Researchers and scholars are attuned to the physical, social and spiritual needs of persons and communities. They put their ideas to work to improve quality of life and implement viable solutions, often in tandem with external partners.
Taking their cue from St. Augustine, who brought his beliefs into dialogue with ideas trending at the time, Villanova theologians address contemporary dilemmas by relating faith to culture to glean new and deeper insights. How can one’s faith tradition shed light on a particular experience, and how can that experience enrich that tradition? Using these criteria, faculty stimulate new thinking in academic circles. But they also influence the public sphere, providing context, perspective and a way forward to people concerned about who they are and where society is headed.
One issue is what it means to be a Roman Catholic today. With 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, answers vary across nations, cultures and pews. Massimo Faggioli, PhD, has a rare blend of credentials that make him a respected authority on patterns in regional and global Catholicism. An Italian- and German-educated church historian who, as a graduate student, secured approval to do intensive study in the Vatican Secret Archive, Dr. Faggioli is adept at bridging European and American Catholicism. As a contributing writer for Commonweal, a columnist for La Croix International and a reasoned voice on social media, he educates a global audience with his analyses of events and his big-picture thinking. In his latest book, Dr. Faggioli reflects on what documents from Vatican II entail for Catholicism and citizenship 50 years later, in a postmodern world.
A related issue is how to be a person of faith and of science in a society that polarizes these spheres. Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio, PhD, Villanova’s Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology, embodies the answer. With doctorates in Pharmacology and Historical Theology, Sister Ilia integrates science and religion to offer profound insights into quantum reality, artificial intelligence and divine action in an evolving universe. She presents ideas in ways that are accessible to non-scholars. Scores of speaking engagements and thousands of book sales point to her popularity. “People struggle to understand how God can relate to a world of change and complexity,” Sister Ilia says. “I give them the language and thought patterns to make meaningful connections.”
Associate Professor Vincent Lloyd, PhD, breaks ground at the crossroads of religion, politics and race. His recent explorations include the religious dimensions of mass incarceration, a black theological approach to politics, and religion in the Black Lives Matter movement. His 2017 book, Religion of the Field Negro: On Black Secularism and Black Theology, challenges the dominant views of white theologians and affirms the wisdom of those living on society’s margins. With funding from the Henry Luce Foundation, Dr. Lloyd plays a leading role in organizing an interdisciplinary campus initiative that he hopes “will make Villanova a hub for cutting-edge exchanges on political theology.”
Theology faculty tackle many other contemporary concerns. For example, Associate Professor Gerald Beyer, PhD, an expert in Christian ethics, applies principles of Catholic social teaching to topics such as racism, gun control and worker justice. In an article in the Journal of Religious Ethics, Dr. Beyer shows how ethicists can use concepts in moral theology to identify and address violations of workers’ rights in various scenarios. Associate Professor Stefanie Knauss, ThD, pursues scholarship pertaining to culture, the body, and gender and queer studies. In recent articles, Dr. Knauss analyzes how the experiences of LGBTQ individuals can be resources in attempts to understand God and the Church, and highlights how discussions of celibacy perpetuate stereotypes about body, sex and gender.
Through these and other scholarly activities, Villanova theologians journey with people who seek wholeness, self-understanding and the tools to make sense of emerging ideas in light of age-old convictions.
Improving Home Health Care for an Aging Population
Melissa O’Connor, PhD, MBA, RN, dedicates her research to the quality and cost of skilled home health care for older adults. With roughly 58.5 million Medicare beneficiaries in the US—a number that climbs as baby boomers age—Dr. O’Connor, an associate professor of Nursing, brings to light trends and data that are especially significant for clinicians and policymakers.
One of the national health priorities is preventing “adverse events,” such as emergency department visits and hospitalization, among chronically ill older adults living at home or in assisted living centers. In their article in Geriatric Nursing, Dr. O’Connor and co-authors identify risk profiles that can predict these events and suggest strategies to create more targeted interventions.
