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Conference to explore beauty, Catholic faith

| Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture will host its annual fall conference, an interdisciplinary exploration of a specific aspect of Catholic tradition, this Thursday through Sunday. This year’s conference, “You Are Beauty,” will address the relationship between imagination, beauty and the Catholic faith.

Ken Hallenius, the Center’s communications specialist, explained the thought process behind choosing this year’s theme.

“This year, knowing that the conference was coming immediately on the heels of the presidential election cycle, we wanted to provide an opportunity for people to focus on beauty and imagination as a counterpoint to the pervasive angry rhetoric and political infighting,” he said in an email.

Hallenius said the fall conference is Notre Dame’s largest academic conference each year — and “You Are Beauty” is expected to the best-attended conference in its 17-year history.

“We expect more than 750 attendees to take part, and we will have 90 presentations during the weekend,” he said.

The fall conference’s speakers consider the topic from a wide variety of approaches, presenting on beauty as expressed through mediums such as music, the human body, food, the planet, architecture, literature and a number of others as well. The speakers will examine beauty not as simply a physical quality, but a spiritual, intellectual and social one.

“It is amazing to hear, in one place, talks on Dante, biology, sacred music, cooking, architecture, the Vatican Museum, poetry, filmmaking and Tolkien,” Hallenius said.

The Center for Ethics and Culture sent out a call for papers to over 3,500 academics and received over 150 paper proposals; of those, 70 were chosen to be presented, Hallenius said. The conference is broken up into in colloquiums, during which two or three scholars present their papers, and in larger talks followed by question-and-answer sessions.

“We are blessed to have a great representation from the student population each year,” he said. “ … All of the speaker sessions are open to the entire Notre Dame community, even for those who didn’t pre-register, so we encourage students to come to the talks that interest them.” 

Peter Casarella, associate professor of theology, will be speaking on his essay, “The Poetics of Space: The Socio-Ecological Horizon of the Lived Experience of Beauty.” The essay focuses on two primary topics: Latinos in the Catholic faith and the principles outlined in Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, “Via Pulchritudinis.”

“The talk will be about the relationship between the concepts of space and place in beauty,” he said.

Casarella said his talk will discuss priests in Buenos Aires who often venture into the depressed shantytowns at the edges of the city. He said the priests wrote to members of the city government, asking them to focus on the poor and downtrodden as they worked on improving the city. For these priests, beauty is found in “the ecology of daily life.”

It is the idea of taking those on the periphery of society into account that is beautiful, he added.

“It isn’t physical beauty at all — there’s nothing beautiful in being poor,” Casarella said. “But wouldn’t there be more beauty in the world if there were more unity?”

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