Facing the Life-and-Death Issues


During 1961 Merton faced increasing opposition from the Trappist censors to his outspoken writings on the Cold War. It brought into sharp focus Merton’s inner conflict between his monastic vow of obedience and his own conscience. In a letter to Dorothy Day of August 1961 he wrote that:

I don’t feel that I can in conscience, at a time like this, go on writing about things like meditation, though that has its point. I cannot just bury my head in a lot of rather tiny and secondary monastic studies either. I think I have to face the big issues, the life-and-death issues.

And face them he did throughout the 1960s, most importantly the issues of war and of race, until his death in Bangkok. Indeed, on the day he died, 10th December 1968, in his final lecture ‘Marxism and Monastic Perspectives’, he saw the monk as not only one seeking transformation of consciousness, but also, leading on from such a liberation, as ‘essentially someone who takes up a critical attitude towards the world and its structures’. As he saw it, one could no longer rely on structures as they may be destroyed at any moment by a political power or force. For us, fifty years later, Merton’s concerns seem ever more prescient.


Conference papers presented at the Twelth General Meeting of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland
held at Oakham School, Oakham from 6th - 8th April, 2018.

Various conference papers from the Twelth General Meeting were subsequently published in editions of The Merton Journal and other places.

Main Conference Addresses:


Pat Gaffney - "Revitalising the Tools of Active Nonviolence and the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative."

Gordon Oyer - "Interior Freedom and an Activist Conscience: Thomas Merton's Journey with Social Movements."


Concurrent Session Papers:


Mario I. Aguilar - "Merton, Life and Death: The Hermitage Years."

James G. R. Cronin - "Burn his books: American opposition to Thomas Merton in 1968."

Stephen Dunhill - "Thomas Merton & Christian de Chergé – A Shared Interfaith Vision."

Peter Ellis - "Merton and the Deep Amerindian Past."

Fiona Gardner - "Towards Crisis and Mystery: Merton and the Vietnam War."

David Golemboski - "The Familiar Perspectives of American History: Thomas Merton on Black and Indigenous Oppression in the United States."

Daniel P. Horan, OFM - "Beyond Bystanding: Merton’s Guidance in the Age of Trump and Brexit."

Farai Mapamula & Gary Hall - "From Birmingham, Alabama to Birmingham, UK. Merton's Prophetic and Contemplative Stance on Racism."

Paul M. Pearson - "Contemplation in a World of Violence: Thomas Merton’s Monastic Approach to the Life-and-Death Issues."

Sonia Petisco & Fernando Beltrán Llavador - "'Unseen Until Words End': Rethinking Language with Thomas Merton." Part 1.
                                                                        - "Hearkening to the Silent Word." Part 2.


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