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Moravian College Professor’s Book Wins Catholic Press Association Award

Bethlehem, PA—A collection of critical and interpretive essays about a controversial French Catholic priest, co-edited by a Moravian College professor, has received an award from the Catholic Press Association.

Teilhard in the 21st Century: The Emerging Spirit of Earth (Orbis Press, 2003. $28. 256 pp.), edited by Donald St. John, professor of religion at Moravian College, and Arthur Fabel, engineer and philosopher, includes articles by 13 writers exploring the implications of Teilhard’s thought for current issues in cosmology, evolutionary biology, and theology, as well as the emerging discipline of ecological theology.

The essays are drawn from 25 years of Teilhard Studies, the journal of the American Teilhard Association, of which St. John has been editor since 1994, succeeding Fabel, who held the post from 1983 to 1993.

The writers include such eminent Teilhard scholars and ecological theorists as Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Ursula and Thomas King, John Haught, Donald Gray, William Rees, Eulalio Balthasar, Eleanor Rae, and Joseph Grau. There is a biographical essay by John Grim and Mary Ellen Tucker.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest and paleontologist who spent almost 25 years excavating and interpreting paleolithic remains in Africa and China. He was present at the discovery and excavation of Peking Man in 1927. After years of study and scientific exploration, he theorized that evolution was the working-out of God’s plan for the universe and that humankind was in a state of continuous evolution toward a perfect spiritual state.

Throughout his lifetime he struggled to reconcile his roles as scientist and priest, publishing numerous scientific papers as well as essays that considered the religious meaning of the universe, especially with regard to what is now known as evolutionary biology. Censored by the authorities of the Church in Rome, he eventually was vindicated after the posthumous publishing and evaluation of his religious works, particularly the summation of his theories, The Phenomenon of Man (1940).

The essays in this volume update and broaden the thought of Teilhard to provide context and encouragement for human efforts to create a socially just and ecologically flourishing world. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Teilhard's death, and observances are planned in his native France and in the United States, where he spent the last five years of his life.

Teilhard’s supporters believe that his evolutionary cosmology and a phenomenon that he called the “noöphere” predicted the Internet more than half a century before its creation. He described the noösphere as a global network of trade, communication, and the free exchange of knowledge and cooperative research, which would ultimately weave itself into an atmosphere or surrounding membrane of collective thought, fueled by human consciousness. He imagined this membrane as the next evolutionary stage of humanity. He went so far as to state that the sum of humankind’s combined achievements was the only realized purpose of the universe. Catholic doctrine states that the ultimate purpose of the universe is the salvation of souls through the advocacy of Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Press Association awarded St. John’s and Fabel’s book first place among works on spirituality (soft-cover). Second-place went to The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life by Paula Huston. Third place was shared by Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings by Robert Ellsberg and Dynamics of Spiritual Direction by Adrian van Kaam and Susan Muto.

Donald P. St. John has been a member of the faculty of Moravian College since 1981. He holds a B.A. from St. Francis College, an M.A. from Temple University, and a Ph.D. from Fordham University. His interests include Asian and Native American religions; the interaction of science and religion, particularly religion and the ecology; and contemporary spirituality (religious and nonreligious). He has written extensively on the Catholic monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton.