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Gene Outka to tackle issue of abortion as 2006-07 Luce Fellow in Theology

By Anne Edison-Swift '08 M.Div.

Gene Outka, Dwight Professor of Philosophy and Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School, will tackle the thorny issue of abortion as one of seven Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology for 2006-2007. Outka's project, The Ethics of Love and the Problem of Abortion, will examine claims on each side of the issue through the lens of an ethics of agape and extended generosity.

“The problem of abortion is tenacious,” Outka's proposal to the Henry Luce Foundation states. “It will not let us go.” This is true, Outka notes, on both sides of the debate, “in spite of the energies that those who join unreservedly either the pro-life or the pro-choice camps expend … to ‘resolve' it for good, one way or the other.”

Based on his experience debating the abortion issue with students, Outka acknowledges that nothing will please all audiences: “We sought something more decisive than confessing ambivalence. But on this subject especially, we knew that seeking resolution meant that we could not.”

Outka plans to use appeals to agape-love as a normative guide to approaching the abortion question and will explore the concept of extended generosity in relation to the concerns of mother and fetus. He will also assess the similarities and differences between abortion and infanticide, the case of rape that results in pregnancy, and the relevance, if any, an ecclesial stance on abortion should have in terms of the moral, political and legal debate.

As a Luce Fellow, Outka will be on sabbatical in 2006-07. His absence next year creates some curriculum challenges—but challenges that are not unexpected or insurmountable at a place like YDS.

“We're not being hit with something new here—it's part of the rhythm of academic life,” said Yale Divinity Dean Harold Attridge. “We're interviewing now for a junior position in ethics, and that will pick up some slack, and we might have a visiting professor as well.”

Attridge added, “We always do our best to offer a rich and varied course schedule for our students, recognizing that professors will necessarily be taking time for research.“We're a school that transmits knowledge and creates knowledge. That's our role as part of a major research university, and we take that very seriously.”

A YDS graduate himself, Outka joined the Yale faculty in 1975 after 10 years at Princeton University. He is the author of Agape: An Ethical Analysis and has been a frequent contributor to numerous journals and encyclopedias. In 2002 he presented a paper on the ethics of human stem cell research to the President's Council on Bioethics. From 1992 to 1995, he chaired Yale University 's Department of Religious Studies. He served as president of the Society of Christian Ethics in 2001.

Yale Divinity School faculty have been honored frequently with Luce Fellowships in recent years:

  • 2005-2006
    Christl M. Maier, Space and Gender in the Biblical Concepts of Jerusalem
    Emilie Townes, Sites of Memory: Dismantling the Cultural Production of Evil
  • 2002-2003
    Marilyn McCord Adams, The Coherence of Christology
  • 2000-2001
    John J. Collins, The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament: An Ecumenical Introduction
  • 1998-1999
    Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, A Different God
  • 1996-1997
    Margaret A. Farley, The Act of Freedom: Key to the Relational Self
    Christopher R. Seitz, Unity in Prophetic Literature: Isaiah 40-60 within the Book of Isaiah
  • 1995-1996
    Peter S. Hawkins, Scripts for the Pageant: Dante and the Bible

The Henry Luce III Fellows Program was established to identify leading scholars in theological studies and provide them with the necessary financial support and recognition to facilitate their work. The late Henry R. Luce, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., established the Henry Luce Foundation in 1936. In addition to religion and theology, other interests of the Luce Foundation include the interdisciplinary exploration of higher education; increased understanding between Asia and the United States; scholarship in American art; opportunities for women in science and engineering; and environmental and public policy programs.

Other 2006-07 Fellows and their proposals are:

•  Jerome P. Baggett, Associate Professor of Religion and Society, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley : Sense of the Faithful: an End and Beginning of American Catholicism

•  D. Bruce Hindmarsh, James M. Houston Associate Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College : The Roots of Evangelical Spirituality: A Historical Conversation

•  Kevin Madigan, Professor, Harvard University Divinity School : Apostle of Doubt, Apostle of Faith: Thomas in the History of Western Christianity, 200-1500

•  Otto A. Maduro, Professor of World Christianity and Latin American Christianity, Drew University Theological School: The Role of Pentecostal Congregations in the Creative Adaptation of Hispanic Immigrants to the United States

•  Gabriel Said Reynolds, Assistant Professor, University of Notre Dame Department of Theology: Reading the Qur'an in Light of a Jewish-Christian-Islamic Tradition

•  Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Krister Stendahl Professor, Harvard University Divinity School : The Rhetoric of Empire and Ekklesia in the Pauline Tradition

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