A reflection on the 2017 Santa Clara lecture on Gendered Theologies and the Common Good

Dr Susannah Cornwall offers her reflections on her opportunity to deliver the 2017 Santa Clara lecture on Gendered Theologies and the Common Good.

Credit: Dr Susannah Cornwall

In October I visited Santa Clara University in San Jose, California (about an hour south of San Francisco) to deliver the Santa Clara lecture on Gendered Theologies and the Common Good. This was part of the 2016-18 Bannan Institute on the Common Good, hosted by the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education at Santa Clara.

Credit: Paige Mueller and Chuck Barry

I usually love travelling to give papers and meet other researchers as part of my job, but I had a certain amount of trepidation this time, because I was aware that 13,000 people had signed a petition calling on Santa Clara to rescind their invitation to me on the grounds that I was not a suitable person to be hosted by and speak at a Catholic university. However, I received wonderful hospitality and a warm welcome in Santa Clara, even if the experience of being escorted by a bodyguard and having everyone security-checked before they entered the lecture was somewhat surreal.

Credit: Paige Mueller and Chuck Barry

Questions surrounding gender identity are freighted in Roman Catholic circles at the moment, particularly in the US, and Pope Francis has spoken of his reservations about the “gender agenda” and the way in which it might diminish the theological significance of distinct and divinely-ordained maleness and femaleness. It was great to address a mixed audience including clergy from several dioceses, trans activists, academics, students and others to begin to think through the ways in which gender transition might, for some people, be understood as a way into healing and vocation, not a deviation from them.

Credit: Paige Mueller and Chuck Barry

I also had the privilege of visiting and speaking at several undergraduate classes whilst at Santa Clara. Most undergraduate degrees in the US last four years, and students initially take a portfolio of classes across a range of subject areas before choosing a Major in which to specialize. I was a guest speaker for classes in Gender, Race and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Europe (a History course); Sexuality and Spirituality in Latinx and Chicanx Literature and Theologies (a Religious Studies course); and LGBTQ Studies: Global Perspectives (an English course) – all of which were also cross-coded with Women’s and Gender Studies. It was great to see the diverse teaching and learning methods there, and to meet such engaged and motivated students.

Credit: Paige Mueller and Chuck Barry

In terms of research dialogues, I had meetings with faculty members from Religious Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, and with the organizing collective for the Gender Justice and the Common Good research institute. They had in common their desire to root their research and teaching in real-world challenges, including how to understand the mission of a Catholic university today (which, for the Ignatian Center, includes witnessing to social justice in the heart of Silicon Valley).

I’ve very grateful to everyone who made the visit possible, particularly Theresa Ladrigan-Whelpley and Susan Chun at the Ignatian Center, and to all those I met and spoke to, from the University, the Diocese of San Jose, and beyond.

To watch the main lecture given by Dr Cornwall, click here.

Dr Susannah Cornwall is a lecturer in the University of Exeter Theology and Religion Department

Conference Report: Exploring the Glory of God in Durham

Exploring the Glory of God
University of Durham, 6-9th July 2016

Christopher Southgate

This conference was the inspiration of Dr Adesola Akala of St John’s College, Durham. She had gathered a superb array of keynote speakers, including Jan Joosten from Oxford on Hebrew Bible, David Ford from Cambridge on the Fourth Gospel, Tom Greggs of Aberdeen on a systematics approach, Paula Gooder on what it means to give glory to God, David Brown on an aesthetic treatment, and James Dunn on the Pauline witness.

I was delighted to be able to take forward my own research towards my monograph Glory and Longing by giving a paper on glory in poets and mystics, focusing on the poetry of RS Thomas and the diaries and letters of the Dutch Holocaust victim Etty Hillesum. A fascinating exchange ensued with Jan Joosten, who turned out to know one of the major Hillesum scholars in Holland. So valuable to make these connections. My hypothesis that divine glory is best understood as a sign of the depths of the divine reality remained in good shape (always a relief!)

The whole conference was conducted in an excellent spirit. For me what made it was the group of young scholars who gave short papers and contributed much energy and some searching questions, with a real sense of wanting to contribute not just to academe but to the life of the Church. There was also a welcome strand on glory and disability, linking perhaps with David Ford’s conviction that one of the most helpful responses to the Gospel of John is found in the work of Jean Vanier.

An excellent meeting, and I can only that its momentum will be sustained – there was much talk of follow-up meetings. Roll on 2019…

Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day

Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day
13th June 2016, University of Exeter

Abigail Pearson

On Monday 13th June the department came together for the end of term Theology and Religion Postgraduate Study Day, hosted at the university’s Catholic Chaplaincy. This event offered the chance for MA and PhD students to share their research in front of students and staff.

In the first session, we heard from Leanna Rierson and Giovanni Hermanin De Reichenfeld. Leanna Rierson spoke about “The Emergence of Humility in Contemporary Leadership Theories and the Potential Application to Biblical Studies.” Her aim is to combine leadership theories, humility studies, and Biblical Studies in order to better understand leadership in both the ancient world and in contemporary culture. The approach she proposed involves using case-studies to investigate Paul’s humility and how this contributed to his effectiveness as a leader. Giovanni Hermanin De Reichenfeld gave a paper titled “The Material of the Gifts from God: is the Spirit a Creature in Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John?” His discussion of whether Origen considered the spirit to be part of creation revealed Origen’s multi-layered understanding of the Holy Trinity and how each of its aspects came into being. I was the chair for the session, and though I was nervous because I had not chaired before, it was made easier by the well-timed speakers and enthusiastic questions from the audience.

