The UChicago Theology Workshop

Elsa-Marty (1)
Monday, November 4, 2013 12:00 noon-1:30 pm Swift 106

Join us for Elsa Marty’s paper, “Inculturation or Christian Unity? Competing Visions for the Church among Lutheran Adivasis in Chotanagpur (India)”

The Lutherans in the Chotanagpur region of North India are predominantly adivasi (indigenous) and come from many different tribes. Since 1977, they have been divided into two churches: the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church (GELC) and the North-Western Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church (NWGELC). These two churches emphasize different aspects of Christian community. The GELC focuses on Christian unity and is comprised of members from all of regional tribes. The NWGELC was formed in 1977 by members from the Oraon tribe and stresses the importance of inculturation and contextualization. This paper explores the difficulty of “inculturating” into a multi-cultural community and various visions of Christian unity in such an environment.

Rick Elgendy will respond.

A light lunch will be served.

We recommend that you read the paper in advance of the workshop; you can find it here. If you are planning on attending the workshop and are not affiliated with the University of Chicago, please email to request access to the paper.



Sojung KimMonday, October 21, 2013
12:00 noon-1:30 pm
Swift 106

Join us as Sojung Kim kicks off our workshop this year with her paper, “Theopoetic and Vernacular: The Languages of Suffering People.”

In this paper Sojung will discuss the political and liberation theological movement in the 20th century by dealing with Metz, Moltmann, Soelle, Gutiérrez, and Cone.

She will compare how these theologians distinctly challenged the limitation of modern theological discourse and emphasized the importance of people’s language in Theology

Julius Crump will respond.

A light lunch will be served.


Join us Monday, October 7 (Week 2) for our first meeting of the new academic year!

We’ll be gathering for lunch to introduce the Theology Workshop, and offering a time for students and faculty interested in Theology to socialize and address questions about the coming year.

Lunch is cosponsored by the Theology Club.
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The Theology Workshop is pleased to be co-sponsoring, with the Late Antiquity & Byzantium Workshop, a presentation by Aaron Hollander, PhD student in Theology. The paper is entitled “Paradox and Wonder: The Catastrophic Holiness of Saint Symeon the Fool, and will be submitted as the orals statement for Aaron’s qualifying examination in the Autumn.

Tuesday, May 28th * 4:30 – 6:00 pm * Cochrane-Woods Arts Center, Room 152

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The Theology Workshop warmly invites you to participate in the capstone event of our spring quarter sequence, “Imagining Evil.” Professor Jean-Luc Marion and Professor Paul Mendes-Flohr, distinguished members of the Divinity School faculty, will join us to lead a dialogue on “the logic of evil” in modernity.

Tuesday, May 21st

4:30-6:00 pm (with reception to follow)

Swift Hall Common Room (first floor)

Marion: Evil begins with experiences of injury and injustice, then leads either to revenge or to resentment. So it is more about my own identity than the other. Its logic leads eventually to ideological or physical suicide.

Mendes-Flohr: Jean-Luc Marion’s meditation on “the logic of evil” seems to call into question the prophetic injunction to transcend our personal suffering and identify compassionately with that of the disinherited members of society, and to “Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). But what empowers the prophetic ethos? Certainly it is not a mere altruistic consciousness, or a version of the Kantian ethical imperative. Our readiness to heed the prophetic calling, as Marion suggests, is often crippled by personal woe, ressentiment, and the anguish engendered by the witness to the enormity of the evil that surrounds us—captured by reference to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Biafra, and 9/11. Perhaps one may take counsel from the biblical and rabbinic authors who acknowledge that the prophetic ethos alone is insufficient, for it is to be animated by the divine pathos.

This event is free and open to the public. No advance preparation is expected of participants. Persons with a disability who would request assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at


Please join the Theology Workshop for the next in our series of discussions on “Imagining Evil,” on Tuesday, May 14th, 12:00-1:30 pm, in Swift 200. Ekaterina Lomperis, PhD student in Theology, will present her upcoming conference paper, entitled “Faithful Medics, Faithful Patients:  Non-Idolatrous Health Care in Martin Luther’s Theological Writings.” Tim Hiller, PhD candidate in Theology, will respond. Lunch will be served.


