What is the IHE?

The Institute for Human Ecology

Human flourishing illuminated by Catholic social doctrine

Mission

The Institute for Human Ecology (IHE) at The Catholic University of America is the nation’s leading academic institute committed to identifying the economic, cultural, and social conditions vital for human flourishing.

Drawing on the Catholic intellectual tradition, the mission of the IHE is to educate students, sponsor multidisciplinary research, advise Church leadership, and organize symposia, conferences, and lectures for the academy and the public square. IHE programs challenge the materialistic and reductionist worldviews of institutions, policy-makers, and opinion-formers that stand in the way of prosperity and human dignity.

What is Human Ecology?

Ecology is the science of the relationships among living things and their environment. Human ecology is the systematic study of human beings in their relationships with one another, with various human communities, and with the natural world shared among all the living organisms on the planet.
Precisely because of its systematic evaluation of evidence and argumentative rigor, it is permissible to speak of human ecology as a science, where “science” is understood to mean the study not just of the natural world (natural science) or of social and/or political phenomena (social science), but also of all sources of human values, aspirations and understanding. For that reason, human ecology is particularly interested in the contributions of philosophy, theology, and the humanities.

Human ecology is the answer to a specific problem: disconnection from reality. This problem was identified by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum and has been reiterated by every pope since Saint John Paul II. It continues to be a problem to this day. We are so disconnected that the very word “reality” poses a major challenge to many academics.

Modern science, in the sense that the word is usually understood, draws its inferences from the empirically observable. The danger in this is that the scientific reliance on data becomes reductionist, leading to a constricted understanding of human beings. In the past, social theorists such as Karl Marx have embraced this materialistic, deterministic view of humanity – with lethal consequences for millions of people. Other social theorists, such as Max Weber, have rejected this analysis, arguing that economic and social activity cannot be divorced from the universal human quest for meaning. But determinism continues to haunt political and economic debate across the spectrum – a reflection of the failure of secularism to grapple with the concepts of beauty and truth, which alone can satisfy our desire for meaning.

The Church, by contrast, has observed what secular theorists fail to see – that there is a natural ecology that we cannot violate with impunity. If we understand this, it should not be hard to see that humanity, as part of this natural order, has its own ecology as well, and this human ecology requires a flourishing of human dignity that encompasses marriage, the family, freedom of belief, private property rights, the dignity of labor, and an incorruptible system of justice.

Human ecology is vital because it enables us to broaden our horizons, studying the human person scientifically, but without deliberately excluding the insights of philosophy and theology that connect us to reality.

What does the IHE do?

  • Sponsors rigorous multi-disciplinary academic research
  • Hosts public events on critical conversations
  • Fosters communities of top Catholic scholars in diverse fields
  • Forms students at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels

IHE Staff

Executive Director

Russell Hittinger, Ph.D.

Managing Director

Stephen P. Higgins, J.D.

Director of Student Programs

Aramis L. Perez

Director of the Program in Human Rights

William L. Saunders, J.D.

Program Manager

Caroline O’Callaghan

Student Programs Specialist

Brigid T. Kilner

Communications Consultant

John Henry Hobgood

Executive Director

Russell Hittinger, Ph.D.

Russell Hittinger, a leading scholar of Catholic political and social thought, serves as the Executive Director of the IHE. He is a Research Professor Ordinarius in The Catholic University of America’s School of Philosophy and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, where he served on the consilium from 2006-2018. He co-directs the IHE’s Program on Catholic Political Thought and delivered the Program’s inaugural lecture, “How to Inherit a Kingdom: Reflections on the Situation of Catholic Political Thought,” in 2022.

From 1996-2019, Dr. Hittinger was the incumbent of the William K. Warren Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, where he was also a Research Professor in the School of Law. He has taught at the University of Chicago, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Fordham University, Princeton University, New York University, Providence College, and Charles University in Prague. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Dr. Hittinger for a ten-year term as an ordinarius in the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. 

In January 2020, Dr. Hittinger delivered the Aquinas Lecture at Blackfriars, Oxford. The American Catholic Philosophical Association awarded him the Aquinas Medal in November 2023.

Dr. Hittinger’s books and articles have been published by the University of Notre Dame Press, Oxford University Press, Columbia University Press, and Fordham University Press, and have appeared in the Review of Metaphysics, the Journal of Law and Religion, the Review of Politics. He has work forthcoming with Catholic University of America Press.

