The UChicago Theology Workshop

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

Monday, February 25th
4:30-6:00 pm
Swift 201

The Theology Workshop and the Hebrew Bible Workshop warmly invite you to a joint session that continues this quarter’s “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religion” series. Kelli Gardner, PhD Student in Hebrew Bible, will present her work: “‘Drink Water from Your Own Cistern': Images of Female Sexuality and Autonomy in Proverbs and the Song of Songs.” Kristel Clayville, PhD Candidate in Ethics, will respond and kick off the interdisciplinary discussion.

Proverbs 1-9, 31, and the Song of Songs reflect an analogous understanding of proper female behavior and authority, and establish similar regulations and controls over female sexuality.  However, due to their divergent agendas and perspectives, these are presented differently.  Proverbs uses the image of the Strange Woman to demonstrate the evils of promiscuous women, while presenting one’s own wife as a satisfying and fertile lover.  By borrowing tropes depicting female sexuality from the Song of Songs, Proverbs is able to present the dual nature of the Strange Woman – seductive but dangerous – while reminding participants its audience of the utter satisfaction one can have in one’s own wife.  Thus, Proverbs artfully reinforces the social conventions regarding female sexuality by advising its male audience to drink only from one’s own cistern!

No preparation is expected of participants. Delicious refreshments will be served, all thematically linked to the sensual cornucopia of Hebrew sacred literature…

Persons with disabilities who would like assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at

The Theology Workshop welcomes Prof. Kristine Culp, Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of the Disciples Divinity House, Prof. Jeffrey Stackert, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible, and Rev. Cynthia Lindner, Director of Ministry Studies and Clinical Faculty for Preaching and Pastoral Care, to reflect on their own experiences and best practices for creating classroom cultures and environments that intentionally honor the body as a constitutive part of human being, knowing, and learning.

All are invited to join our panelists in wrestling with such questions as: How can teachers use their own embodied presence in the classroom–and the embodied presences of their students–to deepen and inflect learning?  What kinds of pedagogical practices work to unveil and dismantle oppressions in the classroom that silence or privilege certain embodied experiences?  How can existing structures with which bodies may be at odds–physical space, institutional culture–be shifted, challenged, or named in order to create an academic space where bodies are not something to be overcome or sidelined, but to be held in integrity with all dimensions of the life of scholarly inquiry?

Thursday, February 14
4:30 – 6:00 pm
Swift 106
This workshop is programmed through the Divinity School’s Craft of Teaching initiative, and counts towards the fulfillment of Craft of Teaching certification requirements.
No preparation is expected of participants. Persons with a disability who would like assistance, please contact Aaron  in advance at

Ready for a relaxing break from work that you can still chalk up to academic edification? Never fear: the Theology Workshop & Club warmly invite you to a social gathering and movie night, with a film that contributes to this quarter’s investigation of “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religion,” with plenty of delicious food and drink to accompany it.

“Babette’s Feast” & DSA Social (guests welcome!)
Saturday, February 9
6:00 PM
Brent House (5540 S. Woodlawn)

Come for the food, brews, & classic film; stay if you choose for some casual conversation on the religious significance of Eating, Drinking, Embodiment, & Whatnot in the company of your fellows who are regularly involved in all four.

Babette’s Feast:

The elderly and pious Christian sisters Martine and Philippa live in a small village on the remote western coast of 19th-century Denmark. Their father was a pastor who founded his own Christian sect. With their father now dead, and the sect drawing no new converts, the aging sisters preside over their dwindling congregation of white-haired believers. But all will change when Babette Hersant, a refugee from counter-revolutionary bloodshed in Paris, appears at their door. The sisters take Babette in, and she serves as their maid and cook for the next fourteen years. Her only link to her former life is a lottery ticket that a friend in Paris renews for her every year. One day, she wins the lottery of 10,000 francs. Instead of using the money to return to Paris and her lost lifestyle, she decides to spend it preparing a magnificent dinner for the sisters and their small congregation. More than just a feast, the meal is an outpouring of Babette’s appreciation, an act of self-sacrifice; Babette tells no one that she is spending her entire winnings on the meal.

