Edith Stein Project (ESP)

Mission of the Edith Stein Project

The Edith Stein Project (ESP) is an annual conference that addresses various issues of gender, sexuality, and human dignity by exploring what it means to be authentic women and men.

Our goal for the conference is to promote fruitful dialogue on issues of human dignity, with an emphasis on the dignity of women. We foster a spirit of openness while remaining rooted in the Catholic Church’s teachings on authentic personhood—to provide a forum for discussion that is not reactionary, but positive and optimistic.

This conference addresses issues and concerns that touch the very core of our being—whether you are religious or not, conservative or liberal, committed to community service or preparing to enter the business world, what we discuss here is relevant to your life.

Created in the image of God, we all seek fulfillment, a “good,” happiness, and a sense of completion. In essence, we seek to become more human. It is how we live our lives every day—in relationship with others, ourselves, and God—that brings us farther from or closer to this goal. We must reflect on these topics. Doing so empowers us to make truly free and conscious decisions that will reflect our inherent dignity and help us become the people we are meant to be.

The Edith Stein Project challenges each individual participating in the conference to take an honest look at our society, our relationships, and our own decisions, perceptions, and ways of life. It is important to examine the degrading attitudes towards our own dignity that are often taken for granted and to question their root causes. We understand that there are many economic, psychological, and social factors related to these problems; however, we offer that their common cause is a general misunderstanding of the true nature and dignity of the human person. This misunderstanding has grave consequences for women and men, manifesting itself in different forms of violence: domestic violence, abortion, rape, and pornography. It even distorts women and men’s vision of their own feminine and masculine worth, leading them to do violence against themselves in the form of eating disorders, objectification and other problems.

We seek to invite speakers to the conference who will articulate the truth about men and women in order to begin building a coherent and consistent philosophical foundation for a “new humanism.” With a clear articulation of the truth about themselves, humans can more confidently define and work towards helpful political and cultural goals; they may also discern authentic vocations that develop their masculine and feminine gifts, rather than deny them.

This conversation is especially fitting at Notre Dame, because it is a Catholic university that is committed to the search for truth, the mutual importance of faith and reason, and the formation of moral citizens for society.

History of the Edith Stein Project

In the fall of 2004, a group of undergraduate women at the University of Notre Dame gathered to begin planning the first conference, which was held in 2006, entitled "The Edith Stein Project: Redefining Feminism". They felt strongly that this conversation needed to take place here at the University of Notre Dame, where modern culture and Catholicism intersect in a unique way.

In an apostolic letter titled "On the Dignity and Vocation of Women", Pope John Paul II warns that "many women, especially as a result of social and cultural conditioning, do not become fully aware of their dignity." He also encourages all people to realize that "The personal resources of femininity are certainly no less than the resources of masculinity: they are merely different. Hence a woman, as well as a man, must understand her 'fulfillment' as a person, her dignity and vocation, on the basis of these resources, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day of creation."

The conference has expanded and evolved since 2004 while remaining true to the Catholic Church’s teachings on authentic personhood. Today, the conference strives to include both women and men in this dialogue on our uniquely feminine and masculine human dignity.