After an appointment as a Junior Fellow with the Society of Fellows at Harvard (1993-96), Christine Thomas joined the religious studies department at Santa Barbara, where she received the Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000. She currently is secretary of council and a member of the executive committee of the Society of Biblical Literature. She has written extensively on ancient Christian literature and on the religions of Asia Minor in the Roman Imperial Period. Publications include The Acts of Peter, Gospel Literature, and the Ancient Novel: Rewriting the Past and Phrygian Votive Steles. Most recently, her research has focused on theoretical issues surrounding the use of archaeological evidence for the study of religion; material aspects of religion in the Roman Empire (spaces, objects, practices); and the urban context of the early Christian writings of the 1st and 2nd centuries, especially the cities of Paul. Since 1991, she has spent part of each year conducting fieldwork in Turkey.
UCSB Public Affairs and Communications – News Release New Pope May Signal Some Change, Say UCSB Religious Studies Scholars
(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– With the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as its new leader, the Roman Catholic Church has achieved a number of firsts: Pope Francis I, as Bergoglio is now known, is the first pontiff from Latin America –– and the Americas, in general; he is the first from the Jesuit order; and he is the first to choose the name Francis.
“The symbolic significance of a non-European pope is huge,” said Ann Taves, professor of religious studies. Taves holds UC Santa Barbara’s Virgil Cordano OFM Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies. “A little over a century ago, the majority of the world’s Catholics were still in Europe. Today, the situation is just the reverse. There are more Catholics in Asia and Africa than in Europe, but Latin America is the powerhouse when it comes to numbers of Catholics.”
In the United States, the Church would be shrinking –– as it is in Europe –– were it not for the growing numbers of Latino Catholics, Taves continued. “The election of Francis I reflects the globalization of the church, as well as the increasing clout of the church in what is referred to as the ‘global south.’ But it also demonstrates the enormous role of Catholicism in Latin America, and in an increasingly Latino church in the U.S.,” she said.
At the same time, Taves noted, Bergoglio is a bridge figure of sorts who eases the church into this global reality while maintaining close ties to Europe. “Argentina is very closely connected to Europe, and Bergoglio’s parents immigrated to Argentina from Italy,” she said. “Bergoglio is fluent in Italian, and like Pope Benedict before him, he completed his theological training in Germany. In addition, he’s held various offices at the Vatican.”
How Pope Francis will differ –– or not –– from his predecessor remains to be seen, Taves said. She noted that both Benedict and Francis are theologically conservative, and very similar with regard to church doctrine and some of the issues of great importance to many U.S. Catholics, such as contraception, married priests, ordination of women, and gay marriage. “But for all the theological similarities, I think we’ll probably see a shift in emphasis from a focus on the secularization of Europe to issues of social justice –– the challenges of globalization, the growing divide between rich and poor –– that loom large in Latin America and the global south more generally,” she said.
Stefania Tutino, a professor of history and of religious studies at UCSB, concurs with Taves regarding Francis’s conservative theology. However, she added, he is considered a very charismatic pastor, which was evident in the way he addressed the throng of people in St. Peter’s Square when he was introduced yesterday
In terms of issues facing the church, Taves noted the general feeling going into the conclave that the church needs someone who has the administrative skills to more effectively handle the various scandals that have plagued the church. “I don’t think anyone has a clear sense of Francis’s abilities in this regard, although he does look to be more of a natural administrator than Benedict was,” she said.
Tutino also is optimistic. “Francis is an outsider with respect to the Roman Curia, since his major ecclesiastical appointment was as archbishop of Buenos Aires,” Tutino said. “So in this regard, we should expect him to be a ‘reformist,’ insofar as the Curia issues are concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him more be decisive in dealing with the sexual abuse scandals, the financial questions regarding the Vatican bank, and the Vatican leaks.” The Roman Curia refers to the Vatican’s administrative offices in Rome.
“I suspect that Francis will continue Benedict’s –– and John Paul II’s –– emphasis on evangelism, but, again, with some possible shifts,” Taves said. “Under Benedict, the declining numbers of Catholics in Europe received a lot of attention. But the church faces challenges from other religions and from secularism elsewhere as well.”
Although the percentage of the population that is Catholic is very high in Latin America as compared to the rest of the world, the last few decades have seen precipitous losses, Taves noted. “I imagine the new pope will be wrestling with this reality when he promotes evangelism,” she said, “and perhaps infusing it with a new emphasis on social justice, on concern for the poor, and on the economic effects of globalization.”
(Santa Barbara, Calif.) — Historically, women have played an important role in cultivating and maintaining Islamic knowledge. Their involvement in religious scholarship — and in the Islamic disciplines in general — continued for hundreds of years, although their contributions have declined in the last few centuries for a variety of reasons. As more Muslim women begin to produce scholarship, however, particularly in the field of Islamic law, changes are unfolding in the face of Islamic religious authority.
That change, as well as the promise of greater adoption of the egalitarian principles of Islam, is the central theme of the third annual Graduate Student Islamic Studies Conference at UC Santa Barbara. “Reconstituting Female Authority: Women’s Participation in the Transmission and Production of Islamic Knowledge” will take place March 8-10 in the campus’s Loma Pelona Center. The conference is free and open to the public.
Stefania Tutino, professor of religious studies and history at UCSB, discusses the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, and what it might mean for the Catholic Church. Oh, and how it provides some very interesting teachable moments for her and other educators.