Exploration of 'last things' nets Jesuit book prize

Fairfield University's John Thiel wins 2014 Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award

Image: John ThielJohn Thiel, Ph.D., Fairfield University professor of religious studies, has won a prestigious Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award for his latest work, "Icons of Hope: The 'Last Things' in Catholic Imagination," a thoughtful and probing look at the Christian belief in resurrected life. Alpha Sigma Nu, the honor society of Jesuit colleges and universities, announced winners of the four 2014 awards on Wednesday, October 1.

"We are pleased that Professor John Thiel's book has been recognized by Alpha Sigma Nu," said Lynn Babington, Ph.D., senior vice president for Academic Affairs. "In this book Professor Thiel engages the reader to imagine and to thoughtfully engage with Christian beliefs of heaven, the Last Judgment, the communion of saints shaped by the idea that the blessed dead are continuously engaged with the work of forgiveness. 'Icons of Hope' provides readers, especially non-theologians, a deep and insightful eschatological reflection on the linking of forgiveness of sin and the resurrection of the body."

Dr. Thiel is a noted Catholic theologian. In his latest book, he argues that modern theologians have been too reticent in their writing about "last things." He believes modern theology's religious pluralism leaves room for a speculative style of interpretation, allowing for theological portraits of resurrected life that can be true to the claims of faith and inspire Christian practice.

This summer, "Icons of Hope" won a 2014 book award from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

"In this book I argue for the theological importance of imagining heavenly life, a project that most of my fellow Christian theologians would not consider to be important at all or perhaps even vain or silly," said Dr. Thiel. "Yet, some theologians of old thought this a worthwhile task, as did medieval painters, or poets, like Dante in the Paradiso. Such imagining, to be worthwhile, must explore human action that is fulfilling and redemptive, both in this world and in what Christians believe is the world to come. The redemptive activity about which I write in this book is the difficult moral work of forgiveness, the nature of which has been much debated in recent philosophy and theology. Rather than imagine a static heaven in which God is timelessly contemplated, it may be fruitful to imagine a heaven in which the blessed dead still have plenty of moral work to do as they negotiate the effects of sin in their lives and across history."

Dr. Thiel has taught at Fairfield for nearly 38 years and has served as the Director of the University Honors Program since 1997. He is the author of six books, including "God, Evil, and Innocent Suffering: A Theological Reflection" (Crossroad, 2002) and "Senses of Tradition: Continuity and Development in Catholic Faith" (Oxford University Press, 2000). His articles have appeared in Theological Studies, Modern Theology, The Heythrop Journal, New Theology Review, and Horizons, among other publications. In 2011-12, he served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the largest professional society of theologians in the world.

The Alpha Sigma Nu Book Awards promote excellence in scholarly research at Jesuit member institutions, including all Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States, as well as three international institutions. The Awards are open to all faculty and administrators of these schools, including those with emeritus status, who have published a book in the three years immediately prior to the year of the chosen discipline. This year's disciplines were theology, philosophy/ethics, literature/fine arts and history. The judging panel is comprised of fellow faculty members from Jesuit institutions on the basis of scholarship, significance of topic to scholars across disciplines, authority in interpretation, objectivity, and presentation.

Each winner receives a $1,000 scholarship and a commemorative plaque.

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Media Contact: Meredith Guinness, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950, mguinness@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 2, 2014

Vol. 47, No. 72

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