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Reviewed by:
  • Public Theology and The Global Common Good: The Contribution of David Hollenbach, SJ ed. by Kevin Ahern, et al.
  • Thomas A. Shannon
Public Theology and The Global Common Good: The Contribution of David Hollenbach, SJ. Edited by Kevin Ahern, Meghan J. Clark, Kristin E. Heyer, Laurie Johnson. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016. 224pp. $35.00.

For those who do not know David Hollenbach and his work, this collection is an excellent introduction. For those who do know him, these essays are a substantive engagement with his ideas that enlarge and carry them forward. The four editors joined with 14 other of Hollenbach’s former doctoral students to write these essays to honor him for the many significant contributions he has made to Catholic social teaching, in particular his writings on justice as participation, human rights, the global common good, and public theology, which topics also serve as the four section headings of the book. In the Foreword, Margaret Farley, RSM notes two core realities in his thought: the ontological reality of the dignity of the human person which “is an indicative that yields an imperative” (xii) and that “it is by inclusive participation that the dignity, freedom, and worth of persons is secured” (xiii). Meghan Clark contributes an introductory essay that both overviews several themes in Hollenbach’s moral theology as well as highlights the various themes of the other authors. She highlights two key experiences that helped shape Hollenbach’s work. First, his work as the primary theological advisor to the Pastoral Letter, which developed the theme of justice as participation and second, his work in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and with the Jesuit Refugee Service.

While all of the essays are of high quality and engage in and carry forward ideas in Hollenbach’s body of work, there were several that I found especially helpful. Grégoire Catta, SJ uses Pope Francis to identify four ways of learning from the poor: learning to diagnose problems, being moved by their suffering, appreciating popular piety and culture, and learning the art of accompaniment. He then shows how Jesuit Relief Service models this and highlights several contributions by Hollenbach here. Anna Floerke Schneid shows how a focus on embodiment gives more protection to those subject to human rights [End Page 92] violations, particularly women and people of color. This leads to embodied practice, modeled by putting one’s body on the line as a way to seek justice. Jacquineau Azetsop, SJ argues that tolerance does not lead to the common good because it omits mutual respect and interdependence, both of which are necessary for community. This critique coheres well with Hollenbach’s focus on human interactions and interdependence. David E. DeCosse argues against a libertarian, ahistorical, or procedural understanding of freedom in favor of an embodied, contextual understanding of the practice of freedom to achieve significant social goals. The more embodied this freedom is, the more effective it will be in helping to achieve the common good. Mark E. Gammon, basing his approach on Scripture and a different account of human nature, offers a critique of Hollenbach’s arguments about human rights and the common good, of particular concern is how rights language can serve as a tool of power by various elites.

I would have liked to see two additions to the book: a response by Hollenbach to the various critiques and developments of his thought and a bibliography of his works. These would make a valuable book even more valuable and useful. Each of the essays is focused, crisp, and engages in a substantive way with various themes of Hollenbach’s work. Consequently, the book is an engaging dialogue with one of our best moral theologians. It will be useful in upper-level undergraduate courses as well as a good resource for graduate students.

Thomas A. Shannon
Emeritus, Worcester Polytechnic Institute


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pp. 92-93
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