Controversial Conversations

Controversial Conversations is a research project conducted by the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University and supported by the Teagle Foundation. Our goal is to identify the practices that contribute to good conversations on controversial topics on college campuses.


Conversations about gender and sexuality consistently generate controversy on Catholic campuses. Theologically conservative undergraduates complain that the church's teaching on sexuality is rarely presented in class, while liberals protest the refusal of health centers to distribute condoms. Faculty worry that magisterial actions might endanger academic freedom, board members wonder if Catholic identity is slipping away, and outside organizations protest vigorously whenever a Catholic college hosts a speaker with controversial opinions.

In response, we have launched a major study of the practices-institutional, pedagogical, and interpersonal-that foster good conversations on these issues. We believe that controversial conversations are integral to liberal education; we also believe that such conversations can be both civil and courageous. Participants can honor the personhood of others by listening carefully and acknowledging that good people often disagree, while honoring their own personhood by articulating viewpoints that may generate disagreement and being open to personal transformation. Controversial Conversations is a research grant sponsored by the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University and funded by the Teagle Foundation in New York.