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What is Happening in Marian Studies?

By James R. Koelsch, Doctoral Candidate

The Marian Forum held on April 6 seems to have tapped into pent up demand among those interested in the Blessed Virgin Mary. A record number of 118 people registered for the event in order to get an informed answer to the question, what is happening in the field of Marian studies and spirituality?

The Marian Forum is a series of online, academic gatherings sponsored by the University of Dayton’s International Marian Research Institute (IMRI). On April 6, at the sixth of these free events, two scholars assessed the current state of Marian studies and identified opportunities for further study.

Not only did this theme attract more registrants than the old record of 106 set at the previous forum held in October, but it also drew a record number of 28 in-person attendees. Because the Marian Forum is broadcast over the Internet, the rest of the registrants were able to participate online, either live or by watching a video recording later at their convenience. Moreover, slightly less than half of all registrants were from Ohio. The others were from 26 other states in the U.S., as well as from abroad—Canada, China, Costa Rica, England, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, South Korea, Trinidad, and Vietnam.

The first speaker was Fr. Thomas Thompson, S.M., a professor at IMRI and the retired longtime director of the Marian Library at the University of Dayton. He explained why the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was such an important turning point in Mariology, the study of Marian theology. In the period before the council, Mariologists tended to stress the Marian dogmas and titles, offering logical arguments for them and proposing a fundamental principal capable of tying them together. Because the resulting theology was abstract and the tone was a tad triumphalistic, the council steered Mariology away from this approach and instead toward the mystery of Christ. It did so by stressing Scripture and Mary’s relation to the Trinity, the Church, and the grand themes of salvation history.

After Fr. Thompson set the scene, the forum’s participants then heard from Fr. Johann Roten, S.M., IMRI’s director of research and special projects. Fr. Roten presented the results of two surveys that he undertook. The first was an empirical survey that categorized the themes found in hundreds of books and scholarly articles published since 2000. Here, Mary in culture was the top theme by far; the themes of theology and devotion were tied for second place.

The second survey was an experiential one that polled an international group of 82 scholars and past participants in the Marian Forum. Most of the group noticed both a lack of information about Mary available in most parishes today and a corresponding lack of her presence in parish life. They also saw a “disconnect” between theology and devotional practice, between the academy and the pews.

Rather than drawing conclusions from the data that he had accumulated, Fr. Roten expressed his desire to simulate discussion among the participants in the Marian Forum. He asked them to reflect on the data, offer their thoughts on it, and suggest topics to pursue at future forums. The next topic will be announced in a few weeks.

Click here to view Fr. Roten’s and Fr. Thompson’s presentations, as well as their responses to questions and comments from the worldwide audience. Also, mark October 12 on your calendars. That’s the date for the next session of the Marian Forum, where the conversation begun at the last session will continue.

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