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Finding My Voice

Finding My Voice
In my work with doctoral students, I’ve noticed that what often sets apart “good” graduate students from “good” junior scholars is the ability for the latter to say something important and distinctive. That is, while it may be sufficient during coursework and qualifying exams to master the canon of whatever counts as good scholarship in one’s field, success beyond graduate school will require academic hopefuls to make a bona-fide scholarly contribution to her field of study. For this reason, I am frequently asked by the graduate students I mentor, particularly those who are women, about the process by which I came to find–or claim–my scholarly voice. What follows bellow is a version of a talk I gave at the annual conference of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM) in 2014 on this very question. The year was 2001. As an ABD, I was delivering a paper at my first academic conference (one for theology graduate students). There were four of us presenters, one from each of the schools represented in the Northeast (Harvard, Boston College, Yale, Brown). Naturally I was equal parts honored and nervous about making my debut. I remember stumbling over a few phrases, but being pleased overall with my performance. The Q&A that followed also generally went well. As it turned out, however, I had mentally prepared for nearly every question save one, which in hindsight had been the most important. In a nutshell, it was this—what say you? A senior white male faculty had noticed that I had let other thinkers do the talking for me. He observed that my paper had mostly been about advancing a theoretical paradigm of a particular scholar for a certain purpose and that I had responded to questions mostly by referencing what this same scholar or others would say. But that gentle soul kindly pressed to hear my authentic voice: he told me that those 50 or so assembled there were eager to hear me and that someday if he or others were to buy my books(!), it wouldn’t be because I had mastered the literature on any given topic, but because I had something unique to say about it. That exchange is one of my earliest and clearest memories of being invited to find and claim my own scholarly voice. Post-conference, I wish I could tell you that I experienced a Saul-to-Paul conversion and no longer deferred to the views of others. The truth is that the process of emerging as a scholar in my own right took longer than that. As I see it, I only started to grow comfortably into that new role in my second or third year as an Assistant Professor. Though certainty about our own motives ultimately remains inscrutable even to ourselves, my best guess of what initially kept me from speaking in my own voice was a fear of being wrong. I had always done well in school and had long grown accustomed to a conception of myself as a good student. And while I continued in grad school to succeed in absorbing and critically interrogating difficult material, the prospect of offering something constructive, something to take the place of what I had in whole or in part undermined, was much more daunting. Who was I to stake my claim on a weighty theological or philosophical question, particularly when some of the brightest thinkers throughout history had yet to resolve or reach a consensus on the matter? What I now interpret as enabling me to overcome this fear of being wrong was a combination of several factors: (1) a few “wins” or occasions where I took a decisive stand...
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Dreaming of Sabbatical

Dreaming of Sabbatical
  In the midst of doing last-minute shopping, decorating, and entertaining for the holidays, I find myself on the eves of Christmas and New Year furiously trying to meet several important work deadlines. While burning the candle at both ends writing and grading, I also find myself from time to time breaking out in a wry smile. The reason? I get to start out the New Year with a one-semester sabbatical leave. Here’s the deal at my school: we tenured or tenure-track faculty work six full semesters and then, pending approval of our application (which nearly always happens), get to take a break from regular teaching and service commitments in our seventh semester. We get to spend our sabbatical time in any way that we wish so long as we return refreshed and provide a satisfactory account for the work we did (i.e., we submit a report to the Board of Trustees of how we advanced in our teaching, research, and service). Since we are paid our full salaries during sabbatical, such policies can be understood as recognition/additional compensation for prior service and as forward-looking investment into our and our institution’s future. (Yes, I know how privileged I am. With adjuncts now constituting 76.4% of all faculty in institutions of all types according to a recent report by the American Association of University Professors and with educational institutions clamping down (or at least threatening to tighten up) on sabbaticals for tenure-stream faculty as a cost-saving measure, I am incredibly grateful that my institution has retained its generous