Program in Catholic Political Thought

The Roman Catholic tradition includes a deep vein of thinking about political institutions and practices, starting from the early development of political theology among patristic thinkers like Augustine, and the medieval incorporation into Christian thought of Aristotelian political philosophy in the work of Aquinas.

This tradition continued to develop in early modernity with thinkers like Vitoria, Bellarmine, and Suarez, and was rekindled by Leo XIII’s Thomistic revival, including the development of modern Catholic Social Doctrine. This culminated in a rich contribution to political thought in the mid-twentieth century with thinkers like Jacques Maritain, Yves Simon, and John Courtney Murray.

Interdisciplinary Work, Academic Excellence

The Program draws on resources across the University to provide doctoral students with the means to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the tradition of Catholic political thought by:

Sample Classes

The Program in Catholic Political Thought aims to leverage Catholic University’s ample resources in the School of Theology and Religious Studies, the School of Philosophy, and the Department of Politics to develop a center of research and graduate teaching that will continue to develop and disseminate Catholic political thought by understanding both its history and continuing relevance and potential for understanding the problems and possibilities of our own time and place.

POL 577: Political Theory of the American Framing
POL 603: Person and Common Good
POL 643: Foundations of Christian Political Thought
POL 644: Modern Christian Political Thought
POL 651: Political Theory I
POL 652: Political Theory II
POL 661: Thucydides: War & Leadership
PHIL 633: Philosophy of Natural Right & Natural Law
PHIL 828: Contemporary Natural Law Theory
PHIL 809: The Common Good
PHIL 834: Aquinas on Justice
PHIL 878: Philosophy of Law
TRS: 632: Christian Social Ethics
TRS 668: Christianity & Politics
TRS 830: Ethics & Politics in Augustine
TRS 861: Augustine’s City of God
TRS 734: Theology and Totalitarian Politics

Our Scholars

Politics

Jonathan Askonas, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Moral Theology, The Catholic University of America

David Cloutier, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Chair of the Politics Department, The Catholic University of America

Dennis Coyle, Ph.D.

TRS

John Grabowski, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Politics, The Catholic University of America

Jakub Grygiel, Ph.D.

Russell Hittinger, PH.D.

Associate Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

V. Bradley Lewis, Ph.D.

Politics

Justin Litke, Ph.D.

Philosophy

Melissa Moschella, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, The Catholic University of America

Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D.

Politics, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences

Thomas Smith, Ph.D.

Expertise: Political Theory, Liberal Democracy, Modernist Thought

David Walsh, Ph.D.

TRS

Susan Wessel, Ph.D.

Politics

Jonathan Askonas, Ph.D.

Jon Askonas works on the connections between the republican tradition, technology, and national security. He is currently working on a manuscript examining post-war organizational forgetting processes in militaries. The book will address the relationship between how the US Army organizes itself for war, how it adapts to new challenges (using case studies from Vietnam and Iraq), and why it forgets much of what it has learned after the war winds down. He is also working on essays on the deep political, moral, and practical implications of the volunteer military and on the connection between artificial intelligence research and authoritarian surveillance. 

He has a BS in International Politics (summa cum laude) from Georgetown University and a MPhil and DPhil in International Relations from Oxford. He has worked at the Council on Foreign Relations, US Embassy in Moscow, and the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin, and his work has been supported by the Beinecke Scholarship, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Cyril Foster Fund. His writing has appeared in Russian Analytical Digest, Triple Helix, The New Atlantis, Fare Forward, War on the Rocks, and the Texas National Security Review.  

Executive Director

Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D.

Expertise: Social Ethics, Moral Theology, Law and Religion

Joseph Capizzi, Ph.D. in Theology, is the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Ecology and an Ordinary Professor of Moral Theology at The Catholic University of America. He has published widely on just war theory, bioethics, the history of moral theology, and political liberalism. Dr. Capizzi worked as a research fellow at the VADM James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy from 2013 to 2014.

