by prayer, and who seek to arrive at what is authentically true and good.

The Center is confident of a hidden, infinite abundance of grace at the heart of creation and human history. This sense of a deep, underlying richness in the world inspires the fellows and their collaborators to take the process of globalization seriously as an important focus of their work. Globalization (in the larger sense) is the growing interconnectedness of the world of many cultures and religions, resulting from dramatically expanded flows of information, technology, capital, goods, services, and people across borders. It is the defining phenomenon of our times and it involves a new, heightened level of human consciousness. Globalization’s effects are both positive and harmful, and the harmful dimensions are partly rooted in the deep-felt conviction of many that to live in the world is to live in a zero-sum game: there must be haves and have-nots.

Shaped by the Society of Jesus’ defining commitment to the service of faith through the promotion of justice, the Center seeks the authentic well-being of all those involved in the human problem being addressed. While doing this, it allies itself in a preferential and intelligently compassionate way with people who are victimized or marginalized in the world, beginning its reflection with the experience of those involved in the human problem that is being researched.

Woodstock fellows are selected on the basis of their expertise, their commitment to researching issues of interest to the Center, their willingness to work collegially in an interdisciplinary team, and their belief in the mission of Woodstock.

The Impact of Woodstock's Research & Products

The Center’s research is marked not only by individual research, but by a strong sense of collegiality, of men and women partnering with each other in the work. The team approach, mentioned earlier, makes it possible for multiple perspectives to be brought to bear on the human problems of our times. The research — which is characterized by academic rigor and assessed by peer review — aims not simply at the creation of knowledge but always addresses questions of implementation and action. This cycle of reflection, decision and action mirrors a fundamental dynamic of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. The communication of the Center’s work is aimed at Jesuit and other educational institutions, the Roman Catholic community in general, policy makers in the United States and world-wide and, within these audiences, persons of all ages, including the young. The Center’s products are designed to foster deeper reflection in individuals, change in society, and transformation in the world.

Woodstock's Faith Perspective

The Center is sponsored by the Society of Jesus and rooted in the Roman Catholic Church. It carries on its reflective work with careful attention to God’s revelation as witnessed to normatively in Holy Scripture and the Church’s living Tradition. Moreover, the Center considers human experience a locus theologicus, when it is brought into dialogue with Scripture and Tradition. This is especially the case when the experience is that of the powerless and marginalized, for their perspective offers irreplaceable aid to the Center as it seeks to discern “the signs of the times.” In keeping with Vatican Council II’s positive assessment of other Christian churches and other religions, the Center is ecumenical and interreligious. This openness shows itself in collaborating with non-Catholic thinkers, drawing on the theological and ethical riches of other faith communities, and seeking to have a significant impact on those communities.

The Multidisciplinary Nature of our Research

The Center is concerned not only with intra-Church theological questions but also with issues that are as varied as those mentioned in the Mission Statement. For this reason, the theological reflection of the Center must be multi-disciplinary. This means that theology and theologically grounded ethics must be brought into dialogue with the appropriate human and natural sciences. Theological reflection seeks wholeness and intends the whole in relation to the other disciplines, both empirical (e.g., evolutionary biology) and hermeneutical (e.g., history), each with its rightful place, without any of them being reduced to the other.

In selecting the topics for its research, the Center gives priority to contemporary moral and ethical issues, issues that fall within the social, ethical, economic, and political spheres, issues that are of importance to the audiences the Center strives to serve, and to those who provide support to the Center, and, finally, topics on which the Center’s scholars are highly qualified to carry out research and which fit the Center’s understanding of theological and theologically grounded ethical reflection.

Woodstock's Financial Support

The Center is financed by contributions from individuals, foundations, communities, and organizations (including the Society of Jesus) that share its values and its commitment to theological reflection.