Margaret Farley honored with 2008 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion
Margaret A. Farley, the Gilbert L. Stark Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School, is the recipient of the 2008 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for her book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (Continuum, 2006). The Grawemeyer Award is among the nation's most prestigious prizes in the field of religion and is awarded jointly by the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville.
Farley, a member of the Sisters of Mercy order of nuns, is a widely known Christian ethicist who was on the faculty of YDS from 1971 to 2007. During the course of her career, she has been a progressive theological voice in a broad range of areas including feminist theology, medical and sexual ethics, the role of women in the church, homosexuality and the church, and religious perspectives on the environment. Not infrequently, her views have been seen as a challenge to those of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
"I am deeply honored to receive this award, and humbled," said Farley. "It is an author's greatest hope that her work will be well received not only by scholars but by general readers who seek insights into human experience and activity. The Grawemeyer Award in Religion has been so important for writers like myself who try to explore human relationships, including relationships with the divine. I am extremely grateful to be included in a long line of religious authors selected for this Award over many years."
In his nomination of Farley for the Grawemeyer Award, Yale Divinity School Dean Harold Attridge wrote, " Just Love is a carefully nuanced work that demonstrates the synergies of science and religion; how coupling religious awareness with other forms of knowledge can serve to elucidate matters fundamental to the human condition; and how customs particular to diverse religious traditions can each contribute to the process of discernment despite differences."
The decisive question posed in Just Love is, "With what kinds of motives, under what sorts of circumstances, in what forms of relationships, do we render our sexual selves to one another in ways that are good, true, right, and just?" Farley's answer rests on the fundamental notion that morally appropriate sexual relationships, heterosexual as well as same-sex, must be characterized by justice.
"It's an important message in light of all the confusion surrounding sexuality today," said Susan Garrett, a professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in a Dec. 6 announcement from the seminary. Garrett, who directs the award program, added, "The religious right issues stark decrees while the entertainment industry tells us 'anything goes.' People are confused about what's right."
For Farley, "just love" requires consideration for the autonomy of persons, recognizes the uniqueness and equality of partners, and does no harm to self or others. Individual differences should be respected, but each individual must be treated as having unconditional value. In the book, Farley uses that framework to challenge traditional- and frequently negative-views of homosexuality, masturbation, divorce, and remarriage after divorce.
"As a Catholic ethicist," Attridge said, "Farley grounds her analysis in Christian theology and tradition. But she underscores the importance of enlisting the best information available-across a broad range of intellectual fields and religious/cultural traditions-to examine this complex aspect of life that is so connected to feelings of meaning and purpose."
Indeed, in Just Love Farley declares, "In sexual ethics, the relevant disciplines will include not only philosophy but biology, medicine, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and even history, literature, and art. . . Insofar as these disciplines give us a kind of 'access' to reality - to the world and the universe, to human persons and the meanings of sexuality, to tragic or beneficial consequences of action - they are necessary for the doing of sexual ethics."
Reviews of Just Love praised it as a valuable contribution to ongoing discussions of topics so difficult that they threaten the unity of the church. Writing in The Christian Century magazine, William C. Placher said, "Margaret Farley has the guts and the clarity of mind to give us a third alternative to 'narrowly constituted moral systems and rules' on the one hand and sexual chaos on the other." And Dolores L. Christie, in Catholic Books Review , wrote, "No topic more than sexuality needs to be treated in a dispassionate manner . . . Farley has, in her usual fashion, covered the topic with impeccable scholarship, practical wisdom, and a compassion and acceptance for the existential reality of human beings in a sexual world."
Farley's other books include Compassionate Respect: A Christian Feminist Approach to Medical Ethics (Paulist Press; 2002); Embodiment, Morality, & Medicine (with Lisa S. Cahill, Kluwer Academic, 1995); and A Liberating Eschatology: Essays in Honor of Letty M. Russell (with Serene Jones, Westminster John Knox Press, 1999). During the Nov. 17-20 joint convention in San Diego of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature, the University of Notre Dame Press hosted a launch for a book of essays in honor of Farley's lifelong contributions to the field of Christian ethics- A Just and True Love: Feminism at the Frontiers of Theological Ethics.
Beyond the classroom, Farley has held leadership positions in two groups that focus on HIV/AIDS in Africa: the Yale Project on Gender, Faith, and Responses to HIV/AIDS and the All Africa Conference: Sister to Sister. She is also immediate past co-director of the Interdisciplinary Bioethics Project at Yale and was a founding member of the Bioethics Committee at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Farley is a past president of both the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America and is a recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award for Excellence in Theology.
The Grawemeyer Award, which carries with it a $200,000 cash prize, is given "to honor and publicize annually creative and constructive insights into the relationship between human beings and the divine, and ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity or meaning, either individually or in community."
Previous honorees, among others, include Marilynne Robinson, Jonathan Sacks, Miroslav Volf, Jürgen Motmann, Larry Rasmussen, and Diana Eck.