Formed last year, the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy is a joint venture of the Center for Catholic Studies and the School of Law that focuses on the inter-relationship of the Catholic intellectual tradition and civil law.

The activities of the institute will be spread over four broad areas. One focus will be on the development of curricular materials to help law professors integrate elements of the Catholic intellectual tradition into their classes. Efforts are underway to encourage the writing of course modules in areas like property law.

A second area will be outreach to the community, especially the legal community. The institute will sponsor presentations by members of St. Thomas and by other prominent legal scholars.

A third area of attention will be public policy analysis. The institute will bring together experts from fields such as law, philosophy and theology to examine issues of public policy. The result will be a nonpartisan position paper explaining the Catholic perspective on the issue.

Finally, the institute will encourage scholarship. Work is needed to recover the Catholic tradition for our time. Classic texts must be translated and explained, and the relevance of the tradition for modern problems must be explored.

One way of doing this is to convene conferences that bring together scholars from different disciplines. At a time of increasing specialization, few opportunities exist for lawyers and philosophers, historians and theologians to share their research.

On April 7-9, 2005, the institute will host a conference on “The Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the Good Society.” The conference has attracted wide attention. Paper proposals have been received from scholars in North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Australia, and prominent scholars John Finnis and James Gordley have accepted invitations to be part of the program.

The idea of the “Good Society” is deeply embedded in the Catholic tradition. Early Christian writers such as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine gave considerable attention to the question of how a society ought to be shaped by the Gospel. They were fully aware that no earthly society could be perfect, but they believed that a society influenced by Christian convictions could be genuinely good. Their efforts helped guide the development of social life in the Middle Ages. At this time much of the foundation was laid for the modern framework of Anglo-American law. Through the secularization of our culture, we have often lost sight of what it might mean for a society to be good.

The conference will focus attention on this question once again. We can expect to address questions such as: What conception of the human person is necessary for the Good Society? What role does wealth play in the Good Society? What are the limits of individual liberty in the Good Society? How can religious traditions contribute to public discourse in the Good Society?

For more information, contact the co-directors of the institute, Professor Robert Kennedy of the Center for Catholic Studies (rgkennedy@stthomas.edu) or Professor Thomas Berg of the School of Law (tcberg@stthomas.edu), or visit www.stthomas.edu/law/centers/murphyinstitute/.