VDS Voices

Alumni/ae Tuesday: Kitty Taylor, MTS’10

Our monthly Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post series on the VDS Voices blog highlights posts written by VDS and GDR alumni/ae. Hear firsthand about their important work in the community, collaborations with other alumni/ae and faculty, and much more.

Be sure to also check out the Divinity School Instagram feed every Tuesday for our Alumni/ae Instagram Takeover Day. Each week, we will showcase a different alumnus/a as they document their day in photos. Follow @VUDivinity on Instagram today!

If would like to contribute a post to the Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post series, or participate in our Alumni/ae Instagram Takeover Day, please email Addie Sullivan (addie.sullivan@vanderbilt.edu)
in the Vanderbilt Divinity School Alumni/ae office.
_______________________________________________________________________________

photo of Kitty TaylorI never thought I would preach.

And I really never thought I would like it.

I blame Clinical Pastoral Education, both the six-month externship I experienced as a Vanderbilt Divinity School student and the yearlong residency I risked a year after graduation. I also blame my CPE supervisor and the best mentor I’ll ever know, the Reverend David Nowlin.

In retrospect, I’ve always been a talker with a purpose. I recently ran across a school newspaper from my eighth- grade year with a section titled “You would know something is wrong if…” and this rather astute classmate’s contribution to the list:

“Kitty didn’t have an opinion on an important issue.”

My earliest ambition for when I grew up was to be a teacher, then a lawyer, then a lifetime student, then a librarian, then a risk taker, and always a writer. Vanderbilt Divinity School invited me to imagine all these roles at the same time and to live them out in that word “vocation” that I’m still trying to figure out or, to use a good VDS term, “discern.”

Divinity School also taught me that still trying to figure it out is okay. It’s actually good.

Right now, discerning finds me in the role of professional talker, a.k.a. Prevention Education and Outreach Coordinator for the North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network, a domestic violence and sexual assault agency. By day I meet with civic groups, church groups, school groups, and service organizations to make sure people know that there are resources and to help people understand that not talking about domestic violence and sexual assault doesn’t make it disappear; it does, however, make survivors disappear. I try to build a small nonprofit’s social media presence one Facebook post at a time, hoping that a shared article or statistic or message of encouragement will reach one person who needs it and reminding myself that “likes” are not the same as effect. I send so many emails. I teach myself how to update a website using a free (read “limited”) host. I read and listen to stories of survivors who have waited years for justice and others who have waited decades to be believed. I try to blend theological education with statistics, and I struggle to blend grace with adverse opinions, cultural norms, and religious oppression.

It’s incredibly hard and incredibly worth it.

I came to this work by what some would deem a calling or a path. Maybe. It does make sense. After all, I know how it feels to be silenced in love with another person and I know how it feels to turn up the volume when you fall in love with yourself.

I remember falling in love with Eve, too, who was the first one to spark my interest in the rest of the story. Her story. Herstory. The one that was never written down. That was before VDS, though our love grew tremendously during those two years and it grows still. I also remember diving into the stories of Biblical women who had something to say but never had the opportunity to say it, or never had it believed. If given the chance, would Hagar disclose she was raped? If invited to tell their side of their story, would the wives Paul instructed to submit to their husbands open up about their fear of leaving because their husbands would take the children, the house, the money, and possibly their lives? And who are the Hagars and Ephesian wives sitting quietly in the pews today?

Here’s the thing about Divinity School: graduation doesn’t mean you’re done. It means it’s about to get really real. So are you.

Here’s the other thing about Divinity School: whatever it is that pulls you is going to find a way make it happen.

This year, it happened in a big way. As of March 29th, 2016, I can officially call myself a published, professional talker. In the biggest risk I’ve taken thus far as a writer, an essay I submitted was selected for publication in Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. Condensing much of my Divinity School story into less than 1500 words and seeing it in print is never what I thought would happen, but I also never thought I would preach. It took a lot of years to recognize that telling my truth is preaching.

And I really like it.

Thanks, VDS. Thanks, CPE. And thanks, David.

Kitty Taylor
Prevention Education & Outreach Coordinator
North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network, Inc.

P.S. In wrapping up my first Domestic Violence Awareness Month as a professional talker and advocate, I recently shared some thoughts on domestic violence in the bible. It’s really real. So are its victims.

