Blackfriars, a Permanent Private Hall of the University of Oxford, was founded in 1994. We currently have approximately forty-five postgraduate and visiting students from different backgrounds and nationalities. It is run largely by members of the Dominican Order, an international Roman Catholic religious order founded in 1216.
Two Research Institutes are based at Blackfriars: the Las Casas Institute for Social Justice and the Aquinas Institute.
The Las Casas Institute for Social Justice engages with policy-makers, leaders of organisations and people ‘on the ground’ in the fields of Human Dignity, Re-thinking Economics, Migration, and Poverty in the UK. The work of the Institute in the areas of human dignity and migration addresses issues that arise due to colonialism. As well as drawing upon modern scholarship – Catholic and non-Catholic, Christian and non-Christian – the work of the Las Casas Institute avails of the rich and widely influential tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, which contains some of the most sustained, authoritative, and influential critiques of colonialism and its legacies within modern theological thought.
The Institute is named after a sixteenth century Spaniard, Bartolome de Las Casas (d.1566), who migrated to Hispaniola shortly after the arrival of Columbus. Initially he supported the practice of forced labour, but his position was challenged by listening to the sermon of Christmas 1511 of the Dominican friar, Antonio de Montesinos: “By what right do you wage such detestable wars on these people who lived mildly and peacefully in their own lands, where you have consumed infinite numbers of them with unheard of murders and desolations?” In time Las Casas became a Dominican friar and one of the first people to campaign for the abolition of all forced labour. His writings, regarded as classics in the history of social history and ethics, remain a powerful indictment of colonialism.
Las Casas collaborated with Francisco de Vitoria (d.1546), a Dominican friar who taught at the University of Salamanca and who is considered “one of the fathers of international law”. Vitoria launched what was in effect one of the historically most important theoretical and jurisprudential critiques of the dangers of colonialism, which laid early foundations for much subsequent work.
The Aquinas Institute explores the thought of Thomas Aquinas and its contemporary relevance, including the ways it provokes reflection on human nature and dignity. Aquinas contributed to the development of Natural Law thinking, including just war theory and Vitoria’s insights; ethicists and people interested in jurisprudence draw on him. A recent conference of the Institute addressed the development of law, and how Aquinas’ approach might help us draw afresh on perennial principles and on Scripture so as to achieve new clarity concerning issues such as slavery and capital punishment. Aquinas is known for bringing classical Greek philosophy, and Jewish and Muslim thought, into respectful conversation with Christian tradition. The Institute promotes such conversation. It has, for example, recently sponsored workshops in China bringing Aquinas’ philosophy into dialogue with classical Chinese thought.
As an heir to this rich history of thought, Blackfriars is deeply committed to promoting justice and peace, which includes interrogating and challenging narratives that have historically been dominant. Among the Fellows of the Hall are, as well as Christian theologians, experts on inter-religious dialogue, most notably with Islam and Hinduism. An important example of our commitment to justice and peace is our work to increase access to students regardless of socio-economic or cultural backgrounds. Much of our fundraising work is to expand our provision of student scholarships.