Vulnerability is an intrinsic part of the human condition; arising from the nature of human existence itself, it shapes our understanding of life, community, and God. And yet, although a universal dimension of human existence, vulnerability remains mostly hidden behind the mask of our “will to power”; we tend to disguise our own personal vulnerabilities, whether physical or moral, often playing a dangerous game of deception, of which we, eventually, become the victims. We also struggle to improve our human condition as a whole, overcoming diseases, devising new therapies, and searching for powerful remedies in the pursuit of ultimate happiness. Science and technology, driven by an expanding market of sellable images available for public consumption, push us to “perfect” our bodies through ever sophisticated and invasive forms of cosmetic surgeries. In the meantime, medical research, often with questionable public consensus and not without financial incentives, seeks new avenues for experimentation on human beings and the engineering of genes, tissues, and organs. Most paradoxically, such pursuits of perfection coexist with wider manifestations of collective vulnerability: the handicapped and mentally impaired, the poor and socially disenfranchised still haunt our dreams of power and security like a nightmare, awaking our own imagination and creativity to the crude reality of the vulnerability we will always have with us, indeed within us. What if vulnerability, rather than “will to power”, was to be that which makes us truly human? How would such a realization re-orient our aspirations, how would it change our being-in-the-world-with-others and inspire our generosity, how would it define our relationship to God?

We are proposing Vulnerability: Windows to the Human Condition as the topic for the 2009 edition of the Bellarmine Forum. We believe this topic has the potential to meet the expectations for the Forum because the theme of vulnerability has a profound existential meaning. The conceptual exploration of vulnerability is, virtually, endless and will open up interesting opportunities for interaction among disciplines and departments. Topics to be explored will include children with special needs (inspired to some degree by the large involvement of our student body with the “Special Games”); youth, amongst them especially minorities, who are caught up in the legal system; a whole day devoted to the “lost children of Africa,” and finally a day on addiction: not just alcoholism, but substance addiction, pornography and computer addiction, even “texting” addiction. The final Saturday will largely be devoted to art and performance with special displays in our galleries.

We will ask: What does it mean to confront those concrete experiences of vulnerability? How do such experiences feed into the perception of our own metaphysical contingency, i.e., that we are, yet we could also not be? How does our own vulnerability, whether recognized in itself or disguised as will to power, carry with it specific images of God, of his power or, conversely, his vulnerability and weakness? And again, how do we strike a balance between accepting vulnerability and striving to overcome it? How do we discern between “resistance and surrender”, effort and consent?

The format will avoid overlapping sessions. Mornings will be more issue-oriented and will have an address by an expert followed by a panel discussion, largely with LMU faculty. Our Lost Children of Africa day will draw on the eloquence and experience of our residential scholar and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka from Nigeria. Afternoons will focus on more experiential presentations, mostly by those who experience vulnerability directly. Each evening there will be a special event: keynote speaker, film, play or the like, and a reception. Our goal is to engage the students and faculty more than outsiders, so we are trying to speak to their personal experience and hearts as well as to their minds.

We certainly welcome, and in fact solicit, your suggestions for the Forum and offers of your participation in any capacity. We think this Forum will be a fine venue for interfaculty dialogue as well as a source of new information and shared experiences.


  • Roberto Dell’Oro, Professor, Theological Studies
  • Bill Fulco, S.J., National Endowment for the Humanities Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Studies

Additional Resources

Common Book

Browse the contents of 2009: Vulnerability Windows to the Human Condition:

A Word from the Dean