Reducing the risk of such events also is crucial when older patients move from one level or setting of care to another. Recognizing that nursing programs in general do not adequately cover concepts of transitional care, Nursing researchers and faculty, including Dr. O’Connor, designed case studies and simulation scenarios that were then incorporated into Villanova’s undergraduate nursing curriculum.
Discharging older adults from skilled home health services before they are ready also can have negative outcomes. Dr. O’Connor spearheaded the first study to identify which factors home health clinicians believe are important for evaluating discharge readiness. The findings, reported in Research in Gerontological Nursing, are an important step in developing what would be the first evidence-based decision support tool for clinicians.
Dr. O’Connor immerses herself in Medicare policies. In an article she co-authored for Home Health Care Management & Practice, she weighs in on proposed reforms to Medicare’s payment system. She also served on the panels “Modernizing Medicare Home Health Care,” for the AARP Public Policy Institute, and “Patient Safety in the Home,” hosted by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the National Patient Safety Foundation.
POOLING TALENTS TO IMPROVE WATER QUALITY
The water and wastewater utility Aqua America Inc. formed a partnership with Villanova’s College of Engineering to mentor students, provide expertise in water quality and support the College’s robust international service work. In their first joint effort, Aqua leadership and engineers accompanied faculty and students to Panama and Nicaragua. The team assessed newly proposed projects, evaluated recently completed projects and continued to build relationships with local partners to provide technical services on the sustainable development of water infrastructure.
SHARING FINANCIAL SAVVY TO STRENGTHEN PROFITS
Empowering nonprofits and mission-driven organizations matters to Villanova. Its Center for Church Management, which is in the forefront of education and research related to ecclesial management in the 21st century, received a grant from the Lilly Endowment to develop financial literacy programming for church leaders. As pastors and other ministers are called to new levels of accountability and transparency in running parishes, the center is making sure church leaders are prepared for these responsibilities.
Likewise, when the Philadelphia Bar Foundation wanted to build the Equal Justice Center, a facility that would offer space to 25 Philadelphia-based nonprofits that provide services in such areas as legal aid, public welfare and immigration, it turned to Villanova’s Michael Posner, PhD, associate professor of Mathematics and Statistics, and Theodore Arapis, PhD, assistant professor of Public Administration. The duo developed algorithms and predicted the EJC’s economic and social impact. Their report was cited as one of the major factors that influenced the city’s decision to approve the proposal.
ADVOCATING FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AT HOME AND ABROAD
Villanova advances conversations around the preservation of, and attacks on, the universal right of religious freedom. Home to one of the first Arab and Islamic university centers in the US, Villanova was a fitting venue for a two-day conference on the struggle for secular nationalism and citizenship in the Middle East. Convened in December 2016, the event attracted experts from around the world who vigorously debated about the factors that imperil Christians and other deeply rooted peoples in the region.
Villanova also is home to faculty engaged in studying issues of religious freedom. It recently named Michael Moreland, JD, PhD, its first University Professor of Law and Religion, as well as the inaugural director of the Eleanor H. McCullen Center for Law, Religion and Public Policy. A preeminent scholar in constitutional law, torts, bioethics and religious freedom, Dr. Moreland has been a visiting fellow at Princeton and Notre Dame, and is a former member of the White House staff.
In addition, Daniel Mark, PhD, assistant professor, Political Science, was elected vice chairman and then, a year later, chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The independent government body monitors violations of religious freedom worldwide and makes policy recommendations to Washington.
Adriano Duque, PhD, meanwhile, was awarded his second Fulbright fellowship to study Muslim-Christian relations. With a grant from the Core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, Dr. Duque, an associate professor of Medieval Spanish Studies, spent the spring and summer terms at Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tétouan, researching the shared veneration of St. John the Baptist among Muslims and Christians in Morocco and Spain.