video celebrating 50 years of doctoral fellowships, Rev. Dr. Gregory C. Ellison II, reminds us of the importance of the work of scholars of color. He states that in 1968, “we needed scholars of color to live boldly in that moment.” The images in the video remind us of the many events of that year: the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Juan Carlos and Tommie Smith lifting their black-gloved fists at the Olympics in Mexico, and César Chávez leading the UFW and his first spiritual fast. During that same year, we remember there were only 18 doctoral students of color in religion.

"> Future of Theological Education | Forum for Theological Exploration

Future of Theological Education

By: Patrick B. Reyes
April 02, 2019


In FTE’s video celebrating 50 years of doctoral fellowships, Rev. Dr. Gregory C. Ellison II, reminds us of the importance of the work of scholars of color. He states that in 1968, “we needed scholars of color to live boldly in that moment.” The images in the video remind us of the many events of that year: the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Juan Carlos and Tommie Smith lifting their black-gloved fists at the Olympics in Mexico, and César Chávez leading the UFW and his first spiritual fast. During that same year, we remember there were only 18 doctoral students of color in religion.

What he does not mention in that video is what came after was a series of important works that are now foundational for many of the fellows selected today. The foundations were laid just following 1968 for Latin American liberationists, Minjung theologies of the 1970s, womanists and mujerista theologies of the late 1970s and 1980s. The field now has a substantial theological academic corpus of material to stand on (though we always had the stories of ancestors streaming below the surface).

  • Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1968
  • James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power, 1969
  • Vine Deloria, God is Red: A Native View of Religion, 1972

In some cases, this isb ody of work that lacked particular voices, namely those of women. From Alice Walker’s In Search of our Mother’s Garden, published in 1983, to Marcella Althaus Reid’s Indecent Theology published in 2000, the field was reminded again to write to, with, and for those who are not represented in theological discourse, going beyond class and race to include gender, sexuality, environmental, and a host of other intersecting realities.

This class of fellows is creating a body of work that is reminiscent of that post-1968 material that came out of a necessity for our histories and lives to be heard, seen, and valued. Drawing on the work of those foundational texts with the reminder to place increased focus on those most marginalized by systems and structures of power, this class of fellows are doing that field leading and ground-breaking work.

Simeiqi He, for example, is exploring Catholic women in the People’s Republic of China and the “remembrance of women’s vital to the thriving of the Catholic Church…and the exposure of the patriarchal sin that has been deeply entrenched in both the Christian tradition and Chinese culture.” Kamilah Hall Sharp draws on the work of her advisor, mentor, and FTE alumni, Dr. Wil Gafney, exploring a postcolonial reading of the book of Esther because “there are ways for the church to offer more informed conversations about sexual abuse.” Nyle Fort’s academic work is literally a “matter of life and death” as his dissertation Makeshift: African American Mourning and the Politics of Black Life examines the “relationship between race, religion, and American politics, with a particular focus on African American mourning traditions.” Nicole Symmonds argues in Trafficking in God: Exploring the Intersection of Race, Religion, and Sexuality in Anti-Trafficking Interventions the “methods of outreach must be transformed to embrace a cultural competency that attends to the particular embodied experience and needs of women of color.”

This is just a sample of the 30 selected fellows, 21 of whom are women, and their work. FTE is proud to come alongside them and provide support for their work.

This class of fellows is clear that this work does not happen in isolation in academic libraries, but requires the input of the community both in and beyond the academy.

This is a class of fellows that is reminding the academy that there is a different way to do religious scholarship. It can happen in the community, and not in competition with their peers. It can happen with their communities of accountability and not extracting from marginalized communities. And more important, their work is responsive to the changing conditions for the most vulnerable, and not just a mirror image of the static text found in the Western theological and religious canon.

This class is dynamic and will impact future generations to come.

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