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Enjoying the Academic Conference and the Social Interactions

Marina Hannus reflects on several different conference experiences and offers her advice on how to make the most of the social side of academic conferences. 

In terms of social engagement and networking, I’m lucky. A lot of academics are introverted and feel unsettled about going to conferences, presenting their research, and having to ‘network’. I am lucky because I have always enjoyed meeting new people. Especially if I know that we have something in common which gives me a natural reason to start conversations. Therefore I often take pleasure in being in a context where I am surrounded by strangers.

At the same time, even I need to be intentional about turning on ‘conference mode’ if I want to make the most of academic conferences. In my everyday life I don’t initiate conversations with strangers very often, unless it is at a specific event or I have a legitimate reason. This in combination with the many hours of independent research makes me less used to interacting with strangers.

In spite of this, though, I find it more exciting than scary to go to conferences. This is why I booked three conferences in one month this spring…

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The Futures of Biblical Studies Conference Report

The Futures of Biblical Studies
University of Kent, 1-2 June 2016

Rebekah Welton

This conference was the opening event for the newly formed Institut13173727_1370286236321692_1977418188179063420_ne for Biblical Studies comprising the universities of Exeter, Kent, Sheffield and St Mary’s Twickenham. It also celebrated the launch of a new biblical studies library at the University of Kent, donated from the personal collections of David Clines who also provided us with the key note lecture. I was extremely excited to be presenting a paper at my first ‘proper’ conference – in the sense that previous paper presentations have been at post-graduate events. Sharing your work in a room of leading scholars in one’s own discipline is an altogether different experience to presenting to fellow students from the very broad umbrella of humanities. So whilst I was nervous, I was also excited to be a part of both the ‘real’ world of biblical scholarship and also excited to be a part of the ‘future’ of this discipline.

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Talking about wilderness in a city of sky-scrapers

Morwenna Ludlow

Do you have a place that you love, that you’ve introduced to a dear friend, only to discover that they absolutely hate it?

This was the subject of the paper I delivered to the North American Patristics Society, whose annual meeting took place this May in Chicago. Basil of Caesarea (c.329-379) is famous as the ‘father of monasticism’, but before setting up his famous monastery in Caesarea he (and his family and friends) experimented with other ways of being a monk. Basil travelled around various ascetic communities on a kind of gap year after university in Athens; he then went and taught rhetoric in Caesarea, but soon had a change of heart and settled on a remote part of his family estate (at Annisa, modern Uluköy) to live as a hermit with a small group of other men.

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From Mastermind to SST: making space for the female voice

Society for the Study of Theology Conference
Nottingham University April 13th-16th 2015

Penny Cowell Doe

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I approached this, my first academic conference, with considerable trepidation. It didn’t matter that, as a mature student, I had a whole professional life behind me of leading teams and giving presentations; this was going to feel like my first day at ‘big’ school.

Besides the unfamiliar context there were three additional reasons for apprehension: I would know very few people there; I was giving a short paper at my first conference; and, since my MA is in biblical studies, someone might notice my borrowed theological plumage. Continue reading

A (Non-Traumatic) Conference Experience

Karen O’Donnell

When I traumalogobegan my PhD I was excited to start going to conferences and even more excited to give a paper at my first conference. I eased myself in gently with a couple of small postgraduate conferences, giving papers on material I was very familiar with, before moving on to some of the big society conferences. I found myself leaving a fair few conferences feeling quite disappointed. Some were dreadful, some were just ok, all were exhausting. So it was with great trepidation that I set off to an Inter-Disciplinary.net conference entitled “Trauma: Theory and Practice” in Lisbon at the end of March. I was not disappointed and I want to highlight three ways in which this conference rose above the rest.

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The table with the newest menu? Reflections on the Twentieth Joint Postgraduate Religion and Theology Conference

David Tollerton

I should confess to a certain nostalgia associated with this conference. Nine years ago, a little apprehensively and with (apparently) slightly rushed delivery, I gave my first academic paper at the Joint Postgraduate Conference, held on that occasion at the leafy campus of Bath Spa University.

So it was with great pleasure that on Friday I travelled up a rainy M5 to the ‘Twentieth Joint Postgraduate Religion and Theology Conference’ at the University of Bristol. These days it’s a sizable affair, with over forty papers spread over two days. And although there’s the expected bias towards contributors from institutions in the South West it’s noticeable that the event’s reach has spread, with presenters coming from London, Cambridge, Glasgow, even Rotterdam and Genoa.

Wagstaff Welton John

PhD students Bethany Wagstaff, Rebekah Welton, and Helen John each delivered papers at this year’s conference.

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Religion, Gender and Body Politics: Postcolonial, Post-secular and Queer Perspectives conference, Utrecht

Susannah Cornwall

IARG badge

It’s always exciting to be present at the start of something new, and it was a real honour to be invited to be a conference respondent at the Religion, Gender and Body Politics: Postcolonial, Post-secular and Queer Perspectives conference in Utrecht, where the brand-new International Association for the Study of Religion and Gender (IARG) was officially launched. Utrecht is also famous for the Domtoren (the tallest church tower in the Netherlands), and the Dick Bruna Huis, a museum celebrating everyone’s favourite rabbit character, Miffy!

The IARG is newly-minted, but there have been a series of smaller meetings leading up to this conference over the last couple of years. They’ve taken place at SOAS in London; in Oslo; in New York; in Turku, Finland; in Ghent, Belgium; and in Utrecht. Continue reading