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Catholic Social Teaching in Global Perspective (review)
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Catholic Social Teaching in Global Perspective Edited by Daniel Mcdonald, SJ Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2010. 218 pp. $26.00

The collection of essays in Catholic Social Teaching in Global Perspective, the second in a Gregorian University series, responds to a question posed to its authors: “How can you reflect on your particular continent and its ‘culture’ in order to best apply . . . CST [Catholic social teaching] in your area of the world?” (x). Although the responses of the various authors to that challenge are uneven, the deliberate emphasis on a cultural-critical approach makes this [End Page 211] volume noteworthy and a significant contribution to the discussions in the field.

Thomas Hughson’s introductory essay frames the task provocatively. Exploring the work of Bernard Lonergan and Robert Doran on culture, he takes aim at the ways in which “common good” and “Catholic social teaching” too often serve as categorical realities, as if they had a universal and absolute meaning applicable to any concrete situation. He recasts CST by placing it in dialogue with contemporary currents in philosophy and social science and notes both the broader meaning and the fluidity of social justice within CST. He develops what he calls a “modified eudemonistic perspective . . . to highlight incompleteness in social justice and a common good taken by themselves” (25). This calls for a “reflexive culture,” along the lines of the “transcendental humanism” in Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate. While the emphasis on “human flourishing” certainly has a long history in the tradition, Hughson’s approach empowers local communities to make CST their own as a mode of discerning what fosters or undermines human flourishing. For too long CST “has ignored how movement toward just social practice depends on two factors, reflexive culture ‘from above’ and popular culture ‘from within’ practicality” (22). This perspective links well with the insights and concerns of liberation theology, notably its ecclesiology, and helps clarify the meaning and potential of CST.

Several essays in the volume pick up this theme even as they explore the many prisms through which one can understand “culture.” David Kaulemu reflects on the African situation in ways similar to Paulinus Odozor and Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, calling for “moral/cultural/spiritual efforts to accompany our political and economic reforms” (37). He explores cultural resources for and barriers to human flourishing in an African context. Agnes Brazal (East Asia) and Joseph Jadhav (India) write in a similar vein: Brazal on the relationship between the role of “harmony” in an East Asian world view and the fragmentation and hybridity engendered by globalization; Jadhav on the interplay between CST and local culture in an arid rural part of India, which has created possibilities for culturally transformative action. John Coleman’s rich and nuanced reflection on North American (especially US) culture underlines the challenges CST faces.

Sandie Cornish and David Freeman (Australia) and Johan Verstraeten (EU) explore ecclesiological perspectives: how episcopal, religious, and lay groups have read “the signs of the times” in their area, though largely without a cultural-critical frame. Curiously, the volume avoids any cultural critique of the Church; the dialectic “from above” and “from below” remains ad extra, although Coleman does note how US bishops have frequently undercut their ability to engage culture by focusing narrowly on the institutional interests of the Church. [End Page 212]

In sum, the volume advances the work of CST by reframing key concepts within a broader perspective, in particular one that invites voices “from below.” It exposes the reader, especially those familiar with CST, to contemporary dialogues on the ethical significance of “culture” while deepening the value of CST for contemporary reflection. Contributions from Latin America and Eastern Europe, though, would have strengthened the volume.

Ron Mercier
St. Louis University
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