Posted by on November 8, 2016 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, , , , ,


READ THIS BOOK: November 2016

photo of Juan Floyd-ThomasEach month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our October recommendation is offered by Juan Floyd-Thomas, Associate Professor of African American Religious History.  Professor Floyd-Thomas recommends “The New Abolition: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel” by Gary Dorrien.

Gary Dorrien’s The New Abolition stands as an insightful and challenging book that illuminates how the pioneering African American scholar-activist W.E.B. Du Bois wrestled with the complex interplay of race, faith, and politics in Progressive-era America.  Although sadly overlooked within the broad historical narrative of American religion, the Black social gospel arguably was one of the most relevant and influential religious movements of the twentieth century. As Dorrien defines it, the Black social gospel “affirmed the dignity, sacred personhood, creativity, and moral agency of African Americans and responded to racial oppression. It asked what a new abolitionism should be and what role the churches should play within it. Like the white social gospel, it had numerous ideologies and theologies, but here the trump concern was distinctly given, obvious, and a survival issue: upholding black dignity in the face of racial tyranny. Here the belief in a divine ground of human selfhood powered struggles for black self-determination and campaigns of resistance to white oppression” (p. 2).  Reading this statement against the backdrop of our current moment—an era that will marked by the bittersweet legacy of President Barack Obama and the awakening of the #BlackLivesMatters movement in addition to the toxic emergence of Trumpism and the so-called Alt-Right—Dorrien’s words should remind readers that our shared history is determined by moral choices and political actions that have a substantial and substantive impact on how we are going to live in the world.  In what presently seems to be a highly volatile and vitriolic moment in our nation’s existence, the author gives us a meaningful glimpse of how an earlier generation of activists, advocates, and allies of social justice refused to remain either silent or submissive in the face of racial segregation and white supremacist terror.

Enmeshed within a great cloud of prophetic Black witnesses such as Ida B. Wells, Alexander Crummell, Henry McNeal Turner, Nannie H. Burroughs, George Woodbey, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Richard R. Wright Jr., and Reverdy C. Ransom among countless others, the author clearly illustrates that Du Bois poses a considerable paradox within the academy and the church both then and now. Having frequently taught courses focused on Du Bois for nearly two decades, I always found it ironic that throughout his life he was often deemed much too religious for secularists but also seemed too secular for religionists. As if the answer to a silent prayer, Dorrien argues, “Du Bois was not a godless intellectual removed from the biblical cadences and imagery of the black church.  He embraced the prophetic ethical religion of Jesus. He defied a white oppressor that did not see the beauty and genius of [African Americans]… And he wanted black Americans to believe that their liberation from oppression and exclusion was coming” (p. 229). Thus, the author situates Du Bois’s efforts to promote social justice as being indispensable to a more robust and pluralistic vision of American religion. In the realm of American society and culture, the author depicts Du Bois as a radical visionary in terms of religious belief as well as racial politics whose message is just as imperative in 2016 as it was over a hundred years ago.

Without question, The New Abolition will be a vital addition to scholarship on the life and legacy of Du Bois.  While a growing number of scholars are exploring the role of religion in Du Bois’s worldview, Dorrien’s thoughtfully persuasive and provocative writing ably demonstrates that there is great need to revisit and reclaim such insights in future research.  In ways both large and small, The New Abolition thoughtfully evokes both the spirit and substance of Du Bois’s moral worldview in ways that will certainly make it essential reading to anyone genuinely interested in U.S. religious and intellectual history.

 

Posted by on November 7, 2016 in Read This Book, , , , , , , , , , , ,


The Danger of American Civil Religion

The 2016 presidential election carries with it the enormous gravity of deciding not only who will be the next President of the United States—and, by extension, the leader of the free world—but also of determining if this culturally-constructed public theology that is manifested in the legacy of American Civil Religion (ACR) will undergo a desperately needed reformation. The Donald Trump campaign represents a legacy of American Civil Religion that sees as the “other”—nonwhites, immigrants, LGBTQIA, and women—as outside the tradition of American exceptionalism.

Although patriotism, nationalism, and white supremacy are secularly-based tenets, they have been afforded eschatological preeminence since the arrival of Europeans five centuries ago.  Today, these tenets have become a public theology embedded in the United States’ legal framework, customs, and religious practices.  The early indication of this public theology is reflected in the fact that white, male, and landowning Protestants, who abided by professed hetero-normative standards, was the only group recognized as fully human.

