T. Howland Sanks
A tradition in process
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A few years ago Roger Haight, an American Jesuit theologian, published an article (Am. 3/17/08) that highlighted the amazing diversity and richness of Roman Catholic theology as it has developed since the Second Vatican Council and pointed out some lessons to be learned from those developments. He concluded, however, that there is “a kind of theological illiteracy among the laity and clergy regarding the work of the academy.” Many who are not professional theologians themselves have the impression that theology merely repeats or rehashes the theological debates of the early church—the Christological or Trinitarian controversies or those that arose with the Reformation. Others think that theology merely passes on a rigid set of dogmas and doctrines: catechism with footnotes. I hope to dispel these misimpressions.

Having taught theology for the last 40 years, I have noted other changes that have taken place, at times gradually and imperceptibly. Theology mediates between faith and culture, as Bernard Lonergan, S.J., once said. Therefore, as the cultural context changes, so does theology. And in the last 40 years the social, cultural and historical context has changed dramatically.

Consider, for example, who does theology and for whom it is done. At Vatican II, all the theological experts were male clerics. By contrast, when the church convenes its next ecumenical council, a majority of the theological experts will likely be lay theologians and a large number will be women. Why? These are the people doing theology today. To see them, look at the theological faculties in the graduate and professional schools and at the students currently enrolled in doctoral programs. These are the future theological experts.

Another difference is country of origin. At Vatican II, most theologians came from Europe and North America. Today some of the world’s most creative, innovative theologians come from Africa, Latin America and Asia. Note, for example, the presenters and participants at the international meeting of moral theologians in Trent in July 2010. Some 600 theologians came from 75 countries, including Kenya, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Cameroon; Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador and Chile; India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Japan and the Philippines. In 40 years the church has experienced the globalization of theology.

The prospective audiences or constituencies for whom theology is being done have also changed. At the time of the council, Roman Catholic theology was done primarily for the benefit of the church community and was heavily focused on training priests to hear confessions and administer the sacraments. Although some U.S. diocesan seminaries were located at universities (like The Catholic University of America in Washington, the American College at Louvain and the North American College in Rome), most were isolated from other intellectual currents and academic disciplines. Today, by contrast, theology takes place mainly in university departments and divinity schools, which typically are part of universities. Theology is directed not only to the church but also to the academy and the wider society. The intended audience is not just prospective members of the clergy but the community of intelligent inquirers, both Christian and others. Theology aims not only to provide an understanding of the Christian tradition but also to contribute to the discussion of contemporary issues and to provide guidance for contemporary society. Theology today addresses three constituencies: church, academy and society.

Context Matters

A major development in the last 40 years has been the extent to which theology has become contextualized—historically, socially and culturally. John Courtney Murray, S.J., pointed out that “the issue that lay continually below the surface of all the conciliar debates [was] the issue of the development of doctrine.” The council thus accepted the principle that as the historical context changes, so does the formulation of church teaching. Theology is always related to the context in which it is done. Prior to the council, theology was thought to be perennial, the same yesterday, today and forever.

But it is not only the historical context but also the social and cultural context that affects how theology is practiced. Attending to this requires what Pope John XXIII and the bishops at Vatican II referred to as “reading the signs of the times.” No longer is Western Europe or the North Atlantic the sole context for doing theology. The diverse contexts of Asia, Africa and Latin America provide the bases for the non-Eurocentric pluralism that characterizes contemporary theology. An intensified awareness and experience of religious pluralism is one of the major signs of our times.

This pluralism has been complicated recently by the processes of globalization. Globalization is not a single phenomenon, but a series of processes that lead to the interdependence and mutual influence of many actors—nation states, multinational corporations, nongovernmental organizations and “super-empowered individuals” like Osama bin Laden. Increasing interdependence occurs not only in the economic sphere but also in the political, social and cultural fields. These areas of human life can be distinguished but not separated. As a result, cultures that once seemed relatively autonomous are ever more porous and dynamic. Political upheavals in the Middle East or drought in China, for example, have immediate and tremendous impact on other economies and cultures around the globe.

More than currencies and commodities circulate globally. Ideas and values, like individual freedom and consumer lifestyles, are exported through the media to other contexts and are modified. A theological proposal that comes out of one particular historical, social and cultural context—like Latin American liberation theology—may be adopted and adapted in another. This is what Robert J. Schreiter, C.PP.S., of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Ill., calls “global theological flows.” The notion that salvation entails integral liberation, not only from sin but also from poverty and oppressive dehumanization, resonates not only in Lima but in Manila and Nairobi as well.

