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Lecture explores vulnerability

Carolina Wilson | Sunday, February 12, 2012

The philosophy of St. Edith Stein is seen through the lens of vulnerability, Wheaton College professor Dr. Sarah Borden Sharkey said in the keynote address for the seventh annual Edith Stein Conference held at McKenna Hall over the weekend.

The Conference, titled “Encountering Vulnerability: Courage, Hope and Trust in the 21st Century,” explored the role that suffering and vulnerability play in humans’ lives.

Renée Roden, chair of the fundraising committee for the Edith Stein Project, said the lecture left a lasting impact.

“The Edith Stein Project carries on her vision by challenging all the conference participants to discover what our calling is as human beings – the universal calling of all human beings, and our own individual vocation,” she said. “And that is the teaching that is at the core of Edith Stein’s philosophy – the transcendent nature of the human being.”

Sharkey’s speech addressed the magnitude of Stein’s philosophical and religious work, along with her unique desire to share with others the importance of perseverance and vulnerability.

Sharkey began the address with a historical description of the life of Stein.

Born in 1891 in Breslau as the youngest of 11 children, Stein lived in a peaceful and stable Europe. Her success in school reinforced her hopes and anticipations to continue her education at the university level.

In 1913, Stein began work with Dr. Edmund Husserl, a professor of philosophy at Gottingen University, Sharkey said.

After volunteering as a nurse in Austria during World War II, Stein converted to Catholicism while committing to the holy and celibate life.

“[Stein] was neither married, nor pursued a career where women were welcomed,” Sharkey said. “But, she pursued.”

Sharkey said Stein applied to post-graduate programs, but was rejected due to her gender.

Stein’s perseverance led her to write a letter to the Prussian ministry about sexual discrimination regarding hiring in the work place. Her plea was responded with a proclamation that sexism should not be allowed in hiring occupations, Sharkey said.

Sharkey used Stein’s teaching to deliver a message to the audience.

“Protect rather than tear down others,” she said.

She quoted Stein saying, “You can recognize faults and failings of others if you’ve experienced those faults and failings.”

Reflecting on the title of the Conference, Sharkey said Stein felt it was a vocation to suffer with Christ by accepting that suffering makes us stronger.

Sharkey said the audience should recognize that we belong to a world of meaning and values. Stein believed these values shape the way the community engages with the world around them.