In addition to the policy differences between the two candidates, a major issue is whether the national theology espoused by Trump—one fastened by white supremacy, sacralized patriotism, and white nationalism—will win on election day.  For those of us who dedicate out lives to theological study in the Christian tradition, the Bible offers a counter-narrative for understanding the relevance of civil religion.  This narrative, as exhibited in Genesis 1:26: “[Then God said]…Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…”; however, many would-be adherents on both sides of the political aisle have largely failed to make this distinction.

The public religion pronounced in Genesis has been espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and an emerging remnant of other Baptized Christians who are living into their faith through their active support of Black Lives Matter (BLM), an overwhelmingly nonviolent social movement that is providing a prophetic witness to the ongoing systemic racism that continues to circumscribe the life chances of black and brown persons in this nation. BLM has performed a liturgy of lament in the streets across this nation. This work of the people has given voice to the pain and frustration of persons for whom justice is not a reality. This movement is a response to the deafening silence of the Church, the institution that has been empowered by the Resurrection power of Jesus to transform the world.

The preeminent issue at stake for this election is not a platform issue of either candidates. The issue is upon what the platform is constructed: Identity. This campaign embodies the ongoing contestation of identity that has been waged since before this nation was a nation. The electorate is responding to the ancient whispers of the meticulously crafted national myth—a myth rooted in misogyny—that asks of Secretary Clinton’s candidacy, “Who gives account for this woman?” It requires that she belong to someone and that she does not possess full human agency.

In a real sense this election has been reduced to a domestic dispute in the public imagination. The dispute began two decades earlier when Bill Clinton’s political scandals surfaced. The nation’s patriarchal gaze focused on Hillary causing her to become the ire of public spectacle, not Bill—the one who transgressed. In ACR’s configuration of what it means to be human, after being white comes male. The linear distance of power that exists between being white male and being white female has been placed on full display during the course of this election.

In this domestic dispute, Donald Trump simply stands in for Bill Clinton during the course of this election—The Donald is the man who gives account for her. This insidious act is performed despite the fact that Secretary Clinton is regarded as the best qualified presidential candidate in modern history.

The power and danger of public theology is that it bestows divine sanctioning onto nationalism. People tend to double-down on their beliefs when they interpret them as being God-ordained.

 

Photo of Keith Caldwellby Keith Caldwell, MDiv’15

Posted by on November 1, 2016 in Feature, , , , , , ,


A Reflection on Seven Years in the Divinity Library Exhibit Programs

By Charlotte Lew, Exhibit Preparator and Collections Assistant

article imag

The renovation of the Divinity Library in 2006 set the stage for the exhibit programs. At the completion of the renovation, the addition of six exhibit cases spotlighted the library’s potential as a suitable location where art and theological education are integrated. The library has an envisioned goal to provide an environment in which the visual expressions of the spirit can be as essential as the written words. Retrospectively, it was a leap of faith to dedicate valuable space in the new facility to a program not yet developed. Ten years after the renovation, the exhibit programs continue to thrive and prove what can be achieved with appropriate facilities and administrative support.

Along with one hundred forty years of the Divinity School’s growth, the library collections have been expanded and enriched. The treasures of collections formerly underpublicized and underappreciated have become star attractions thanks to the exhibit programs. One important aim of the exhibitions is to promote, interpret, and encourage the use of the collections. Exhibitions are designed to stimulate new audiences and researchers to pursue new ideas. For seven years, I have been contemplating whether my endeavor to adhere to the goals of the programs has proven to be fruitful. A review of the exhibits may provide an answer.

Soong’s Saga in 2009 and Brockman’s Mission Life in Asia in 2011 exemplified contributions from the Divinity community to bring visitors in to the library from as far away as Ohio and North Carolina. Books as Art: Sacred Texts in 2012 displayed jewels from the rare book collections to draw viewers to Special Collections to learn more about materials on display. God in Music City in 2013 showcased faculty achievements that promoted interdisciplinary research and teaching on campus. The Fight for Freedom: Religious Rights in 2014 highlighted the important role played by Divinity faculty and students in the local and national Civil Rights Movement. Vanderbilt Judaica Collection: 70 Years in the Making in 2015 collaborated with the Jewish Studies Center and Congregation Micah to publicize the strength of the Judaica Collection. The current exhibit, Syriac: Preserving an Endangered World Culture, shares the Vanderbilt research collaborations of an international team of scholars in an online reference hub to raise awareness of the role of Syriac culture in world history. An interactive touch screen recently installed features materials that cannot fit into the display cases. The new interactive display brings the exhibit program to a higher level.

