Sunday 29 December 2013

The Centre for Faith & Culture

The Centre is above the art gallery in King Street, Oxford.
I was recently asked by Maica Rivera from Madrid (CEU San Pablo) to give a brief email interview about the Centre and what we have been trying to do in Oxford over the last twenty years. The year 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of our founding, so it seems like a good moment to look back. 

Q: What can you explain to Spanish Chesterton readers about the Centre for Faith & Culture in Oxford?

A (Stratford): My wife and I founded it in 1994 as a partnership between Westminster College (later absorbed into Oxford Brookes University) and the Edinburgh publisher T&T Clark (later absorbed by Continuum). It was a research centre, its work being the organisation of conferences and the publication of books. Our aim was to explore the meaning of evangelization, and to understand the relationship between faith and culture. We were both
converts to Catholicism, and had been greatly inspired by the writings and example of Pope John Paul II, who declared the 1990s to be a "Decade of Evangelization." We had moral support from Fr Ian Boyd CSB of the Chesterton Institute, and many of the writers associated with the review Communio. Over time, we also became connected with several American liberal arts colleges, especially the Thomas More College in New Hampshire.

Through personal contact with Don Luigi Giussani, Mgr Carlo Caffarra, and others – and by reading J.H. Newman and Christopher Dawson – we had become convinced that every civilization is inspired and shaped by a religious faith, and we felt that a new Christian culture in England, in Europe, and in America would have to come from a revival of the faith. But how might this be brought about? Our research was directed to this purpose, to try to answer this question: why was the Christian faith dying out in Europe, and how might it be revived? We wanted to understand secularism. We looked for guidance to great English writers from J.H. Newman to G.K. Chesterton and the Inklings, as well as contemporary thinkers such as Charles Taylor (Canada) and David L. Schindler (USA). Our summer schools were partly devoted to the study of how the English Reformation helped to lay the foundations of the modern world, and how the Christian Romantics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries tried to offer an alternative.

Over the years we produced a great many conferences and lectures and articles and books. We began to create a community of young scholars. Some of the research of the centre was embodied in a series of books that I wrote, including Beauty for Truth’s Sake and Beauty in the Word (both about education), The Power of the Ring (about Tolkien), The Radiance of Being, and others. We started an international journal called Second Spring, which reflected the vision of the Centre. The journal was named after a famous sermon by Newman, in which he predicted a revival of the faith in England in coming years. It was our intention to give expression to the beauty and richness of the Catholic tradition, so that people would be attracted to it and seek to understand it better. We called this “the way of beauty”.

Léonie concentrated on catechesis and literature. She wrote a book called What Do Catholics Believe? (Granta, 2008) to explain our faith to non-Christians, and developed a series of colouring books for catechists to use with children. She took groups of young people on pilgrimage, and wrote and produced several plays (one about the charism of St Thérèse of Lisieux, and one about Pope John Paul II). Once again, all of this was inspired by the idea of teaching through beauty and by the stimulation of the imagination.

Q: Which is the mission of the Centre for Faith & Culture? Can you sum it up as briefly as possible?

A: Through our activities, our publications, and our internet apostolate to help people come to faith in Jesus Christ by appreciating the truth, beauty, and goodness to be found in the Catholic faith. That remains our mission, increasingly now carried on by a new generation.

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