Religious Liberty: 50 Years After Vatican II

Religious Liberty: 50 Years After Vatican II

Last semester, Dr. Michael Breidenbach (Assistant Professor of History), who specializes in American religious and political history, organized a conference in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom. The one-day event was sponsored by the History, Theology and Philosophy Departments at Ave Maria University and funded by Michael Novak and the Henkels Lecture Fund.

The idea for the conference arose from a course on American Catholic History that Breidenbach was co-teaching with Novak (Distinguished Visiting Professor at AMU). “The course investigated how American Catholic thought and practice from the early seventeenth century until today have led to divergent and often controversial conclusions about the compatibilities and complementarities, or incongruities and contradictions, between American principles, ideals, and institutions on the one hand, and Catholic faith, teaching, and practice on the other,” Breidenbach explained. “Questions concerning religious liberty and church-state relations have been central in these debates, and the fiftieth anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae [first published on December 7, 1965] offered us an opportunity to explore those issues with preeminent scholars from around the world.”

The December 9th conference featured lectures, discussions, commentary, and question-and-answer sessions with internationally known scholars from London, New York, Washington, DC, and Ave Maria. The speakers, who represented a wide range of academic disciplines, included David L. Schindler (Pontifical John Paul II Institute), Michael Breidenbach (AMU), William McCormick, S.J. (Fordham), Joe Trabbic (AMU), and Steven Long (AMU). The keynote address was delivered by Thomas Pink (King’s College London), who spoke on “Dignitatis Humanae and the Problem of Church and State.” (A video of his address is included above.) Ave Maria professors Michael Novak, Michael Pakaluk, Fr. Matthew Lamb, and Seana Sugrue provided commentary throughout the day.

“The conference afforded the participants an opportunity to discuss their previous academic work and new scholarly ideas among some of the most important scholars in the field,” Breidenbach said. The interdisciplinary nature of the conference enabled the scholars gathered to engage in a free exchange of ideas across academic fields. Breidenbach hopes to capitalize on the new paths of inquiry generated by compiling an edited volume that represents the best scholarship on the topic of Dignitatis Humanae and religious liberty.