This month, Dr. Brian Flanagan, Associate Professor of Theology at Marymount University, achieved national recognition by officially becoming the acting President of the College Theology Society (CTS).
Founded in 1954 as a Roman Catholic organization of lay and religious teachers of undergraduate theology, CTS is a professional association of college and university professors now totaling over 500 across the U.S., Canada and Europe. Dr. Flanagan has been a member of the Society since 2002 when he was still a doctoral student at Boston College, and has since served as Treasurer from 2010 to 2016 and spent the last year in the “President-Elect” role to learn the ropes of the position.
“The President of CTS is supported by a very active, very engaged Board of Trustees, so my responsibilities are primarily that of an organizer of those efforts – planning our Annual Meeting, supporting the publication of the volume that results from that Meeting, working closely with the editor of our Society’s biannual journal, Horizons, and representing the Society with other scholarly groups,” Dr. Flanagan said. “Having served as Treasurer, I know how hard the various members of the Board work. I’ll get to do a lot of the less onerous, more fun stuff – cheerleading, encouraging and thanking them!”
During his tenure as CTS President, which will last until June 2023, Dr. Flanagan aims to accomplish several strategic goals. These include fostering more creative gatherings and conversations with colleagues throughout the academic year, as well as presiding over next year’s Annual Meeting, with the theme of “’Why We Can’t Wait’: Racism and the Church.”
“I’m excited to be working with the conveners of that meeting – Drs. Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos of Detroit Mercy, Tracy Tiemeier of Loyola Marymount and Elisabeth Vasko of Duquesne – to address the structures of racial injustice both in our wider church but also in our Society itself,” Dr. Flanagan explained. “We will address the ways that we, as a historically primarily White Catholic society, can proactively address inequity within CTS and become a more intentionally anti-racist organization.”
Dr. Flanagan credits CTS with positively impacting his teaching style and curriculum as a professor at Marymount, reflecting on his participation in a Society teaching workshop focused on race, racism and pedagogy that he says helped him learn how to talk about these topics in the diverse classrooms of the University. Recently, he also presented to fellow CTS members how he adapted his medieval theology course to hone in on contemplative practices and medieval spirituality in order to help students respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and to an uncertain world more broadly.
“Most of my best teaching ideas are derived from collaboration with my colleagues at CTS and at Marymount,” Dr. Flanagan said. “The Society’s focus on combining solid research with attention to pedagogy means that talking about how to translate the study of theology and religion into forms and methods that work for our students is always part of the formal and informal conversation.”
The Society is also a place for courageous, and sometimes controversial, conversations, Dr. Flanagan says. A few weeks ago during the CTS 2021 Annual Meeting, Bishop John Stowe of Kentucky made headlines after apologizing to Margie Winters, the former director of religious education at a Catholic school in Pennsylvania. He told Winters, who was fired in 2015 because of her marriage to a woman, that she was betrayed by an institution that she loves. (More info can be found in this story published by the National Catholic Reporter)
“Having a free, open and respectful conversation about the actual questions and experiences we bring to our work, even when we disagree, is what we try to model to our students and maintain in our dialogues,” Dr. Flanagan added. “We were founded primarily by religious sisters like the RSHM sisters who founded Marymount, as well as brothers, priests and lay Catholics who taught undergraduates. They passed on to us the habits of taking our work seriously, without taking ourselves overly seriously – allowing us to welcome everyone from graduate students to retired professors into a robust, but routinely charitable, dialogue.”
Dr. Flanagan is the author of the award-winning book, Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church, and is currently writing a book on Pope Francis’s efforts to make wider participation and transparency in decision-making an integral practice of the Catholic Church at all levels. He is also the Co-Chair of the Ecclesiological Investigations Unit of the American Academy of Religion.
At Marymount, Dr. Flanagan specializes in the teaching of systematic theology, ecclesiology and the liturgy and sacraments. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. from Boston College, as well as a bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University of America.