sabbatical leave policy.) The heart of the word “sabbatical” should conjure for anyone familiar with the Bible the notion of “rest” – either for a day, as in the case of God resting on the seventh day of creation and later commanding the Israelites to do likewise (Gen 2:2, Exodus 23:12) or for an entire year, where no work (sowing, pruning, reaping, gathering) was to be done on the land. Regardless of the length of time (day or year), the point has never been to “do nothing” for its own sake, but to spend time honoring God without the distractions of ordinary life as well as to provide much-needed rest for humans, other animals, and the lands so as to enhance all of our ability to “produce” in quality ways for the long haul. Apparently the origins of the modern sabbatical for professors dates back to the last two decades of the nineteenth century, when ten colleges and universities (beginning with Harvard in 1880) established sabbatical leave programs in the U.S. By 1920, some 40 other institutions had followed suit. Of course the translation of the religious concept of “sabbatical” into any modern educational institution (secular or otherwise) will never be wholesale, but it seems appropriate that academic institutions today retain the heart of the biblical notion, which I understand to be spiritual regeneration and the reconnection as well as righting of relationships with all creation (especially when one factors into one’s understanding of sabbatical the “Jubilee” tradition, see, e.g., Leviticus 25, Luke 4:16-30). Practically speaking for me, the origins of sabbatical means that I must resist filling my sabbatical time in nearly exactly the same way I do in my regular life. (For faculty like me whose life circumstances–young children in my case–preclude me from jetting off to some foreign locale for a sabbatical stint, sabbatical life mirroring ordinary life, minus teaching and service, is a real temptation). In short, I shouldn’t think of my sabbatical as merely an ability to churn out more of the same, but to bear different kinds of fruit. I need to plan my time so that the quality, not just quantity, of the work I do improves in the aftermath. So on...
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Ecofeminism is in the House (at the AAR)

Ecofeminism is in the House (at the AAR)
My social media accounts have recently been ablaze with announcements of meetings, sessions, and receptions to attend for those of us who study or work in religion/theology in the U.S. Some 12,000-15,000 scholars and students will descend upon San Diego this weekend for the annual American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) conference. While as a theological and philosophical ethicist I attend this gathering every year regardless of venue or conference theme, I’m particularly excited about this year’s focus on climate change. Sessions devoted to the topic include a panel on the release of the Public Religion Research Institute/AAR National Survey on Religion, Values, and Climate Change (Sat, 9-11:30am, CC-20D) presentations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Sat, 11:45-12:45, CC-20D), a talk by environmentalist Bil McKibben (Sat, 7:30-8:30pm, CC-20D),  the AAR Presidential Address by Laurie Zoloth (an eminent bioethics and Jewish Studies scholar; Sun 11:45-12:45,CC-20D), and remarks by former president Jimmy Carter on “The Role of Religion in Mediating Conflicts and Imagining Futures: The Cases of Climate Change and Equality for Women” (Mon, 4-5:30pm, CC-20) among others. Beyond that, I’m especially excited about the number of sessions I see devoted to discussing ecofeminism–the scholarly and activist movement that takes seriously the interconnections between the oppression of women and the exploitation of nature. Let me enumerate a few of these (n.b. the following is a non-exhaustive list): – On Friday, 1:30-3:30pm (CC-14A), the Women’s Lounge Roundtable will entail a pre-conference luncheon on “Ecofeminism and Earth Healing” featuring emerging scholars from Claremont Graduate University. – On Sunday, 9-11:30am (CC-3), the Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection Group will feature a panel of papers on “ecological, epistemological, and ethical habitations.” – On Sunday, 1-2:30pm (CC-30A), the Feminist Theory & Religious Reflection Group will sponsor another session tied to the conference theme: “Strategic Negotiations with Feminism on the Borders: Rhetoric in American Homiletics, ‘On the Move’ Ethics in Ecofeminism.” – On Sunday, 3-4:30pm (CC-26), the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group will convene a session entitled “Ecowomanism 101: A Roundtable Discussing Vital Themes and Trajectories.” I’m looking forward to this conference and wish all AAR/SBL attendees an enriching and eventful time as well! Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and co-director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011), has a forthcoming co-edited anthology with Ilsup Ahn on Asian American Christian Ethics (Baylor University Press), and is working with Rebecca Todd Peters on anthology of women’s theological lives.  This blog was originally posted at the “feminism and religion”...