Hubble Replaces Galileo

A second major change has been called the “new cosmology.” Our understanding of the physical universe has expanded dramatically in what John F. Haught, of the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington, D.C., terms the “three infinities”: the infinitely immense, the infinitesimally small and the infinitely complex. We live in a universe of “unfathomable temporal depth and spatial extension,” writes Professor Haught, 13.7 billion years old and of an estimated 125 billion galaxies racing away from one another at an ever-increasing rate of speed. Actually, we may not live in a universe at all but in a “multiverse” with multiple parallel universes. The expectation that we are not alone in this universe, that intelligent life probably exists elsewhere, is part of our mental furniture.

In the direction of the infinitely small, consider the atom, once thought to be the ultimate building block of all matter. Particle physics has shown that the atom (ironically, the word means one, undivided) is composed of ever-smaller subatomic particles, which are made up of other almost unobservable particles (mesons, quarks, etc.). Discoveries in the biological sciences give ample evidence of the infinitely complex. Within this new cosmology, theology is carried on.

Postmodernity

As the Rev. David Tracy, of the University of Chicago Divinity School, has said, “We live in an age that cannot name itself.” But we know that the modern world of the last century and a half is changing, so we call ourselves post-modern. The term postmodernity is ambiguous; it refers to different things in different times and places and in different academic disciplines. But some shared characteristics are an increased awareness of the plurality of cultures, races, ethnicities, religions and socio-political ways of organizing ourselves. We live with a variety of styles in art, architecture, literature and mores that are seemingly incompatible, without trying to harmonize them into a coherent whole. Indeed, we are suspicious of those who try to impose an overarching narrative on reality (like Marxism or neoliberal capitalism). There is an increasing awareness and acceptance of the “other” as other, despite the jingoist attitudes that still exist in U.S. society and elsewhere. We emphasize the particular, local and regional (international corporations tailor their products to local cultures in micromarketing). There is also an increasing expectation and emphasis on participation and dialogue in politics, international relations, education and religion. All of these characteristics and sensibilities affect how theologians ply their trade today.

Theological Questions

Although theology has always been done in and from a particular context, theologians were not always conscious of this, nor did they intend it. Today theologians are much more attentive to social location. To read the signs of the times, theology not only addresses itself to philosophy, its perennial dialogue partner, but engages with the social sciences, literature and the arts. These are all sources for theological reflection. The signs of the times are read and interpreted in the light of both the Christian Scriptures (the soul of theology) and the whole of the Christian tradition, which in turn is read and reinterpreted in the light of ever-shifting contexts.

In whatever context theology is done, though, particular questions force themselves upon theologians: questions of war and peace, justice and inequality, massive poverty and oppression, globalization and the new international social, political and economic order. These issues are being addressed by moral theologians and social ethicists, biblical scholars and historical, systematic and pastoral theologians.

Other issues arise from an awareness of a new pluralism within Christian theology. Strangers or cultural “others” are no longer distant; through migration and the electronic media, they live next door. We theologians acknowledge the variety of ways Christianity can be understood and practiced in Africa, Asia and Latin America. How can we inculturate Christianity in these diverse cultures and also maintain some kind of unity, catholicity? Religious pluralism has become an urgent concern as we have recognized, since Vatican II, that there may be truth, grace and even salvation through non-Christian religious traditions. How are Christians to understand the uniqueness of salvation in Christ; what is the mission of the church in this context? Do other religious traditions have a place in God’s plan, or have they escaped God’s providence? These questions concern many Christians, whose firsthand experience of non-Christian religion often comes when a family member marries someone of another faith.

Questions also cluster around the new cosmology. How do we rethink or re-imagine our notion of God, the Trinity and salvation in Christ in the light of Professor Haught’s three infinities? How do we understand the beginning and ending of human life in the light of new discoveries in the biomedical sciences? Issues that once seemed relatively clear are infinitely more complex today. Expanding scientific knowledge raises the question of atheism all over again. And scientific rationality causes us to rethink the kind of knowledge religion is, the relation of logos to mythos, as Karen Armstrong, a prolific author of religious books, suggests. How are these different forms of human knowing related? Many educated Christians today are comfortable with what they know of the universe from basic scientific discoveries.