Using exhibitions as opportunities to cooperate with library friends, donors, students, and faculty takes considerable time and energy. To design the exhibit to feature the materials in appealing ways and with striking presentation poses challenges; nevertheless, creating a welcoming public space as a forum where the educational experience can be cultivated and personal and spiritual formation can be encouraged is validating and even gratifying. As the exhibit schedule changes in the coming months, again I surrender myself to God’s provision. Just like Elisha’s widow, whose oil sufficiently reached her neighbors, I hope a small jar of my oil can also witness God’s boundlessness that flows to you and to the community.

Posted by on October 19, 2016 in Feature, , ,


READ THIS BOOK: October 2016

Photo of Laurel SchneiderEach month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our October recommendation is offered by Laurel C.Schneider, Professor of Religious Studies, Religion and Culture.  Professor Schneider recommends “Green Grass, Running Water ” by Thomas King.

Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water is a brilliant, quirky novel that plays havoc with the lines between text and reality, history and presence, spirit/s and everyday life.  King is a writer of mixed Native American (Cherokee) and European heritage whose primary experience of life has been in the colonized world of Christian Native America.  The novel has several synchronic (synoptic?) stories that run alongside each other throughout the book.  There are four Native American young adults returning to the reservation where they were reared to celebrate the 40th birthday of one of them.  Theirs are everyday stories of family difficulties, lost loves, professional hopes, and uncertain identities in a modern world.  There are four old people – strange figures who start out in a mental hospital somewhere in the upper Midwest and whose names change, as do their apparent genders, as do their ages and other identifiers, as they go along.  All we know of them is their dialogue, their focus on telling the story right in order to fix something (again).  Then there is the hapless hospital administrator and canny nurse who discuss these four, and decide to follow them when they disappear from the ward.  And finally, there is Coyote and the narrator, who wander around the other stories.  Four stories, four directions.  A less than orderly tale.  We could say that this is a very Native American novel.

Almost everything in this novel is biblically inflected. Almost everything in it is funny.  Much in it is not funny, even when it is.  Choctaw Biblical scholar Steve Charleston wrote about “the old testament of Native America” in order to demonstrate a different perspective on the Canaanites, turning the tables on those biblical readings that valorize the settler colonial Israelites.  King’s novel can be read as a kind of narrative exegesis on the Genesis themes of creation, fall, and the role of water.  Beyond those biblical themes, the theological importance of this novel is its ability to point past the modern obsession that relegates all strangeness to delusion and all spirits to fantasy.  As Edward Farley noted in his wonderful little book Deep Symbols, our era has lost its capacity for enchantment.  What if there are four elders who walk the earth unburdened by the dichotomy we draw between fiction and fact?  What if Coyote does slink through all the ordered doctrines?  What if these are metaphors, but not just metaphors?  Theology has a long way to go to reintroduce the possibility of enchantment, not solely as a means to understanding, but as a description of the world beyond the brittle line we draw between fact and fiction.  In another wonderful novel entitled Alif the Unseen, a character exclaims, “Find me someone to whom the hidden folk are simply real, as described in the Book.  You’ll be searching a long time.  Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions.  You are prepared to accept the irrational, but not the transcendent.”  Green Grass, Running Water, I suggest, is a hefty portion of both.

Posted by on October 9, 2016 in Read This Book, , , , , , ,


Alumni/ae Tuesday: Julia Nusbaum, MTS’14

Our monthly Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post series on the VDS Voices blog highlights posts written by VDS and GDR alumni/ae. Hear firsthand about their important work in the community, collaborations with other alumni/ae and faculty, and much more.

Be sure to also check out the Divinity School Instagram feed every Tuesday for our Alumni/ae Instagram Takeover Day. Each week, we will showcase a different alumnus/a as they document their day in photos. Follow @VUDivinity on Instagram today!