Associate Professor of Moral Theology, The Catholic University of America

David Cloutier, Ph.D.

Expertise: Ethics, Economics, Theology

David Cloutier, Ph.D. in Religion, is an Associate Professor of Moral Theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. A graduate of Carleton College and Duke University, he is the author of The Vice of Luxury: Economic Excess in a Consumer Age (Georgetown) and Walking God’s Earth: The Environment and Catholic Theology (Liturgical), and the co-editor of Naming Our Sins: How Recognizing the Seven Deadly Vices Can Renew the Sacrament of Reconciliation (CUA Press). His writing has appeared in Commonweal, America, and US Catholic, among other popular publications, and he edits the academic group blog catholicmoraltheology.com. He is on the Board of Directors of the Society of Christian Ethics, was a 2019-20 Life Fellow of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, and will be giving a plenary address on ethics and work at the 2020 annual meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He is particularly interested in the intersection between claims in the social sciences about agency and structure and Catholic accounts of moral agency.

Associate Professor and Chair of the Politics Department, The Catholic University of America

Dennis Coyle, Ph.D.

Expertise: Constitutionalism, Political Culture, Political and Social Thought

Dennis Coyle is an Associate Professor of Politics. Dr. Coyle’s research interests include liberal democracy and constitutionalism, French and American social and political thought and culture, constitutional law, and Catholic social thought. This fall he will be in residence as an invited researcher in the school of philosophy at the Institut Catholique de Paris (the Catholic University of Paris). He has held visiting appointments at the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Study of Public Choice, the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, and at Sciences Po (Institut d’Etudes Politiques) in Reims, Lille, and Bordeaux.

TRS

John Grabowski, Ph.D.

A native of Wisconsin, Dr. Grabowski earned his B.A. in theology at the University of Steubenville and his Ph.D. at Marquette University.  For the last thirty years he has been on the faculty of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where he is currently Ordinary Professor of Moral Theology/ Ethics.  He and his wife were appointed to the Pontifical Council for the Family by Pope Benedict XVI in the fall of 2009 where they served as a member couple.  He has served two terms as a theological advisor to the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family, and Youth and one term as an advisor to the subcommittee which produced the Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009).  In 2015 he was appointed by Pope Francis to serve as an expert (adiutor) at the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Dr. Grabowski has published widely in the areas of moral theology, marriage, sexuality, and bioethics.  His articles have appeared in scholarly journals as Nova et Vetera, The ThomistThe Heythrop Journal, and the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly as well as more popular publications such as AmericaCommonwealThe Living Light, and Our Sunday Visitor.  His books include Sex and Virtue: An Introduction to Sexual Ethics (CUA Press, 2003), Transformed in Christ: Essays on the Renewal of Moral Theology (Sapientia Press, 2017), One Body:  A Program of Marriage Formation for the New Evangelization with Claire Grabowski (Emmaus Road Press, 2018), A Catechism for Family Life with Sarah Bartel (CUA Press, 2018), and Raising Catholic Kids for Their Vocations with Claire Grabowski (TAN, 2019).

Dr. Grabowski has lectured and presented at conferences across the United States.  He and his wife Claire are regular guests on Greg and Lisa Popcak’s radio show More 2 Life on EWTN.  They have five children, six grandchildren, and reside in the Archdiocese of Washington.

Associate Professor of Politics, The Catholic University of America

Jakub Grygiel, Ph.D.

Expertise: Foreign Policy

Jakub Grygiel is an Associate Professor of Politics at The Catholic University of America (Washington, DC). In 2017-2018 he was a Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State in the Office of Policy Planning working on European affairs. Previously, he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and on the faculty of SAIS-Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC. He is the author of Return of the Barbarians (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Great Powers and Geopolitical Change (JHU Press, 2006), and co-author with Wess Mitchell of The Unquiet Frontier (Princeton University Press, 2016). His writings on international relations and security studies have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The American Interest, Security Studies, Journal of Strategic Studies, Orbis, Commentary, Parameters, as well as several U.S. and foreign newspapers. He earned a Ph.D., M.A. and an MPA from Princeton University, and a BSFS Summa Cum Laude from Georgetown University.

