By Tracey Primrose
September 28, 2016 — Back in 1940, a group of Jesuits at the now-shuttered seminary, Woodstock College in Maryland, created a small, no-frills, in-house academic journal called Theological Studies. Their hope, says current editor-in-chief Father Paul Crowley, SJ, was to “give theological life to the church in the United States.” More than 75 years later, that vision is still going strong.
While the quarterly publication — the flagship theological journal of the Society of Jesus in the English-speaking world — tackles weighty academic topics, the journal also offers crossover content for those who bring theology to the pews. “We’re not only interested in addressing professors of theology,” says Fr. Crowley.
Recent articles include an essay by Father James Keenan, SJ, of Boston College, on sin; a look at Catholic social thought and worker justice; and an article on Pope Francis and the theology of the poor. The June issue was devoted exclusively to an in-depth examination of the pope’s environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’. The publication also includes book reviews and notes on moral theology.
While the journal is still printed and delivered to subscribers through the mail, it’s also available online, where articles from the last five years can be accessed free of charge. Through a distribution partnership with Sage Publications, Theological Studies reaches a global audience, and the journal is distributed at a significantly reduced rate to libraries and academic institutions in the developing world. It’s also on the magazine rack of most Jesuit communities.
The vast majority of manuscripts are unsolicited, submitted by seasoned academics but also by those beginning their careers. The acceptance rate for the journal, which is blind peer reviewed, is 10 percent, and it’s rare that a manuscript doesn’t go through several rounds of edits.
Fr. Crowley recognizes that in taking the helm of Theological Studies, he’s following in the footsteps of giants. John Courtney Murray, SJ, a theologian who played a key role in Vatican II, and Walter Burghardt, SJ, noted preacher and widely published author, both formerly held the editor’s chair. Fr. Crowley says, “There’s a great legacy here, and for the editor there’s a lot to uphold; but, at the same time, you have to adapt to modern times.”
As a sign of the times, Fr. Crowley editorializes in the recent issue of Theological Studies about Pope Francis’ plans to explore the possibility of women deacons. Calling it “an intriguing invitation that suggests that what theologians have already written is only the beginning,” Fr. Crowley wonders “what might the experiences of women, not only women theologians, but women in many other situations of life and variant cultures — particularly in the majority world of the poor — offer to the church’s reflection?”
Although Fr. Crowley first demurred when asked to take on the editor’s job (he already has a full-time job as a professor of theology at Santa Clara University), he’s found it exciting to meet theologians from around the world. “It’s edifying and inspiring to see so many really good people who are giving their lives to this kind of service for the sake of the Gospel and the church. Thank God we have a church where theology like this is happening.”