As the various never-before-seen ingredients arrive, and preparations commence, the sisters begin to worry that the meal will become a great sin of sensual luxury, if not some form of devilry. In a hasty conference, the sisters and the congregation agree to eat the meal, but to forego speaking of any pleasure in it, and to make no mention of the food during the entire dinner. Although at first they refuse to comment on the earthly pleasures of their meal, Babette’s gifts begin to break down their distrust. Old wrongs are forgotten, lost loves are rekindled, and human carnality and spirituality are themselves reconciled at the table.

Join the Theology Workshop for the second session of our “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religion” theme, as Lauren Osborne, PhD candidate in Islamic Studies, presents the syllabus for a course she is designing on “Religion and the Senses.” This is a unique opportunity to workshop a syllabus, helping our colleague think through course objectives, readings, and assignments related to this fascinating and wide-ranging material — and along the way, considering together the role of sensuality in the analysis and teaching of religion. Lauren describes her vision for this mid-level undergraduate course: “Taking a broad perspective across a range of religious traditions, this course examines the various modes of the human senses and sensory information in relation to religious experience. It is divided into six units: sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste, and an additional unit on questions of disability and difference.”

A copy of the syllabus, which participants would be recommended (but not required) to review in advance, will be sent out through the Theology Workshop listserv. Larisa Reznik, PhD candidate in Theology, will respond. A toothsome and aromatic lunch (pizza) will be served.

Monday, January 28
12:00 –  1:30 pm
Swift 201
Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Mary Emily in advance at


Please join the Theology Workshop for the first session on our Winter Quarter theme: “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religion.” We will have a presentation by Bryce Rich, PhD student in Theology, and will discuss material from his essay, “Reinterpreting Baptism: An Ongoing Dialogue,” to be published in June as part of a collection entitled, Queering Christianity: Making a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians. This session is co-hosted with The Sacred Flame. Kyle Rader, PhD candidate in Theology, will respond.


Thursday, January 17th.
12:00-1:30 pm.
Swift 106.
A light lunch will be provided. No preparation by workshop participants is necessary. Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at

For nearly 45 years the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) have brought together people of various faith traditions, socio-economic backgrounds, orientations, and gender expressions in a denomination with a primary ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and those who love them.  Along the way MCC churches have worked to bridge various divides between Jews and Christians, Sacramentalists and Memorialists, straights and gays, men and women.  But in the resulting wealth of theological diversity and practice, questions continue to (re)appear around Baptism.  Join us for a look at some of the ongoing theological issues – both theoretical and pastoral – that churches concerned with both sexual and sacramental identity must wrestle with even today.  Certainly not isolated issues of the “gay church,” many of these questions are in play wherever traditional distinctions are wearing away in the face of declining denominational identities, the mobility of Christian worshipers, and the call to interact with new realities of human embodiment in society.

Some of the current issues include:

* Open Table practice and its relation to Baptism
* The role of ecumenical dialogue and its importance in articulating denominational theologies and practices
* The relationship between Baptism, the Church as Body of Christ, and local church membership in a denomination that promotes radical inclusivity
* Rebaptism for various reasons including the desires of those who have undergone gender reassignment
* Inclusive language and the Trinitarian baptismal formula
* The continuing tension between pedobaptism and credobaptism


Winter Quarter Theme: “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religion”

In her poem “Cages,” Jane Kenyon writes of our “long struggle to be at home in the body, this difficult friendship.”  Indeed, human beings have long wrestled with the meaning of their own embodiment—its pain and pleasure, vulnerability and vitality, creativity and corruptibility.  At times the body is a battlefield, the place where violence is enacted, power displayed, suffering endured, enemies confronted.  At other times, we sing with Walt Whitman of “the body electric,” a wondrous composition of limbs and lips and great delight.  Theologians, too, have long struggled to understand the meaning and cultivation of human embodiment in terms of their respective faiths, interpretations of sacred texts, and doctrinal commitments.

