By: Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim
June 11, 2013
The Fund for Theological Education (FTE) held the 2013 Leaders in the Academy Conference at Chicago Theological Seminary from June 6-9, 2013 under the supervision of Matthew Williams who is one of the Directors of Strategic Partnerships, specializing in building relations with theological institutions.
Thirty Ph.D. students were invited to gather for four days under the theme, Exploring the Edges of Theological Scholarship. To help facilitate the conference there were six faculty mentors: Drs. Reginaldo Braga, Assistant Professor for Christian Education at the Interdenominational Theological Center; Wallace Hartsfield, Central Baptist Theological Seminary; Alison Gise Johnson, Covenant United Church of Christ; Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Moravian Theological Seminary; Rosetta Ross, Spelman College and Eboni Marshall Turman, Duke Divinity School who all served as leaders and mentors throughout the conference.
The conference was packed with events throughout each day. Each morning began with a “Breakfast with Exploration Circle” where the same group of students had breakfast with the faculty mentors and discussed concerns, issues, and questions regarding their doctoral program and studies. Each day also had various events such as research presentations, site visits, workshops, a “Walk and Talk” and a “Large Group Harvest” all of which were wonderfully designed to allow students to share, explore and emerge within themselves in vocational calling, theological reflection and intentional community building.
By the end of the conference, many of the student participants were grateful for the opportunity to meet FTE doctoral fellows of the same age, learn new strategies of surviving the academy and find new friendships.
“I was renewed by these emerging scholars who are full of exciting, ideas, energy, and enthusiasm..”
As a faculty mentor, I was grateful for this opportunity to be part of the learning process and engage in deep theological questions with the students as well as the other faculty mentors. FTE has done a wonderful job of providing this wonderful space for these FTE fellows to nourish themselves, network, collaborate and flourish as future academic leaders.
I enjoyed every aspect of the conference. The eating (endless eating…), listening to the students, sharing my own personal experiences, and co-leading a workshop were all worthwhile experiences for me. Each student that I met was kind, enthusiastic, gentle and respectful.
There were three things which struck me. First, FTE has selected bright, enthusiastic students who are going to make an important contribution not only to scholarship but also to society. These FTE doctoral fellows are doing research at the intersection of theology, society, culture and religion. These students are interested in the development of human growth, people’s flourishing and advancement of all classes within society. They are enthusiastic preachers, biblical scholars, theologians and ethicists who want to make a difference in our world.
Second, I gained a lot of hope from this next generation of academy leaders who are excited about research and will lead the next generation of religious leaders, activists and scholars. Scholarship cannot just occur within the seminary and university walls. It must be engaged with what is happening in our neighborhood, society and world. Many of these students are engaged in community organizations, entrepreneurships, and churches as they are fully immersed in their doctoral studies.
Third, I was renewed by these emerging scholars who are full of exciting, ideas, energy, and enthusiasm. They were all eager learners who came to the conference to take in as much knowledge, experience, and understanding as they possibly could from these intense four days. They were not passive learners. They were deep, intelligent and engaged learners who were able to critically reflect on good and ‘not-so-good’ experiences.
These three things, contribution to society, hope and renewal have brought some peace into my heart. It has brought peace in that the battles that earlier generations of scholars of color fought have not been in vain and that the fight will continue on with this new generation of young scholars of color. And as they do emerge, let us all live in hope and remind ourselves of the provocative words of Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Indeed, these 2013 FTE doctoral Fellows are alive. Blessings to each one of them in their journey.