Finally, all these questions give rise to a new pluralism within Christian theology and raise questions of theological method. How do theologians do theology in light of this expanding, exploding knowledge of the cosmos? The horizons of our work have been infinitely expanded, and theology itself has therefore expanded.

To see how these new questions and issues are being dealt with today, consider a random sample of topics for some recent graduate theses and dissertations: “The Ecological Dimensions of Peace and the Church Mission From an African Perspective,” “Towards a Kaiviti Theology in Fiji,” “Conversion and Retrieval of Fihavana Culture in Madagascar,” “Imagination, the Spiritual Exercises, and Korean Protestants,” “Globalization Interpreted: A Teilhardian World View,” “A Reflection on HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” “The Poor as the Basis for Interreligious Dialogue,” “Theology, Church, and Economic Globalization.” This sample demonstrates not only a breadth of interests and concerns but also how different theological disciplines are converging or crossing boundaries after many years of relative isolation in their respective silos. Interdisciplinarity is the order of the day. (Browse other dissertation topics here.)

This is not to imply that more traditional topics in theology are being neglected. If anything, the present concerns of religious pluralism, poverty and injustice, inculturation and globalization and the new cosmology are forcing theologians to revisit and re-examine our understanding and way of imagining God, Christ, salvation, revelation and faith.

Future Direction

What of the future? Some trends are likely to continue. Despite efforts to reach the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, the issues of poverty, injustice and inequality are likely to be front and center for concerned Christians. And despite globalization, religious and cultural pluralism will be an increasing part of the theological context. The unanswered questions will not go away and cannot be repressed.

We can also expect reactions against exploring these cutting-edge issues. There is always a legitimate concern that some aspects of the Christian tradition may be lost and a desire to preserve the fullness of the tradition. We will experience both continuity and discontinuity with the past. Conflicts in theology will persist, as will attempts to bring order and system to this pluralism. The task of theologians is precisely to pose questions to the tradition and, with modesty and humility, to formulate them as questions, not as firmly held assertions. Theologians have been compared to the research and development branch of a corporation, and management ignores them at its peril. The goal remains, as Scripture says, “Always be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you, and make it with modesty and respect.” (1 Pt 3:15).

T. Howland Sanks, S.J., is professor of historical and systematic theology at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, Calif.

Comments

Edward Ray | 10/20/2011 - 10:03pm
Robert, I am far from an expert.  My PhD is in electrical engineering; I study theology/philosophy for fun and non-profit.  But based on my knowledge of (American) Catholic laity Fr. Sanks approach would find little reception.  Several of my Jesuit friends would agree with me.  That does not make Fr. Sanks a bad person, just misinformed.  Perhaps folks in Fiji and Malaysia might find a pluralistic approach appealing, but I fail to see how a society (like ours) which suffers from poor education, spiritual poverty and materialism would benefit.
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 10/19/2011 - 10:17pm
My last comment -I hate long sdtanding  blog debates but Mr. Ray thinks he's a self appointed expert (not sure what he brings to the table as judge) who idoesn't like what he perceives as "liberal revisionists" Jesuit education
He cam have his opinion bu tit's severely limited in my opinion!
Edward Ray | 10/19/2011 - 8:03pm
The divisiveness unfortunately comes from Jesuits, as evidenced by their various censures and suspensions over the years.  I can persoanally appreciate where Roger Haight was trying to go in "Jesus As Symbol" even though I disagree with it.  The same goes for Jon Sobrino and liberation theology.  That appreciation comes with about 30+ years of reading and a large library.  Avery Dulles was my cathecism instructor, and he taught me to understand ALL that is Catholic.  Neo-Thomism, for example, resonates with my fellow Protestant brothers and sisters, some of whom convert to Catholicism becasue of his teachings.  Norris Clarke, SJ has some excellent ways of relating Thomas Aquinas to the modern world.

What I find far too often in people like Fr. Sanks is the tendency to throw out that which is old or disagreeable to them.  As I stated previously our faith suffers from lack of knowledge amongst the laity.  Pluralism will do little to mitigate that problem.  Nor will liberation theology, which neither myself nor most laity find very compelling or interesting.
6466379 | 10/19/2011 - 5:34pm
Sorrry, correcting my post #13 it's (Fr.) Sanks, not Sank. And in the listing of the faces of God it's Potter, not Porter. And in second paragraph a (,) not a (.) should follow the word "expectations."  Small stuff maybe, but important to me.
6466379 | 10/19/2011 - 11:59am

I understand that one theological focus of Jesuit Professor T. Howland Sank in “The Changing Face Of Theology” is on the multi-ethnic faces of  modern theologians with corresponding contingent interests, its non-unilaterality (pardon that tongue-twister) whereas formerly only contingent interests of European and North American theologians were the norm.  Now the norm in multi-national, one in buttress somehow of the other.