If would like to contribute a post to the Alumni/ae Tuesday Guest Post series, or participate in our Alumni/ae Instagram Takeover Day, please email Addie Sullivan (addie.sullivan@vanderbilt.edu)
in the Vanderbilt Divinity School Alumni/ae office.
_______________________________________________________________________________

photo of Julia Nusbaum, MTS'14

I’ve written about the origin of my blog hundreds of times, or at least it feels as if I have. You probably don’t know about it; not many people do, and that’s okay. It’s growing. It’s becoming something, so let me tell you about it how it came into being.

I was graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2014 with absolutely no idea what I was doing in terms of finding a job. I’m happy to say that after a lot of searching (and so much stress) I do have a job, a good job, one that actually utilizes my degree on a daily basis. Don’t worry, those of you on the cusp of graduation; it can be done.
Aside from securing an actual grown-up job, there is something else that came out of my time at Vanderbilt of which I am much more proud—My Blog: HerStory. HerStory developed from my field education work at Thistle Farms, a nonprofit and social enterprise here in Nashville that helps women who have survived trafficking, addiction, and life on the street. I spent most of my last year of divinity school working alongside the women in this program and learning their stories. In the last few months of my internship, I started a creative writing class that met every Tuesday afternoon. I assumed one or two women would show up; we would write silly stories, and that would be the end of it. I didn’t have big hopes. I had never taught a creative writing class, but to my surprise, on that first day, there were nearly twenty women sitting in the room. It was three years ago, and I still remember the lump in my throat from the overwhelming emotions of so many women wanting to write.

I figured out quickly that the women were not there to write goofy stories. They weren’t there for a creative writing class. They were there because they were ready to write about life. They were ready to write about their real and raw experiences, and they were ready to talk about their journey to healing. I realized their main reason for writing wasn’t to be creative but to tell their stories, to get their truth on paper for other people to read and understand.

As the women wrote, I wrote. My story was different but in a lot of ways the same. My search for love and belonging rang just as true as theirs. I wondered: Did more women have stories to tell to which no one was listening? I studied history in college and specifically studied women’s history. Isn’t that funny—women get their own section of history—as if we all aren’t living in the same world? As if all of our histories don’t overlap? I thought about women, and I thought about history, and I wondered how many voices were being left out because their stories weren’t “interesting” or simply because they were the stories of women and weren’t important enough for the history books.

During my last weeks of divinity school, I spent hours writing out plans for HerStory, a blog that would empower women by giving them a space to tell their own stories. I filled an entire notebook with ideas while I should have been paying attention to my theological ethics lecture (sorry Victor Anderson!). It took me an entire year to work up the courage to start the blog. Would women want to tell their stories, I wondered? Would they trust the space I was creating? Would they just think my idea was lame, boring, and who knows what else? Of course they did not. The blog was embraced almost immediately by my friends, by acquaintances, and most astounding of all, by women all over the world. Women I had never met started writing in and sending me their stories. They told me how inspiring they found the blog, how wonderful it was that there was a space for women to write and be creative and not be judged. I was overwhelmed, overjoyed, and humbled.

It has been a year and two months since I officially started the blog, and its becoming more than I ever dreamed. Every time people asked me how divinity school has helped me in life, I tell them about HerStory. I tell them about how I believe when we understand our own narrative we can better understand the world. I tell them how I never would have discovered this truth unless I had been given that year at Thistle Farms where I listened to the stories of beautiful women, thought about my own story, and wondered if there were anyone out there who was looking for a place to be heard. I believed there was, so I created a space—and into that space flooded stories and voices from some of the most beautiful women I have ever met.

Posted by on October 4, 2016 in Alumni/ae Tuesday, , , , , , , ,


FIRST FRIDAYS Spouses and Partners Breakfast

Beginning graduate theological education is an exciting time for new students, yet we know that Vanderbilt Divinity students don’t undertake this journey alone. Family members, friends, congregations, and many others walk alongside us through the “thick and thin” of professional school. Spouses and partners, in particular, often describe the unique joys and challenges of experiencing divinity school even if they’ve never been in the classroom!