Is there a religiously appropriate way for a Christian medical caretaker to conceive of her work of helping others heal?  Does her offering preventative care or human-designed medical intervention to help sick Christians signify the lack of trust on part of both the doctor and the patient in God’s benevolence and healing power?  What are the ultimate ends towards which Christian medical care should be practiced?  The paper examines theological responses to these concerns as found in the works of Martin Luther. Informed by his perpetual worry about idolatry in Christian living and humans’ susceptibility to the deceits of the Devil, Luther’s theology of medical care addresses the proper regard of sickness by both patients and caretakers, affirmative view of medical care, and Christian doctors’ due understanding of their work as a self-sacrificial rather than gainful service.  Yet Luther’s ultimate concern was with the doctor and the patient’s internal dispositions towards the enterprise of healing rather than with external actions of curing.  For Luther, maintaining an attitude of hope in God alone, and withstanding the temptation of alternatively putting one’s trust in the effectiveness of medical science, while offering and receiving medical care, is a matter of greater importance than the material outcome of medical intervention.  Otherwise, both the healer and the healed risk falling into the trap of dangerous idolatries of self-reliance and the foolish lust for wellbeing.  My paper will demonstrate that such spiritual dangers, in a world deadly stricken by sin, are, for Luther, graver threats than the harm of physical sickness.

No preparation is expected of workshop participants. Persons with a disability who would request assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at

Please join the Theology Workshop for the second event in a series co-hosted with the Alternative Epistemologies initiative, as we welcome Denys Turner, Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology and Professor of Religion at Yale University, to explore the necessity and fertility of “failure” in intellectual endeavors.



(+ social hour 6-7pm) 

Swift Lecture Hall, 3rd floor

Denys Turner
“How to Fail”

Denys Turner, Professor of Historical Theology at Yale University, will give a semi-autobiographical account of his personal and intellectual journey from social and political thought as a graduate student at Oxford where he wrote a doctoral dissertation on issues of moral psychology, particularly on the so-called problem of ‘moral weakness’ (Aristotle’s akrasia), and early professorships in philosophy, to becoming a professor, author and expert on medieval theology and mysticism.

He has called his paper “How to Fail” — an important skill, since we all do it! — and will discuss how the personal and the intellectual weave together and how the academic life often displaces the contemplative life, and in so doing, forgets itself. Turner will suggest that it is the ability to fail that gives life to our words and keeps us from producing what Hopkins calls the “competent tedium” of those who don’t know how to fail.

His recent books: Julian of Norwich, Theologian, and Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait. Other works include: The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism and Eros and Allegory: Medieval Exegesis of the Songs of Songs. 


Alternative Epistemologies is a student-led initiative at the University of Chicago Divinity School inspired by the idea we are impoverished as human beings and scholars by our tendency to forget or devalue ways of knowing other than the cerebral. We hope to provide a public space for conversations about “other ways of knowing,” as well as about how discursive knowing and articulating might be enriched, expanded, deepened and illuminated by other ways of knowing. 


Please join the Theology Workshop for our first regular presentation of our spring quarter theme, “Imagining Evil.” Matt Vanderpoel, PhD Student in History of Christianity, will present on Augustinian exegesis and medieval demonology. Kyle Rader, PhD Candidate in Theology, will respond.

Thursday, April 18th
12:00 – 1:30 pm
Swift 208


Augustine, over the course of his Genesis commentaries, explicitly develops the devil as the antitype for proper exegesis. Thus, as his exegetical strategies and prescriptions change in the Literal Commentary, the devil becomes radically effaced. This interpretation is transmitted throughout the Middle Ages, but it is substantively explored by Hugh of St. Victor and the Lombard in the 12th century. As they continue the process of reading the devil out of Genesis, nonetheless, they mitigate the distance between the diabolic and the human. This will be tentatively interrogated as a possible source for and influence on the resurgence of demonology in the 13th and 14th centuries.