However, if it is true that theology is the probing into the nature of that mysterious person we call God, “a mystery which is at once awesome and attractive” relative to the nature of that mysterious person(s) called Man/Woman interchangeably listed, with their collective natural and supernatural gifts and expectations.  I’d like to comment, perhaps painfully unscholarly, as scholar I am not.  Understand my comment has to do with the Biblically revealed many faces of God, each I dare suggest with their own unique theology of unity, its consequence human solidarity, based on the Fatherhood of God and the brother/sisterhood of humanity.


In her masterful and Catholic Faith-sustaining, explorative theological work, “Quest For The Living God,” Religious Sister and peer-equal theologican Professor Elizabeth A. Johnson, gives at least twenty-six Biblical images, or “faces” of the Living God.  They are, Father, Mother, Husband. Female Beloved, Companion, Friend, Advocate, Liberator, King, Warrior, Judge, Shepherd, Midwife, Farmer, Laundress, Construction Worker, Porter, Artist, Merchant, Physician, Baker Woman, Vine Dresser, Teacher, Metal Worker and Homemaker.  Professor Johnson assures us these are but a “few!”


Many decades ago as a student, another student said to me, “God is everything I am not!”  I responded, “No, God is everything that we can be!”  Based on the many faces of the Living God just enumerated what I said seems to  contain more than a grain of truth.  Through the many faces of the Living God emerging in the multi-strands or schools of theological thought, I see reflected the face of Christ, as “the Truth” wherein all are touched redemptively by the Cross, even unknowingly in the “multiverse” of theological thought in which we live, authenticating it seems to me what went before, a mutually sustaining foundation not only on which to build but also to expand!  Theologically we are “our brother’s keeper” and this finds credence in Jesus’ words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!” Truth is truth wherever one finds it!


As Professor Father Sank indicated in “The Changing Face Of Theology” Vatican II recognized such freedom by teaching, “there may be truth, grace and even salvation through non-Christian traditions.”  How so?  As I’ve said before, through the universal salvific efficacy of the Cross heralded principally within the Catholic/Christian tradition.  We teach each other.


For whatever its worth, that’s how it seems to me simply and plainly expressed.  The many faces of the Living God Biblically revealed offers rich theological soil for development, “treasures in vessels of clay” if you wish, And wonderfully as St. Paul says in one of his Letters, “Everything is for you!”    

ROBERT NUNZ MR | 10/19/2011 - 10:42am
I think Mr. Ray's bvroadside about Jesuit education is tiresome -maybe shouldn't be graced with a reply.
While we struggle to deal with new knowledge and the isues of modernity, the divisivenes in the Church only holds us back further.
Unfortunately, that divisiveness frequently shows an ugly head in the world of blogdom,
C Walter Mattingly | 10/19/2011 - 8:25am
"The Hubble Places Galileo" section of this article was particularly interesting to me, as it seems to be a harbinger of yet another cycling back away from faith in empiricism and its tool, science, the supremacy of rationalism, and faith in logical positivism as a source of final answers toward the medieval/classical perspective of mystery. As Alexander Pope's image has it, climbing one Alp to discover what is beyond, we see Alps upon Alps into an infinite horizon. Likewise our discovery of what we believed were the tiniest particles gave way to an ever-growing supply of tinier realities; our search for the extent and limits of the universe ("everthing") gives way to the possibilities of "mulitple everythings." Rather than Scientific Progress narrowing down and approaching the limits and final boundaries of the reality in which we find ourselves immersed, these discoveries simply multiply in our consciousness the enormity of what we, homo sapiens sapiens, do not know. Each discovery seems to extend, not foreshorten, the horizons of the unknown. Even a foundational truth of Einsteinian physics, that matter cannot exceed the speed of light, is now being called into question. Against this landscape Sartre, who looked about himself and determined the world did not compute or conform to his reason. In his hubris he concluded that since man's reason was the supreme and final measure of the universe, existence was absurd. Those who recognize man's limitations, including the scholastics and most classicists, refered  to that same reality as some variation of Magnum Mysterium. The question is then to find a way to trope that reality, which Karl Rahner would perhaps refer to as the transcendent God. We have reason to hope that these new and incredible revelations of physics and biological schiences, which in truth cause us to be uncertain as well as awed about scientific knowledge and discovery, are friendly to that Magnum Mysterium we call God and His creation.
To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it may be Springtime for God and America. 
Edward Ray | 10/19/2011 - 1:56am
In Response to Robert Nunz


