Poverty: Problem and Path

Utrecht, October 30-31 2015
Franciscan Studycentre & Tilburg School of Catholic Theology 

Together with Fachstelle Franziskanische Forschung (FFF) and 1219 Religions- und Kulturdialog, who organized a conference on April 9-11 2015 in Munster, the Franciscan Studycentre has organized a two-day conference about poverty in Utrecht. The dual conference Munster-Utrecht discussed poverty in different scientific perspectives (historical, sociological, economic, political, theological) and brought these perspectives in dialogue with experiential stories and practices. Here the Utrecht part is described.

Krijn Pansters (Tilburg School of Theology) opened the conference by asking the questions of poverty as ‘sin’ and ‘virtue’. The first part of the conference approached poverty as a economical, historical and sociological problem. Michail Moatsos (University of Utrecht) showed how he develops an instrument to measure poverty and notice the poor. Anita Boele (University of Utrecht) talked about the virtue of Misericordia and how it led the medieval community to fight poverty and help the poor. Jan Vranken gave a thorough conceptual framework to study poverty and overcome the social exclusion of people. An interesting finding of the economist Johan Graafland (Tilburg University) is that quality of the juridical system and respect for property appear to lead to greater happiness.

The second part of the conference consisted of philosophical, ethical and missiological perspectives. Philosopher Jos Philips advocated a non-spiritual and objective approach of the subject. Louke van Wensveen approached it as the sin of removing the natural habitat from its creatures, and proposed a virtue ethic for a sustainable lifestyle. Frans Dokman (Nijmegen University) described the different cultural dimensions of poverty. Albino Barrera O.P. (Providence College) pictured in a flood of inspiring examples how social enterprise brings light to the reality of poverty.

The third part of the conference treated poverty as a spiritual way. Pansters had opened the congress by reading an e-mail of an economist who refused to speak and who thought that the very idea of poverty as a pathway was disgusting. Nonetheless, scholars of theology and religious studies spoke freely about examples of spiritual leaders and their choice for poverty. Marcel Poorthuis discussed the attitude of Jesus and the Jews with respect to poverty and property: rather than an ascetic practice it is considered an expression of trust in God’s grace. Pim Valkenberg and Brooke Barber of the Catholic University of America discussed poverty in Islamic theology and spirituality, with special attention to Al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din. Willem Marie Speelman (Franciscan Study Centre) tried to meditate on the dream of Pope Francis of a poor Church for the poor, by giving a spiritual analysis of the experiences of a Poor Clare who had left the order and was suddenly trapped in poverty. Jeanine Schreurs told about her growing practice, named ‘Living with Less’, with circles of people who are trapped in the fall of poverty, hoping to establish together a new way of life.

The fourth was a Franciscan part. Jean-François Godet-Calogeras (St. Bonaventure University) described the poverty of Francis and Clare. Jan van den Eijnden OFM and Hans van Bemmel OFM went into practices of poverty today. Timothy Johnson (Flagler College, St. Augustine) analyzed a quotation on the poverty of Francis in the newly discovered Celano, which causes him to approach poverty as a mode of interaction with all bodies within the creation, thus a relational experience. The dean of the Tilburg School of Theology, Marcel Sarot, closed the conference by referring back to the e-mail with which it started.

The dual conference in Münster and Utrecht wil be published at Aschendorff Verlag.

Willem Marie Speelman, Director Franciscan Study Centre Utrecht, The Netherlands