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My Take On “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives”

My Take On “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives”
I recently had the honor of serving on a panel entitled “Feminist Theology: Four Perspectives” with three of my faculty colleagues: Rosemary Radford Ruether, Monica A. Coleman, and Najeeba Syeed. It had been organized by the Claremont School of Theology Alumni/ae Association in partnership with the La Plaza United Methodist Church and the Los Angeles United Methodist Museum of Social Justice (where the event had taken place). We had an incredible time. La Plaza UMC, led by CST alum Rev. Vilma Cruz-Baez (’07), graciously hosted a reception before our panel discussion. As we feasted on hearty Mexican food (my favorite was the watermelon agua fresca), we perused the Exodus exhibition in the Museum of Social Justice, which featured dramatic black and white photographs of migrants and others who had made their lives in Los Angeles (n.b., the Museum is located in the basement of the Church, which is itself located on historic Olvera Street). I was grateful for the warm welcome and short history of the Museum that Director Leonara Barron provided. After further introductions and words of welcome, moderator Thea Mateu Zayas (CST ’14) cued us panelists to begin our presentations. Our esteemed colleague, Rosemary, went first. In her typically erudite manner, she explained what ecofeminism is, particularly to what exactly ecofeminism is serves as a corrective. I was especially grateful to hear her denounce any simplistic identifications between women and nature as well as tease out what ecofeminism implies for ethics and theology. Professor Monica A. Coleman went third. She spoke beautifully about the ways in which her entrance into religious studies had been shaped from the start by black women’s scholarship–the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Katie Geneva Cannon, Delores Williams, Renita Weems, and others. She then explained what “third wave womanism” is, the impetus behind her widely-anthologized “Must I Be a Womanist” article, and the many ways that she and others will continue to “wade in the water” by “troubling” conventional wisdom. Our fourth panelist, Professor Najeeba Syeed, brought down the house! She opened with an original poem and then, with the commanding presence and passion of a scholar-activist-preacher, enumerated in eight different ways the difference that a critical feminist perspective can make to interreligious encounters or studies and transnational politics. I can’t possibly do justice to her many points (e.g., she encouraged the audience to consider who has access to sacred space, interrogated the supposed link between women’s liberation and particular expressions of public piety, delimited the ways in which feminism “busts up” traditional categories of analysis in religion), though one tweet I read later about her presentation captured what I suspect was a widespread reaction among the students in the audience: “Friend turns to me after @NajeebaSyeed finishes: ‘Holy shit.’ Me: ‘Yeah, she’s awesome.’ @CST_News feminist theology panel.” What about my remarks? I spoke second. I began by offering my understanding of feminism–one that I named as having been influenced by the work of Judith Butler, bell hooks, and Sister Margaret Farley (among others). I also stressed how the best feminist scholarship today is intersectional. I next described how feminist theo-ethical commitments inform my current research projects. I spent most of the time talking about an anthology I am co-editing with Rebecca Todd Peters (“Toddie”) that is tentatively entitled Encountering the Sacred: A Theological Exploration of Women’s Lives. But I also took the opportunity to acknowledge how the work of Carol Adams and others had led me to develop scholarly and activist interests in nonhuman animals, given the parallel ways that women and nonhuman animals can be exploited and commodified under patriarchy. In the final segment of my talk, I spoke of the ways in which I remain in the debt of flesh-and-blood feminist theologians, particularly those I am fortunate enough to count as mentors, colleagues, and friends. I named fellow...