As part of Vanderbilt Divinity School’s effort to create broad communities of care for all students, this fall we are launching a new, monthly Spouses & Partners gathering* to help build community among the beloved members of our households who make the Divinity School experience possible. Our first gathering, held in early September, was a great beginning for what we hope will be a new ritual in the life of the extended VDS community. A brief reflection of our gathering is included below, with special thanks to first-year MTS student Stephen Nelson for his reflections!

A group of VDS students and spouses/partners met on Friday, September 2, for breakfast at Fido. Dean Katherine Smith and Rev. Niger Woodruff hosted the group. Everyone shared their experience as students and spouses/partners while enjoying coffee, tea and breakfast. Spouses spoke of the unique experience they have in common.

Stephen NelsonStephen Nelson, first year student says, “I enjoyed the conversation and am pleased that my husband was able to share and gain insight into others’ experiences as students and spouses. We are both looking forward to more of these gatherings.”

 

*Have an idea for a permanent name for this group? Email katherine.smith@vanderbilt.edu with your suggestions!

Posted by on September 28, 2016 in Feature, , , , ,


Restorative Justice

Action Summitt

In my roles as a professor at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School and as the director of the University’s Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership, I often find myself in classrooms, talking about the meaning and nature of justice.  We read Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls together.  It can be exhilarating.  But I have also taught in Riverbend Maximum Security Prison.  I have been to a parole hearing when the family of the murdered victim expressed deep anger and unremitting pain, 25 years on.  I have friends who have been victims of violence and who have committed violence against others.  Perhaps they have been a victim of violence, or maybe they have been picked up by the police or arrested for a crime.  We know that people of color are disproportionally policed, criminalized, and incarcerated.

As a parent, a citizen of the United States, and as a member of the Nashville community, I know that for many people in our country, the question of justice is not simply a matter of intellectual exercising; it is personal.

In one way or another, members of our communities have become part of the “justice system” that is long on system and short on justice.  The counselor’s office, the back of a police car, the courthouse, the lawyer’s office, the prison, and the Parole office are the primary sites for conversations about justice for too many Americans.  For them, justice is no mere concept for classroom consideration.  The need for a healing justice is real, and the form justice takes in their lives matters.

Unfortunately, the system of justice becomes too often another vehicle of violence.  It tears at the fabric of our common life.  It damages bodies. It is de-humanizing and divisive, disrupting families and communities.  It undermines our national life and makes a sham of our highest ideals of justice for all.  Without a truer justice, we cannot flourish, individually or communally.  Justice matters.

Because justice matters so profoundly, the CTP is hosting a conversation about the means and purposes of Justice in the City.  We will take up the questions, “How are we to respond to violence? How can justice be practiced in our lives and in our communities?”  True justice seeks not simply to make violators pay for their actions; it seeks to mitigate, to heal, to repair, and, to the degree possible, restore—not simply order—but restore relationships, communities, and bodies.  On September 30, through October 1, the CTP will host a summit focused on Restorative Justice.  At this meeting, we will learn from experiments in restorative justice, an approach that focuses on harm and healing rather than violation and punishment, in order to make a truer justice possible. We believe that in this nation and in this city, when it comes to justice, we can do better.  Please join us in this work.

graham-resideby Graham Reside
Executive Director, Cal Turner Program in Moral Leadership for the Professions
Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University Divinity School

Posted by on September 21, 2016 in Feature


READ THIS BOOK September 2016

annalisa-azzoniEach month, we ask a member of the Vanderbilt Divinity School faculty to recommend a book they are currently reading. Our September recommendation is offered by Annalisa Azzoni, Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible. 
Professor Azzoni recommends Kara Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt.