Russell Hittinger, PH.D.

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.  Since May 2019 he is the Emeritus Professor of Religion.   

In 2019 he became the Senior Fellow at the Lumen Christi Institute at the University of Chicago, where he is a Visiting Scholar in the John U. Neff Committee on Social Thought, and Visiting Professor in the Law School at U of C.

From 2020 through 2022 he is a Visiting Professor at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (Graduate Theological Union, U-Cal Berkeley), where he has served as Dean of the College of Fellows since 2014. 

In January 2020 he gave the Aquinas Lecture, Blackfriars Oxford.

Since 2001, he is a member of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, to which he was elected a full member (ordinarius) in 2004, and appointed to the consilium or governing board from 2006-2018.  On Sept. 8, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Professor Hittinger as an ordinarius in the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, in which he finished his ten-year term in 2019.

Beginning in 2005, he is an Alonzo MacDonald Senior Fellow for Christian Jurisprudence in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University School of Law.  He remains an Affiliated Scholar.

He has taught at Fordham University and at the Catholic University of America, and has taught as a Visiting Professor at Princeton University, New York University, Providence College, and Charles University in Prague.  During the academic term 2014-15, he was a Visiting Ordinary Professor in the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America.

On 25 May 2013, he was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters (Honoris Causa) by The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA.  He gave the 81st annual commencement address.  He was elected Dean of the College of Fellows at DSPT (Berkeley, GTU) in 2014.

In 2003, to mark the centenary of the death of Pope Leo XIII, Professor Hittinger gave a lecture to Ministry of Culture of the Italian Government.  In 2004 he gave “Secularity and the Anthropological Problem,”  as the Inaugural Claude Ryan Lecture in Catholic Social Thought, at McGill University in Montreal.  In December 2006, he addressed the President, Prime Minister, and Speakers of the Polish Parliament in the Royal Castle in Warsaw.  His keynote address culminated a week-long celebration of human rights and the Polish constitution. 

In 2000, he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, where he is on the board of Advisors. For the academic year 2007-08 he was the Robert J. Randall Distinguished Visiting Professor in Christian Culture at Providence College..

His books and articles have appeared on the University of Notre Dame Press, Oxford University Press, Columbia University Press, [forthcoming Yale University Press and Catholic University of America Press], Fordham University Press, the Review of Metaphysics, the Journal of Law and Religion, the Review of Politics, several law journals (American and European).

Associate Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

V. Bradley Lewis, Ph.D.

Expertise: Political Philosophy, Jurisprudence, Ethics

V. Bradley Lewis, Ph.D. in Government and International Studies, is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. Dr. Lewis specializes in political and legal philosophy. He has written articles on the political thought of Plato and Aristotle and on some figures in the neo-Thomist tradition, as well as on the topics of public reason and religious freedom.

Politics

Justin Litke, Ph.D.

Justin B. Litke is an assistant professor of politics and a fellow of the Center for the Study of Statesmanship. He has taught at Western Kentucky University, Belmont Abbey College, and George Washington University. In 2018, he returned to teach at Catholic, his undergraduate alma mater. Dr. Litke teaches a variety of courses in American political thought and the history of political theory, focusing in particular on the nature and development of political traditions. In 2013, he published his first book, Twilight of the Republic: Empire and Exceptionalism in the American Political Tradition with the University Press of Kentucky.

He is also interested in and writing on the implications of the American political tradition for U.S. foreign policy and is currently at work on two book manuscripts. The first concerns the American tradition of republicanism and its intersections with foreign policy. The second centers on American statesman Henry Clay’s work in Congress and develops a new reading of Federalist 10 alongside empirical analysis of Congressional voting. Dr. Litke has been nominated for a number of teaching awards and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for political theory with his students. He earned the Ph.D. with Distinction from Georgetown University in 2010.