Historically, the Jesuits have dominated graduate study in the United States, and I don't think I am revealing any secrets when I tell you that the Society of Jesus has committed itself and its institutions to a liberal-revisionist agenda. In the 1970s and 1980s, this may have seemed cutting-edge, but these days it's pretty tired, and tiresome.  This complacent liberalism has hurt Jesuit graduate programs even at Boston College, and it has badly injured places like Marquette, Fordham, and St. Louis University.

ROBERT NUNZ MR | 10/17/2011 - 10:22am
I think Mr. Ray's original post about Fr. Sanks in his cubbyhole was arrogant.
I suspect as a theology professor is well educated; Mr. Ray seems to think he knows more though it's less than clear what he brings to the table.
In a time of great divisivness and turmoil, we need less discussion from the I know better point of view in the world of blogdom and, as a recent podcast by profesor Hinze at this sight pointed up, better listening to advance te message of the Church.
Craig McKee | 10/15/2011 - 10:28pm
WWJBT?
Where would Jesus be THEOLOGIZING?
"...the issues of poverty, injustice and inequality are likely to be front and center for concerned Christians."

Case in point: the burgeoning fertile field of so-called QUEER THEOLOGY, which takes its starting point from the oppression of entire segments of a society and their experiences in light of the saving grace of the Godhead.

cf. Patrick Cheng's excellent introduction to the field (accessible to nonspecialists and specialists alike):
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-patrick-s-cheng-phd/radical-love-why-christia_b_841547.html
http://www.amazon.com/Radical-Love-Introduction-Queer-Theology/dp/1596271329
KEN LOVASIK | 10/15/2011 - 2:40pm
"The goal remains, as Scripture says, 'Always be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you, and make it with modesty and respect.' (1 Pt 3:15)." This thought, with which Fr. Sanks concludes his reflection, brought to mind St. Paul and the writer of the Fourth Gospel.  Both of these early Christian 'theologians' dared to break new ground for the Christian movement by reaching out to the world that they were encountering outside the Jewish community.  They dared to preach the Gospel in the Hellenistic language of the non-Jewish culture of Rome and Greece, and as they did so, they were condemned by the 'Judaizers', those who could not accept the idea that there could be any other way of understanding the nature and mission of Jesus other than theirs!  Paul's Letter to the Galatians was occasioned by the undermining of his missionary activity by members of the Jerusalem Church who could not see what he was truly about; all they could see was that he was 'changing' how they expressed what they thought was essential.

This same thinking is reflected in the Fourth Gospel:  that Gospel begins with a Prologue that would have been completely foreign to those who saw the life and mission of Jesus only in Jewish terms.  One can only imagine their reaction to a Gospel which began with the words 'In the beginning was the Logos - the Word - and the Word was with God and the Word was God."  Terminology taken from Greek Philosopy!  Yet this was a hymn sung by the early Gentile Christians. 

I don't hear Fr. Sanks denying the necessity of understanding how theology has developed in the Christian tradition, but I do hear him, while affirming the history of Christian tlheology, reminding us that we need to follow in the footsteps of Paul and the writer of the Fourth Gospel in bringing the person, presence and mission of Jesus to bear in a changing world, a world hungry (without knowing it) for God.  Thinking only of the glories of the past and the theology of the Scholastics, is to follow in the footsteps of the first century 'Judaizers' in the early Christian communities.  Were it not for Paul and the writer of the Fourth Gospel - and others - the message of Jesus the Lord would never have left Jewish Palestine.
Carol DeChant | 10/14/2011 - 6:22pm
This is a very hopeful article. I admit to being one who tends to characterizes theolgy as "chiseled in stone," rigid, unchanging, and unfeeling. I'm grateful for this clarification. (One Question: Does the Vatican view theology as this article does?)
Edward Ray | 10/14/2011 - 3:21pm

I realized that in my last post I neglected to offer a possible curriculum for us laity.  While the following link may seem exhaustive in its content, a program that follows http://www.usml.edu/education/Ecclesiastical/appendix3.htm  would be most helpful to educating the laity in America. 