In The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt, Cooney brings back to life a prominent and long forgotten historical figure, the first female long-time ruler of ancient Egypt. An Egyptologist and social historian, Cooney draws on her ample knowledge of the social world of ancient Egypt to ground her account of the extraordinary life of this woman who for over two decades managed skillfully to wield political and religious power over ancient Egypt yet is much less known in the modern world than Cleopatra. Cooney’s ability to narrate deftly Hatshepsut’s story so that if can be appreciated by this scholar who has been teaching about Hatshepsut for the past 15 years, as well as by the general public, for whom she has made this book particularly accessible. This is a remarkable feat, as this thin line is rarely walked in such a masterful way. The resulting portrait of Hatshepsut is surprisingly intimate and human, detailing the everyday life, with the help of archaeological and textual data, and painting a vivid picture of Hatshepsut religiosity, its connections with her ambitions and her sense of purpose, relatable in a way that is rarely found in scholarly treatments of this historical figure. This is also why I am particularly drawn to this book: in this unapologetically personal work, Cooney reflects on why this powerful ruler was ultimately rejected and then forgotten for more than two millennia. Although under her authority Egypt saw a period of prosperity, with remarkable buildings and monuments so impressive for us still today, she was vilified by those who followed her, who literally erased her very name and portrait from public displays to obliterate her memory. When, through archeological discovery and decipherment of ancient documents, the records of her life resurfaced, historians have much denigrated her and her ambition to that power which is too often identified with masculinity and was not for her to achieve. Even though the book is written with historical intent, its reverberations are remarkably modern and relevant to our context. Cooney’s candid and insightful reflections on Hatshepsut’s unique ways of addressing the implicit ambiguity of navigating a traditionally masculine role in a female body offer significant thought on the difficulties women, ancient and modern, encounter when they dare to aspire to political power.  Cooney’s discussion and compelling arguments regarding the complexity of Hatshepsut’s choice to represent herself with overtly masculine body and attire in a number of occasions shows that the intricacies of gender roles and their representation are not just a modern concern but a human concern throughout history.  In her balanced portrait, Cooney manages to set the record straight against those who have demonized Hatshepsut while at the same time avoiding the trap of transforming her into “a selfless, first wave feminist.” Finally, Cooney’s reflections on how Hatshepsut “remains an important example of humanity’s ambivalent perception on female authority” are as relevant in Eighteenth Dynasty’s Egypt as they are today in America. In Cooney’s words “her unprecedented success was rewarded with short memory, while the failures of other female leaders from antiquity will be forever immortalized in our cultural consciousness.”

Posted by on September 18, 2016 in Read This Book, , , , , , , , , , ,


The First Year Experience: An Extended Introduction

By Amy E. Steele, MDiv, PhD
Assistant Dean for Student Life

schola prophetarum

The First Year experience at Vanderbilt Divinity School is an extension of the New Student Orientation. It is comprised of six sessions that focus on spiritual formation, stewardship, and vocation—or in other words, matters of spiritual grounding, money, and jobs. Perhaps these ideas seem tangential to formal theological education. Perhaps, we think that there is a certain amount of detachment required of students dedicated to the study of theology.  This perception is not false. Divinity School is a deep immersion in Biblical studies, ethics, theology, homiletics, and liturgics, but the idea of “detachment” is challenged by student realities.

Many of our students work, have family obligations, and organize rallies and protests. Other students secure internships, work in field education placements, pastor churches, or volunteer for nonprofits. They understand that immersion in study does not always afford the luxury of detachment (nor should it), but rather this kind of study is a springboard for a deeper plunge in the totality of experience: their own lives, the life of the community, the life to which they are called. The First Year experience communicates support for this kind of totality of experience. It understands that religious leadership demands the discovery, cultivation, and nurturing of a spiritual core whereby persons can examine the deeper inner connections they have to this field of study and the work they will pursue.

The First Year experience offers new students an intensive exploration of the spiritual and financial cost of a theological education. It provides new students exposure not only to various spiritual disciplines that we hope will grow organically or manifest naturally from theological study and reflection—Lectio Divina, embodied prayer, contemplative writing as spiritual formation, and yoga—but we hope also that it will inspire new students to become smarter financially by taking out fewer loans and living more simply and cooperatively with others. These and other sessions aim to assists students in adapting to the ethos, culture, purpose, and commitments of the School—one step at a time.

Much of what we offer in terms of student support services recognizes that our renown faculty, committed staff, competitive university, bustling city, engaged citizenry, opportunity for nonprofit, pastoral, and academic vocational development, make Vanderbilt Divinity School a one-of-a-kind-experience. The First Year experience not only enhances student opportunity for engaging one-another but also develops strong peer communities of support and offers the benefit of understanding the enterprise and blessing of theological education as preparation for living a life concerned with a just world. It is not a perfect place, but as our dean frequently reminds us, “It’s never dull.” For students taking their first steps in theological education, they often help create the most interesting aspects of the journey, every year.

Posted by on September 14, 2016 in Feature, , , , , , , , , , ,


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