Maureen O’Connell is associate professor and chair of the Department of Religion at LaSalle University. Her areas of expertise include Christian/Catholic social ethics, the arts and social justice, and racism and racial justice.
Her two books Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in an Age of Globalization (2009) and If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice (2012) as well as many other publications are a valuable contribution to the reflection on theological anthropology. We are especially interested in the way in which she explores the question what it means to be human not as purely an academic question answered by experts on the basis of facts and philosophy, but as a question that is asked, explored, disputed, contested and constructed within ongoing social life, in multiple sites of contention and controversy. If These Walls Could Talk is in this light especially of interest as a concrete study of how murals have become a way of reimagining the good life and of their potential to transform Philadelphia into the “City of Just Love”.
In these murals and, more important, in the communities who create them, we find innovative interpretations of who or what God is or what it means to be human in the midst of neighbourhoods that are forgotten or ignored (2012:xviii).
Her critical work on compassion and solidarity as key elements in Catholic social teaching and especially her invitation to exchange anemic solidarity with aesthetic solidarity in which moral imagination is emphasized is likewise highly interesting.
Aesthetic solidarity is a firm and persevering commitment to become more fully human by risking the vulnerability that comes either with creative self-expression or with de-centering the self that accompanies such expressions so that we might tactilely experience together in our bodies and hearts what if feels like when we are really responsible for all” (O’Connell, M., ‘The Dance of Open Minds and Hearts,’ Political Theology 2014(15:1):83)