Philosophy

Melissa Moschella, Ph.D.

Melissa Moschella is Associate Professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America, where her teaching and research focus on natural law, biomedical ethics, and the moral and political status of the family. Her book, To Whom Do Children Belong? Parental Rights, Civic Education and Children’s Autonomy was published in 2016 by Cambridge University Press. Dr. Moschella speaks and writes on a variety of contemporary moral issues, including brain death, end-of-life ethics, parental rights, reproductive technologies, and conscience rights.  Her articles have been published in scholarly journals as well as popular media outlets, including BioethicsThe Journal of Medical Ethics, The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Christian Bioethics, Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, The American Journal of JurisprudenceThe New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Daily News, and The Public Discourse.  She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, received a Licentiate in Philosophy summa cum laude from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, and received her Ph.D. in Political Philosophy from Princeton University.

Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, The Catholic University of America

Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D.

Expertise: Fundamental Theology, Theological Anthropology, Theological Politics

Chad C. Pecknold, Ph.D. in Systematic Theology, is an Associate Professor of Systematic Theology. He teaches in the areas of fundamental theology, Christian anthropology, and political theology, with a particular interest in Saint Augustine’s City of God. As a commentator on the Church and contemporary politics, Dr. Pecknold has appeared on a wide variety of other news programs from NPR and PBS, to FOX, CNBC, Voice of America, and the BBC

Politics, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences

Thomas Smith, Ph.D.

Thomas W. Smith (MA ’88) is Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences as well as an Ordinary Professor in the Department of Politics. Winner of several departmental and university-wide teaching awards, he has published in some of the leading journals in the nation, including The American Political Science Review, The Review of Politics, Polis, The Journal of Politics, and Polity. He is the author of Revaluing Ethics: Aristotle’s Dialectical Pedagogy (SUNY Press) and is currently working on a book entitled, Faith in Politics. He and his wife have three children and live in Chevy Chase, MD.

Expertise: Political Theory, Liberal Democracy, Modernist Thought

David Walsh, Ph.D.

Expertise: Political Theory, Liberal Democracy, Modernist Thought 

David Walsh, Ph.D. in Government, is an Ordinary Professor of Politics. His teaching and research are in the field of political theory broadly conceived. His focus has been on the question that the modern world poses for itself at its deepest level: Does our civilization possess the moral and spiritual resources to survive?

TRS

Susan Wessel, Ph.D.

Susan Wessel (BA, Smith College; JD, MTS, Harvard University; STM, Union Theological Seminary in New York; PhD, Columbia University) is Ordinary Professor of Church History and Historical Theology, and the Area Director of Church History.  The author of Passion and Compassion in Early Christianity, Professor Wessel has published widely in the fields of patristics, historical theology, and early Christianity.

  • Pope Saint John Paul II
    “Apart from the family, other intermediate communities exercise primary functions and give life to specific networks of solidarity. These develop as real communities of persons and strengthen the social fabric, preventing society from becoming an anonymous and impersonal mass, as unfortunately often happens today. It is in interrelationships on many levels that a person lives, and that society becomes more `personalized.’”
    Pope Saint John Paul II
    Centesimus Annus, 49 (15 May 1991)
  • Alexander Hamilton
    “The fabric of American Empire ought to rest on the solid basis of the consent of the people. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure original fountain of all legitimate authority.”
    Alexander Hamilton
    Federalist, No. 22
  • Pope Pius XI
    “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.”
    Pope Pius XI
    Quadragesimo Anno, 79 (15 May 1931)

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

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The Catholic University of America

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The Institute for Human Ecology
The Catholic University of America


620 Michigan Avenue NE
339 Caldwell Hall
Washington, DC 20064


202-319-5892
ihe@cua.edu

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