Unfortunately, you folks in ecclesiastical faculties have not caught up with the 21st century realization that one need not be physically located at your school in order to acquire knowledge.  Al Gore invented the Internet more than 15 years ago.  It would be nice if degrees based on the STL reading list above were offered on-line across multiple ecclesiastical institutions.  That way a Fr. Oakes could be more readily accessible, along with other Jesuits and Dominicans.

Edward Ray | 10/14/2011 - 3:20pm

I realized that in my last post I neglected to offer a possible curriculum for us laity.  While the following link may seem exhaustive in its content, a program that follows http://www.usml.edu/education/Ecclesiastical/appendix3.htm would be most helpful to educating the laity in America. 




Unfortunately, you folks in ecclesiastical faculties have not caught up with the 21st century realization that one need not be physically located at your school in order to acquire knowledge.  Al Gore invented the Internet more than 15 years ago.  It would be nice if degrees based on the STL reading list above were offered on-line across multiple ecclesiastical institutions.  That way a Fr. Oakes could be more readily accessible, along with other Jesuits and Dominicans.

Edward Ray | 10/14/2011 - 3:19pm

I realized that in my last post I neglected to offer a possible curriculum for us laity.  While the following link may seem exhaustive in its content, a program that follows http://www.usml.edu/education/Ecclesiastical/appendix3.htm would be most helpful to educating the laity in America. 




Unfortunately, you folks in ecclesiastical faculties have not caught up with the 21st century realization that one need not be physically located at your school in order to acquire knowledge.  Al Gore invented the Internet more than 15 years ago.  It would be nice if degrees based on the STL reading list above were offered on-line across multiple ecclesiastical institutions.  That way a Fr. Oakes could be more readily accessible, along with other Jesuits and Dominicans.

Edward Ray | 10/14/2011 - 3:16pm

I realized that in my last post I neglected to offer a possible curriculum for us laity.  While the following link may seem exhaustive in its content, a program that follows http://www.usml.edu/education/Ecclesiastical/appendix3.htm would be most helpful to increase knowledge of God amongst the laity.  It also could serve as a way to increase the number of young men who choose the priestly vocation.


Unfortunately, Catholic ecclesiastical institutions have not caught up with the 21st century realization that one need not be physically located at your school in order to acquire knowledge.  Al Gore invented the Internet more than 15 years ago; it would be nice if degrees based on STL reading list above were offered on-line across multiple ecclesiastical institutions.  That way a Fr. Oakes could be more readily accessible, along with other Jesuits and Dominicans who specialize in the STL topic areas.

Edward Ray | 10/14/2011 - 2:38pm

Fr. Sanks writes an interesting article, and one can appreciate is view.  However, Fr. Sanks appears to know very little except what is in the confines of his little cubbyhole of the view world at Berkeley.  America, like Western Europe, suffers from (as Pope Benedict XVI says) a "hermeneutics of discontinuity."  It may come as a shock to Fr. Sanks that the American Catholic laity has little interest in “Conversion and Retrieval of Fihavana Culture in Madagascar” or any of the other half-assed thesis topics that come out of his school. 

An understanding of the fundamentals of our faith; Thomistic philosophy (neo-Thomism, ressourcement Thomism, etc.), scripture/biblical theology, church fathers/historical theology, systematic theology (Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, anthropology, etc.), moral theology.  It is here that the American laity is thirsting for knowledge.  You cannot defend your faith in the public square (1 Peter 3:15) until you understand it.

Perhaps Fr. Sanks should read "The Ruins of Discontinuity" by Reinhard Hutter, located at http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/12/the-ruins-of-discontinuity
Dr. Hutter reflects my frustration at the sorry state of American Catholic Theology.  WE DO NOT SEEK PLURALISM WE SEEK CONTINUITY!!!!  “Towards a Kaiviti Theology in Fiji" does not help me understand my Christian history, nor does it help me to defend Christianity in the public square.

I recently read an article from Fr. Edward Oakes, S.J. in the latest issue of Nova et Vetera entitled "The Surnatural Controversy: A Survey and a Response."  What a joy to read!  Sadly, I could not share that joy with anyone besides my mother, because very few laity I talk to would understand the issue (nature/grace tension, so fundamental to our understanding of our relationship with God).  Fr. Oakes represents the future theologian I hope to emulate someday.  You, Fr. Sanks (and the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley) DO NOT!