Managing Director

Stephen P. Higgins, J.D.

For more than two decades, Stephen Higgins devoted his life to public service. As a Legislative Director and Chief Counsel in the United States Senate, he was a legislative, legal, and policy strategist. Stephen worked with Members of Congress, congressional staff, executive branch officials, interest groups, think tanks, and constituents to build bipartisan coalitions and negotiate complex legislation. On a daily basis, he served as a liaison to Senate and House offices, the White House, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders.

Director of Student Programs

Aramis L. Perez

Aramis L. Perez serves as the Director of Student Programs at the Institute for Human Ecology. His experience prior to joining the IHE includes managing communities, communications, and education for businesses and non-profit organizations. He is a lifelong learner with a strong interest in Catholic social and political thought, as well as an affinity for culture and the arts. Originally from Miami, Aramis holds an AB in Government from Harvard and is a Professional Fellow to the Abigail Adams Institute in Cambridge.

Director of the Program in Human Rights

William L. Saunders, J.D.

William L. Saunders, J.D., is a graduate of Harvard Law School and has been involved in issues of public policy, law, and ethics for thirty years. A regular columnist for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Mr. Saunders has written widely on these topics, as well as on Catholic social teaching. He has lectured in law schools and colleges throughout the United States and the world. Mr. Saunders’ latest book, Unborn Human Life and Fundamental Rights: Leading Constitutional Cases Under Scrutiny, was published in 2019. He is the Director of the Program in Human Rights at the IHE, which includes the MA in Human Rights. He also acts as a Consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, and is the Director of the Center for Human Rights, where he works closely with Distinguished Fellow, Chen Guangcheng.

Program Manager

Caroline O’Callaghan

Caroline O’Callaghan serves as the Program Manager for the Institute for Human Ecology. Originally from Indiana, she studied theology, studio art, and the Irish language at the University of Notre Dame. Her interests include education, disability, and transcendent beauty. Before joining the IHE, she taught in a Montessori school, coordinated weddings at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and worked as a research assistant.

Student Programs Specialist

Brigid T. Kilner

Brigid Kilner serves as the Student Programs Specialist at the Institute for Human Ecology. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Spanish for International Service from The Catholic University of America and has taught English abroad. Before joining the IHE, she served as an Admission Counselor for Catholic University’s Office of Undergraduate Admission, and worked as an Event Coordinator.

Communications Consultant

John Henry Hobgood

John Henry Hobgood holds a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame, where he studied in the Program of Liberal Studies. His interests include the history of political thought (especially early-modern) and normative questions surrounding religion and politics.

More about the IHE

Our Patron

Quamquam Pluries

Encyclical by Pope Leo XIII on devotion to Saint Joseph
15 August 1889

“The special motives for which Saint Joseph has been proclaimed Patron of the Church, and from which the Church looks for singular benefit from his patronage and protection, are that Joseph was the spouse of Mary and that he was reputed the Father of Jesus Christ. From these sources have sprung his dignity, his holiness, his glory…

In truth, the dignity of the Mother of God is so lofty that naught created can rank above it. But as Joseph has been united to the Blessed Virgin by the ties of marriage, it may not be doubted that he approached nearer than any to the eminent dignity by which the Mother of God surpasses so nobly all created natures. For marriage is the most intimate of all unions which from its essence imparts a community of gifts between those that by it are joined together.”

“Thus in giving Joseph the Blessed Virgin as spouse, God appointed him to be not only her life’s companion, the witness of her maidenhood, the protector of her honour, but also, by virtue of the conjugal tie, a participator in her sublime dignity. And Joseph shines among all mankind by the most august dignity, since by divine will, he was the guardian of the Son of God and reputed as His father among men. Hence it came about that the Word of God was humbly subject to Joseph, that He obeyed him, and that He rendered to him all those offices that children are bound to render to their parents. From this two-fold dignity flowed the obligation which nature lays upon the head of families, so that Joseph became the guardian, the administrator, and the legal defender of the divine house whose chief he was. And during the whole course of his life he fulfilled those charges and those duties. He set himself to protect with a mighty love and a daily solicitude his spouse and the Divine Infant; regularly by his work he earned what was necessary for the one and the other for nourishment and clothing; he guarded from death the Child threatened by a monarch’s jealousy, and found for Him a refuge; in the miseries of the journey and in the bitternesses of exile he was ever the companion, the assistance, and the upholder of the Virgin and of Jesus. Now the divine house which Joseph ruled with the authority of a father, contained within its limits the scarce-born Church.

