Moral Theology Professor John Berkman Granted Full Professorship

The Governing Council of Regis College is pleased to announce the appointment of Prof. John Berkman to full professorship. Prof. Berkman, professor of Moral Theology at Regis College, says that from an early age he was interested in the relationship between God and ethics.  However, it was while studying biology as an undergraduate that he took courses in philosophy and realized that his real interest was in the arts, and in particular ethics. His interests and expertise are in healthcare ethics, fundamental moral theology, Thomistic ethics, and ethics in relation to non-human animals. “I am incredibly honoured and grateful and as I reflect on who I owe so much to it would be to thank my wife Jennifer, my teachers and my colleagues at Regis College”, says Prof. Berkman.

Born and raised in Ottawa, he completed his BA in Philosophy at the University of Toronto, and completed his PhD in the Graduate Program in Religion at Duke University. Before joining Regis College in 2009, he taught at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and at the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

Family in tow – his children are 11, 9, and 7 – he is currently on sabbatical at Christ Church College and Blackfriars, Oxford.  His main project while at Oxford encompasses thinking through how work in evolutional biology and anthropology can inform and assist Catholic ethics.  “I am enjoying tremendously the opportunity to engage and interact with other scholars, attend lectures presented by some of the world’s foremost scholars in their fields, and present the work that I am doing.”

Dr. Berkman is grateful to the teachers who inspired him to pursue his studies and research. In his most recent book Searching for a Universal Ethic: Multidisciplinary, Ecumenical, and Interfaith Responses to the Catholic Natural Law Tradition, ( Eerdmans, 2014), Berkman and co-editor William Mattison III  dedicated the book to those professors who instructed and inspired them on the subject of natural law.

Dr. Berkman has similarly inspired many Regis students. Michael Buttrey, one of Professor Berkman’s PhD students, says that it’s Berkman’s approach to his students that makes him an excellent professor: “I chose to come to Regis because I wanted to study with Professor Berkman, and I have not been disappointed. I initially ‘met’ Dr. Berkman through his work – essays on moral theology and medical ethics – and was impressed by his confident style and original yet rigorous arguments. I then met him in person, and discovered he is also encouraging, open, and supportive. That dynamic has only become more visible through taking many courses with John, working as his administrative and teaching assistant, and starting a dissertation under his supervision. Throughout my time at Regis, I have benefited greatly from both John’s keen insights and feedback as well as his generosity and willingness to treat me as a colleague. I am proud to be one of Dr. Berkman’s students, and delighted to hear he will be elevated to a well-deserved full professorship.”

Dr. Berkman has also edited The Pinckaers Reader (CUA Press, 2005), and The Hauerwas Reader, (Duke University Press 2001).  Other recent publications include:

“Are Persons with Profound Intellectual Disabilities Sacramental Icons of Heavenly Life? Aquinas on Impairment” (2013); “Toward a Thomistic Theology of Animality” (2009); “Theologies of Enhancement? Another look at Oliver O’Donovan’s Created Order” (2015) with Michael Buttrey; “Being Reconciled : Penitence, Punishment, and Worship” (2011);  “Catholic Moral Theology and the Moral Status of Non-Human Animals” (2014) with Celia Deane-Drummond; “Medically Assisted Nutrition and Hydration in Medicine and Moral Theology” (2007); “Virtuous Parenting and Orphaned Embryos” (2006).

“Moral Theology can make a distinctive contribution to key societal issues, whether it’s debating what constitutes appropriate access to healthcare, or what constitutes peace and reconciliation in a world almost constantly at war, or how to articulate appropriate concern for God’s creation, or what freedom of religion means in a liberal society such as Canada, or why euthanasia and assisted suicide are such incredibly bad ideas for Canadian society. This past September he presented a paper on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si to the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics at Cambridge University in the UK.  “God did not create the world just for us human beings. Laudato Si unambiguously states that other of God’s creatures have intrinsic worth and dignity.  We have a lot of work to do if we are to take that theological truth seriously.” says Professor Berkman.

Prof. Berkman has been and will be busy on his sabbatical.  Besides the paper given in Cambridge, Berkman gave two papers in November at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Antonio Texas.  He has already presented a paper to the post-graduate research seminar in Oxford, has sent off two papers for publication, will lecture in London later in March, give a series of lectures in Warsaw in May, and deliver papers in London and Oxford in July.

Monica Marcelli, who is writing her doctoral thesis is in the area of foundations of moral theology, says that Professor Berkman was in part responsible for her decision to continue on to doctoral studies after graduating with a Master in Divinity from Regis College. “Professor Berkman was my faculty mentor in the writing of my MDiv comprehensive paper and preparation for the exam, and it was during this time that I found myself inspired to continue with graduate studies in theology. I am very grateful for John’s encouragement and ongoing support in pursuing a doctorate in moral theology with him as my advisor. As a teacher and mentor, John has always encouraged me to voice my thoughts, whether in conversation or in writing, and his engagement with my work has continually motivated me to grow and expand my knowledge in the Christian moral tradition. With his passion and expertise for moral theology and the Thomist tradition, John continually challenges me to think beyond any limited horizon, and to articulate my questions and responses in a grounded but creative way.”

Before embarking on his sabbatical, for two years Dr. Berkman had (alongside Sr. Gill Goulding CJ) taught the research methods course required of all TST students enrolled in the PhD program in Theological Studies.  On his sabbatical he particularly misses the many PhD students with whom he is working, especially the eight doctoral students he is mentoring through the program. He is looking forward to returning to Toronto to in the fall of 2017 to continue his guidance of graduate students, his teaching, and continuing his research.  Also in the fall of 2017, his three children are particularly looking forward to welcoming a Newfoundland puppy into the family.

John Berkman - Regis College

John R. T. Berkman

B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Professor, Moral Theology

Room 205; ext. 242

Specializations: Moral Theology