A light lunch will be served. No preparation is expected of workshop attendees. Persons with a disability who would request assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at


Spring 2013: Imagining Evil

This quarter, the Theology Workshop is inviting conversation on the ways that “evil” is conceived, characterized or personified, ascribed to selves and others, resisted, and deconstructed both by first-order religious practices or discourses and by the analytical disciplines attending to them. The category of evil (here, inclusive of relatable terms from various cultures) is among the most elementary centers of gravity for theological inquiry and response. Accounts of the generation of the cosmos and of human nature and societies often reckon with the felt presence of evil entities and perverse forms of understanding. How religious practices and discourses construe evil—attending to its causes, repositories, ritual or artistic significance, and corrosive powers, as well as the means for subduing it—has very real social, political, and religious consequences.
Over the course of the quarter, then, we aim to inspire a conversation that examines the category of evil as an arena in which religious imagination, ethical motivation, and communal dynamics are constantly colliding and conditioning one another. We invite submissions of work in progress, which explore or expand the theme of “Imagining Evil.” These might include, but are in no way limited to, discussion of issues such as:
•                Names for evil(s); defining the terms and envisioning the stakes;
•                The lexicon, logic, metaphor, and rhetoric for describing evil in a religious literature;  imagining a world or taking a religious position “beyond good and evil”;
•                The representation of evil beings, places, or practices in non-textual media (painting, film, music, dance, shrines, etc.); evil and aesthetics;
•                Ritual reckoning with evil (e.g. sacrifice, penance, exorcism, warding, blessing);
•                The relation between conceptions of evil and understandings of death, suffering, ignorance, or tragedy;
•                Problems with theodicy; constructive offerings in theodicy;
•                The being or nonbeing of evil; evil as personal/personified or impersonal; the damnation, transformation, reformation, or redemption of participants in evil;
•                Ascription of evil to others, or depiction of evil with the characteristics of others; religious violence and justifications for violence; the invocation of evil in political discourse and institutions;
•                Fascination with or possession by evil; the attractiveness or seductiveness of evil
•                Horror as a religious category; mythological or ethical monsters
•                Evil as an academic concern; when is it a useful or non-useful category, and for which disciplines?

The Theology Workshop is delighted to launch our spring quarter programming by joining forces with Alternative Epistemologies, a student-led initiative inspired by the idea that we are impoverished as human beings and scholars by our tendency to forget or devalue ways of knowing other than the cerebral. It hopes to provide a public space for conversations about “other ways of knowing,” as well as how discursive knowing and articulating might be enriched, expanded, deepened and illuminated by other ways of knowing. Their inaugural event, doubling as the kickoff to our spring quarter workshop theme of “Imagining Evil, will be:

Dr. Emilie Townes (Incoming Dean, Vanderbilt Divinity School) 

“The Womanist Dancing Mind”

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10 * 4:30-6pm (+ social hour 6-7 pm) * Swift Lecture Hall, Third FloorPreeminent womanist ethicist, former president of the AAR, and current president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion, Dr. Emilie Townes will speak on womanist epistemology, drawing from the first chapter of her book Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil, in which she sets the epistemological premises for her ethical arguments.This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disability who would request assistance, please contact Elena in advance at 



**Stay tuned for details on the first regular Theology Workshop this spring, which will be a presentation by Matt Vanderpoel, PhD Student in History of Christianity, on Augustinian exegesis and medieval demonology: Thursday, April 18, 12:00-1:30 pm.**

Please join the Theology Workshop for the capstone event of our Winter quarter theme, “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religions,” as we welcome Professor Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought, and the College.

Thursday, March 14th * 4:30 – 6:00 pm * Swift 106

“God’s Body, or, the Lingam Made Flesh”

A dispute about the symbolism of the lingam (or linga), a cylindrical votary object that represents the Hindu god Shiva, has been going on for many centuries in India:  is its meaning inexorably tied to a particular part of the physical body of the god, or is it abstract, purely spiritual? This presentation will trace the history of this dispute.  Present-day Hindu sensibilities about the lingam will be illuminated by a consideration of the historical role of two non-Hindu cultures in India–Muslim and British.  Underlying this particular debate is the more general problem of the ambiguity of the symbolism, particularly the religious symbolism, of the body and of forms that represent the body.

Aaron Hollander, PhD Student in Theology, will respond.

This event is free and open to the public. No preparation is expected of participants. Persons with a disability who would request assistance, please contact Mary Emily in advance at

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