This quarter, the Theology Workshop invites reflection and conversation on questions of embodiment: What does it mean to have a body? How do we, as theologians, scriptural scholars, anthropologists and sociologists, ministerial and medical practitioners—embodied people all!—wrestle with this “difficult friendship” from the perspectives of our own orientations towards or within religion?

As a bonus to top off our quarter-long exploration of “Theology in Public,” the Theology Club (social hinge between the Workshop and the Department) invites you to join us at the Pub for drinks on us and casual conversation with three of our own colleagues — Neil Ellingson, Tim Kim, and Andrew Packman — who are in the process of planting a church in the Chicago area.

We’ll chat about what it means to be “church” today and find out what the process of church planting looks like from the inside.   Most of all, we’ll relax and take a deep breath as the end of the quarter draws near.

All are welcome!

Wednesday, Dec. 5th
8:00 pm
The Pub
 (basement of Ida Noyes)

Looking forward to seeing you there! And watch this space and the email listserve for winter quarter Workshop updates, including the call for papers…

-Mary Emily and Aaron

The Theology Workshop, in collaboration with the Dean’s Office and the Late Antiquity & Byzantium Workshop, is delighted to invite you to the capstone event of our autumn quarter sequence on “Theology in Public”: a lecture and discussion with Derek Krueger, Joe Rosenthal Excellence Professor of Religious Studies (and Program Faculty, Women’s and Gender Studies), University of North Carolina Greensboro; and President, Byzantine Studies Association of North America.

Friday, November 30
4:30-6:00 pm
Swift Hall Common Room
“The Internal Lives of Biblical Figures in the Hymns of Romanos the Melodist”

Professor Krueger’s presentation falls at the membrane between public and private: the forms of subjectivity represented and cultivated in the liturgical practices of late antique Christianity. Byzantine Orthodox liturgy presented portraits of the self in the first person singular.  Through hymns and prayers, Byzantine Christians received models for how they might have access to themselves.  In the sixth century, the greatest Byzantine liturgical poet, Romanos the Melodist, wrote extended verse sermons expanding scenes from the biblical lectionary cycle and giving voice to minor characters from the Gospels.  And yet, when he explored his characters’ interior lives, Romanos was less interested in their distinctiveness and more focused on their conformity to generic patters of self-expression.  In a series of hymns where he explored “the mind” of his biblical subjects, he showed them engaging in typological exegesis to construct the self as sinner in need of salvation.

Liturgy, then, is the crucial site of ‘public’ religiosity with which we end our formal workshop program for the quarter. This event is free and open to the public, with no preparation expected.

Note: Prior to the lecture, there will be an informal conversation with Professor Krueger for any students active or interested in the challenges and opportunities of academic work on late antiquity, Byzantium, and the Christian East. Participants from the Theology, LAByz, Early Christianity Workshops, and any others whose interests overlap, are most welcome to meet and speak with an eminent figure in the field. 3:00-4:00 pm, Swift 200.

Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at

“This is What Democracy Looks Like: The Utopian Vision of the Occupy Chicago Movement”

November 15, 2012
12:00-1:20 pm
Swift 106

Please join the Theology Workshop and the Religions in American Culture Workshop for a jointly hosted presentation on the Occupy movement in contemporary America, with Therese Nelson, PhD student in Anthropology & Sociology of Religion. Mary Emily Duba and Greg Chatterley will add texture to the discussion from the vantage points of the two hosting workshops.


In the 16th century, Thomas More coined the word utopia to describe a mythical, superior society. In this presentation, Nelson will argue that Occupy is a utopian community in the tradition of other American utopias, communities whose values inspire their participants to act in concert for what they perceive to be a better world. The movement is not idyllic, but is committed to shared ideals. Occupiers’ enthusiasm for their utopia takes on the sacred character of religion in both structure and substance. This presentation trains a microscope on the interior workings of the Occupy Chicago movement in order to learn how a group committed to high ideals creates and defends its ethos as it seeks to operate in a world of unforgiving realities, hard choices, and imperfect human nature.

Lunch will be provided. No preparation is expected of workshop participants, but the paper will be available through the Workshop listserves for those who wish to read the paper in advance. Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at

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