From the same fact that the most holy Virgin is the mother of Jesus Christ is she the mother of all Christians whom she bore on Mount Calvary amid the supreme throes of the Redemption; Jesus Christ is, in a manner, the first-born of Christians, who by the adoption and Redemption are his brothers. And for such reasons the Blessed Patriarch looks upon the multitude of Christians who make up the Church as confided specially to his trust – this limitless family spread over the earth, over which, because he is the spouse of Mary and the Father of Jesus Christ he holds, as it were, a paternal authority. It is, then, natural and worthy that as the Blessed Joseph ministered to all the needs of the family at Nazareth and girt it about with his protection, he should now cover with the cloak of his heavenly patronage and defend the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Prayer to Saint Joseph promulgated by Pope Leo XIII:

To thee, O blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, and having implored the help of thy thrice holy Spouse, we now, with hearts filled with confidence, earnestly beg thee also to take us under thy protection. By that charity wherewith thou wert united to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly love with which thou didst cherish the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray that thou wilt look down with gracious eye upon that inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood, and wilt succor us in our need by thy power and strength.

Defend, O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen off-spring of Jesus Christ. Keep from us, O most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Aid us from on high, most valiant defender, in this conflict with the powers of darkness. And even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Shield us ever under thy patronage, that, following thine example and strengthened by thy help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.

Other Patron Saints

As an institution proudly devoted to Catholic truth and the uplifting of the family, we turn regularly to our heavenly family for aid and inspiration. In addition to our primary patron, Saint Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin Mary (especially as the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Sorrows, and Our Lady of Oxford), the IHE has the following secondary patrons:

    • Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face
    • Saint Charbel Makhlouf
    • Saint Pio of Pietrelcina
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The IHE’s programs have patron saints who serve as models for the formation we endeavor to imbue and powerful intercessors for our staff and students in times of need. They are:

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Saint John Henry Newman, patron of our Undergrad Program. As a tutor and cleric at Oxford, Saint John Henry had a profound pastoral influence on the undergraduate population, urging them in his Parochial and Plain Sermons to pursue purity of heart, integrity of mind, and intimacy with Christ above all things.

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      • Saint Josephine Bakhita, patroness of the M.A. in Human Rights Program. Born in Sudan in 1869, Saint Josephine was kidnapped at the age of seven and sold into slavery. She was sold several times, eventually becoming a nanny for an Italian family. Josephine gained her freedom and became a Canossion Sister, where she spent her life preparing missionary sisters to work in Africa and exemplified Christian charity. When asked what she would do if she could meet her captors, she replied: “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today.”
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We seek the intercession of saints from the first centuries of the Church: Anne, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalen, Paul, George, Catherine of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Scholastica, and Benedict (ora et labora). From the second millennium, we implore the aid of Saints Anthony, Margaret of Castello, Catherine of Siena, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Kateri Tekakwitha, Zélie Martin, and Louis Martin. Finally, we entreat Saint Gabriel the Archangel, herald of the Incarnation, for his prayers before the heavenly throne.

The list is long because we are fond of “God’s friends,” as Sigrid Undset calls them. We treasure their assistance. Through the pleading of our heavenly advocates, may Almighty God bless and crown our endeavors.

The IHE esteems Pope Leo XIII. An early champion of Catholic social doctrine and the beauty of tradition, Pope Leo XIII granted the founding charter to The Catholic University of America in 1887, urging the University to “give to the Republic her best citizens.”

Our Logo

The fleur-de-lis (lily flower), which appears on the coat of arms of Pope Leo XIII, who issued the charter for The Catholic University of America, traditionally represents the Holy Trinity as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary. (It was, for instance, featured on the coat of arms of Saint Joan of Arc.) The lily is also the ancient symbol of Saint Joseph, the patron of the IHE. The twelve stars bring to mind Mary’s crown of twelve stars (“on her head a crown of twelve stars”) (Revelation 12:1), the twelve Apostles, and the twelve Schools at The Catholic University of America. Additionally, the stars symbolize the light radiated by God, as described, for example, in the Psalms, “in your light we see light” (36:10), and by Dante in the last line of Paradiso, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”