Beyond Biology

cover art
278 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781647121129 (1647121124)

278 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9781647121136 (1647121132)

November 2021
Sales Rights: World

Moral Traditions series


Table of Contents

Beyond Biology
Rethinking Parenthood in the Catholic Tradition
Jacob M. Kohlhaas

A breakthrough in the theology of parenthood, integrating Catholic social thought and social scientific studies of child well-being in order to offer a more diverse and inclusive interpretation

The Catholic Church has a long and diverse history of tolerating various child-rearing arrangements. The dominant Catholic framework for conceptualizing parenthood, however, is highly influenced by concerns over sexual ethics and gender norms. While sexual and reproductive ethics are important, the present consensus that theological consideration of parenthood necessarily hinges on these matters diverts attention from actual parenting practices in their social and cultural contexts. In reality, kinship and caregiving are often negotiated in complex ways.

In Beyond Biology, Jacob M. Kohlhaas uses a historical and interdisciplinary theological method that engages both analytically and appreciatively with tradition to sketch a broader Catholic anthropology of parenthood. Kohlhaas's identification of interpretive options within the Catholic tradition creates room for meaningful, intellectually convincing, and theologically rich responses to challenges facing Catholic parents and families today.

By marshaling the diversity of the Christian tradition and exploring contemporary research in the social sciences and humanities, Kohlhaas frames a theological conversation on parenthood as parenthood—considering the needs and well-being of children as well as the potentials and capabilities of adult caregivers. In his discussion, Kohlhaas considers adoption and nonbiological parenthood, fathers as primary caregivers and nurturers, caregiving by siblings and grandparents, and communal parenting and coparenting beyond the spousal pair. In Kohlhaas's view, conceptions of parenthood should be guided by the meaning of Christian kinship rooted in baptism as well as concern for the actual caregiving capacities of adults and the needs of children.

Jacob M. Kohlhaas is an associate professor of moral theology at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. He received his PhD from Duquesne University in 2015 and has published on parenthood and the family in a number of leading journals.

David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ
"Taking a fresh look at central texts and traditions, Kohlhaas cuts through 'gender theory' debates to draw the long overdue conclusion that children's holistic welfare is the only legitimate Catholic criterion of parental fitness. Our common humanity and baptismal identity, not gender-linked personality traits, fuel our care for children."—Cristina Traina, professor of religious studies, Northwestern University

"Kohlhaas masterfully deconstructs the magisterium's anthropology of parenthood with its focus on biology, gender complementarity, and sexual acts, and reconstructs a holistic, integrated anthropology informed by Catholic social teaching and Christian understandings of kinship, in dialogue with the social sciences and signs of the times. Beyond Biology is a nuanced and insightful contribution to Catholic parental, family, and sexual ethics to move the Church forward in its anthropological and normative perspectives on parenthood."—Todd A. Salzman, Amelia and Emil Graff Professor of Catholic Theology, Creighton University

"A Church that truly desires justice for all parents and children is in desperate need of the theological precision and inclusive spirit with which Jacob Kohlhaas invites us beyond biology, beyond sexual and gendered complementarity, and toward a richer vision of the dynamic relational care labor that characterizes the lived experiences of families. The insights here provide firm and fertile ground for new directions in the Church as a family of families."—Mary M. Doyle Roche, associate professor, College of the Holy Cross

Table of Contents


Part I: The Catholic Framework for Parenthood

1. Origins in Modern Catholic Teaching

2. The Focus on Sex and Gender

3. The Limits of Contemporary Discourse

Part II: Toward an Expanded Vision of Parenthood

4. Repositioning Family and Parenthood

5. Rethinking Family Diversity

6. Reconsidering Kinship throughout History

7. Rereading Catholic Social Teaching




About the Author