September 15 2019

by Alex Snow, West Virginia University

Row of students with umbrellas blocking the sun walking alongside a pond at Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Kyoto, Japan

Introduction: “Fingers Pointing at Castles”

In June of 2013, I helped lead a group of undergraduate students from West Virginia University on a three-week study abroad trip to Japan. As part of my job responsibilities within the Program for Religious Studies, it would be the first time I had been in charge of coordinating such an excursion, having had the opportunity to visit parts of Israel the previous summer on a colleague’s trip so as to “get the hang” of things and “learn the ropes” of short-term study abroad. I had been teaching part-time, and now full-time, for over fifteen years but never outside of the classroom. Then, with the help and support of my wife and disciplinary colleague, I found myself about to begin a three-week adventure in travel, advice, and daily student mentorship; and by association, an almost continuous, usually spontaneous, strategic experiment in on-site pedagogical techniques.

by John J. O’Keefe, Creighton University

Row of students with umbrellas blocking the sun walking alongside a pond at Tetsugaku-no-Michi in Kyoto, Japan

Several years ago, I, with two of my colleagues here at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, created a program called The Backpack Journalism Project. A collaboration between the Department of Theology and the Department of Journalism, Media, and Computing, this program uses the tool of documentary filmmaking to educate undergraduate students about the challenges facing people in the developing world and marginalized societies. To date, our project has produced four short documentary films, one set in the Dominican Republic, two set in Uganda, and one set in Bethel, Alaska.

In our first film, Esperanza, we profiled the work of Pedro Pena, a Catholic deacon who works in the heart of the worst slum in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The slum is built around and on top of a city dump. Pena labors to improve the health and education of local residents. 

Adarkar, Aditya and David Lee Keiser. 2007. “The Buddha in the Classroom: Toward a Critical Spiritual Pedagogy.” Journal of Transformative Education 5 (3): 246–261.

Association of American Colleges and Universities. 2007. College Learning for the New Global Century: A Report from the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Barbour, John. 2015. “’Oh Events’ for the Professor: Studies and Stories of Religious Studies Abroad.” Teaching Theology and Religion 18 (1): 88–96.

Baxter-Magolda, Marcia. 1992. Knowing and Reasoning in College: Gender Related Patterns in Students’ Intellectual Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Capps, W. H. 1995. Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

by Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Earlham School of Religion

An image of one of Rockwell Kent's 1930 illustrations of Moby Dick. Depicts the whale rising high out of the water, with large arc of water from the whale's blowhole.

As I sit this Sunday morning drinking my routine cup of hot coffee, my head keeps entertaining one question, “Why can’t I have it all?” Mind you, I have book deadlines, project deadlines, and other writing deadlines…but this question persists, like old Ahab’s obsession with his white whale.

Oftentimes when I travel to meetings and conferences, people just assume I am a young (okay…well…middle-aged), single scholar who is at some institution with no social life or family interfering with my way of working in this competitive academic world.

Once other scholars realize I am married with children, most of them are surprised. Once they realize I have three children, they become shocked. It is not because they think a woman like me can’t have three children, but they muse, “How can a scholar have three children?”

Andrew Quintman speaks with Kristian Petersen about his award-winning book "The Yogin and the Madman: Reading the Biographical Corpus of Tibet's Great Saint Milarepa."

by Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, Perkins School of Theology

Plate XXX, Byzantine No. 3, of Owen Jones's "The Grammar of Ornament" (1868)

The earth will never again be seen as flat. In spite of sixteenth century intellectuals who argued that the earth was level, others like Copernicus and Ferdinand Magellan convinced us otherwise. The earth is anything but one dimensional.

With the lens of intersectionality, concepts of the human being and relationality have lost any residue of flatness or one dimensionality in their constructions. The contributing scholars for this Spotlight on Theological Education develop the interlacing realities and particularities that comprise the reality of human being as well as the notions of class, race, gender, linguistic identity, ableism, sexuality, and culture. The following essays offer a theological telescope by which to see not one world, but the constellation of worlds within human beings created by crisscrossing relationships.

by Emilie M. Townes, Vanderbilt University Divinity School

Image: Plate XXX (Byzantine No. 3), The Grammar of Ornament by Owens Jones (1868; scanned from the 1910 reprint) London: Bernard Quaritch, via

Among the many important things that feminist theologian Letty Russell taught me is the importance of seeing one’s work in the academy as activism—or perhaps better put, that a key component of scholarly work should be done through the framework of activism. Indeed, Russell was one of three people I dedicated my 2008 AAR Presidential Address in memory of, honoring scholars whose work embodied scholarship and activism.1 She taught me that it was important to be passionate about what I teach and also about how I teach it.

by Nancy Ramsay, Brite Divinity School

Image: Plate XXX (Byzantine No. 3), The Grammar of Ornament by Owens Jones (1868; scanned from the 1910 reprint) London: Bernard Quaritch, via

As a theologian with particular interest in the public dimensions of pastoral theology, much of my scholarship, writing, and teaching focuses on ways to discern, analyze, and resist forms of difference treated oppressively in church and culture such as race, gender, sexuality, and class. My participation in programs sponsored by the Wabash Center provided me with opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in theological education to identify and develop pedagogical resources that enhance the effectiveness of our teaching. These pedagogies help faculty and students to recognize, resist, and transform interlocking systems of advantage that give rise to marginalizing practices. However, until recently, the theoretical grounding for those resources was shaped by modernist understandings of social identities as additive rather than simultaneous. This additive approach limited any analysis of the constructivist and intersecting nature of identity shaped by asymmetries of power.

by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, PhD Candidate at Illif School of Theology, University of Denver

Image: Plate XXX (Byzantine No. 3), The Grammar of Ornament by Owens Jones (1868; scanned from the 1910 reprint) London: Bernard Quaritch, via

Historically, systematic theology has been an institutional bloc within the field of theology that has in many ways ignored the matrix of difference while upholding orthodoxy. Nevertheless it has been forced to contend with the critical questions of race, class, gender, and sexuality because those intersections figure prominently in the work of contemporary, constructive, and queer theologies. Many of these theologies use feminist and queer theories to address systems of difference and oppressions, but their roots in traditional identity politics result in representational theologies. Such reliance undermines the relational aspects of interconnection and interrelatedness that can emerge by moving beyond traditional theories of representationalism that is found in theories of intersectionality.

by Kirk VanGilder, Gallaudet University

Image: Plate XXX (Byzantine No. 3), The Grammar of Ornament by Owens Jones (1868; scanned from the 1910 reprint) London: Bernard Quaritch, via

Although I am trained as a practical theologian and much of my scholarly research and interest therefore tends to express itself as theological construction and imagination, I am currently teaching in a religious studies setting at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. While all campuses are sites of diversity and intersectionality in identity markers, Gallaudet University presents teachers with a unique layer of identity formation. We are the only free-standing four-year liberal arts university in the world specifically designed for Deaf and hard of hearing students. Therefore our mission statement expresses our desire to be a bilingual institution committed to providing the best educational opportunities possible in both American Sign Language (ASL) and written English.