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A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)

A Tale of Two Conferences (Or Reflections of a Parent Who Occasionally Travels for Work)
In the space of twelve days I will have taken two inter-continental and two transcontinental flights to attend two conferences. I will have slept in my own bed in sunny Los Angeles for only four of those nights and been away from my family in either Bochum, Germany or Chicago for the remaining eight. Thank God this kind of travel is far from normal for me. The conference in Germany was incredible. It was the second of three symposia organized by Dr. Markus Höfner (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Evangelisch-Theologische Fakultät) and funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung on “Theo-Politics? Conversing with Barth in Western and Asian Contexts.” Some twenty or scholars  from Germany, the U.S., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China gave papers on the role of theology and the church in the political sphere. We were all in conservation with the thought of Karl Barth (1886-1968), some more critically than affirmatively or indirectly than centrally than others. What made the conversation so exciting was that the relationship between Christianity and either the state or civil society is so differently conceived in these  contexts: state-supported (Germany), disestablished but still culturally dominant (U.S.), and heavily regulated and/or suppressed in key ways (China); associated with the legacy of colonialism (Hong Kong), but a historic defender of indigenous and even aboriginal identity in another (Taiwan). Aside from contributing to discussions and taking a turn at moderating one long afternoon session (a job that I am oddly very good at), my task in this second symposium was to respond to Dr. Stephen Lakkis, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Taiwan Theological College and Seminary, who had given a thought-provoking paper about the ideal role of the church in Taiwan. (Next time around, someone will be responding to my extended paper on recent male circumcision controversies in Germany and the U.S.). Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) I am now in the midst of attending that second conference–the annual meeting of the Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM). Held at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, this year’s theme is the “Politics of Solidarity among Women of Color Scholars and Ministers.” With fond memories of my previous PANAAWTM experience and by judging from the warm interactions and high-quality discussions we had on the first evening, this year’s conference likewise holds great promise. (The responsibilities I must discharge here are two-fold: serve on a panel on “finding my scholarly voice” and lead a workshop on public speaking). As a feminist, I am committed to telling the less glamorous side of these experiences and to highlighting the costs borne by others for my participation. While the arrival of Spring Break cut down on the number of classes I’ve had to miss, I still had to cancel one seminar to make it to Germany. My husband sacrificed 3 vacation days to provide “schlepping” coverage (i.e., transportation of our kids to their two schools and back) and to spend more time with our children in my absence. At ages 4 and 6, they do not take my traveling for work well: my eldest cried when he heard that I was leaving for the first conference and my youngest was significantly more needy and clingy when I returned. Beyond that, my being at the first conference meant that I couldn’t attend something I would have otherwise really have enjoyed: a free surf lesson and beach day event sponsored by my parent’s church. In between those two conferences, my suntanned kids told (true) stories of dolphins they had cited frolicking in the waves, friends that they saw stand up (and also wipe-out) while surfing for the first time, and apparently one small fish they had managed...
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The Agony and the Ecstasy of Creating Syllabi

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Creating Syllabi
The start of the Spring 2014 semester is right around the corner, which means that many academics like me are madly trying to put the finishing touches on their syllabi. The process of doing so has always been equal parts exciting and stress-inducing. Right now, however, I am feeling the pain. Why? Let me speak first to the joy. What I cherish most about creating syllabi is the constant opportunity for renewal. As a professor with a 2/2 teaching load (i.e., I teach 4 courses per year) and with academic freedom to teach what I want in concert with my institution’s curricular needs, I get to design new classes, reconfigure courses I’ve taught previously in light of new scholarship (or new topics or new pedagogical techniques I’d like to try in the classroom), and of course do it all in the context of a different crop of students each time. Other perks include consulting with colleagues at different institutions about how they’ve designed similar courses and receiving free or greatly discounted examination copies of the books I’m considering adopting. That twice-yearly deluge of new texts feels like Christmas! What, then, of the pain? Beyond the normal stress of having to meet deadlines under the constraints of time (after all, students should rightfully receive their syllabi by the first day of class), I have always felt the burden of responsibility at the syllabus-construction stage. To be sure, the anxiety I feel about the task is not attached to any insecurities about my teaching abilities, it’s tied to the heavy obligation I feel to my students and to the field to “do it well.” To illustrate, of the many ways that a course like “Introduction to Christian Ethics” or “Religion and Human Rights” could be taught (e.g., thematically, chronologically, using a “greatest hits” or a “voices from the margins”  or a “both/and” approach, focusing more on theory or applied ethical case-studies, etc.), I must in every case decide on what I think will be the best way given my sense of how the field is constituted, my strengths, and the needs and abilities of the particular constellation of students who are likely to enroll. Discerning all of that is not easy and there can be real losses to the choices I’ve made to further those ends, however reflective or conscientious I’ve been on the matter. One of the greatest losses I feel is in the limitation of the topics and texts that can be covered. That can’t be helped, for only so much material can be absorbed within a 13-15 week semester. I know that when I am making cuts, I am engaging implicitly or explicitly in the process of canon-formation. As readers of this (feminism and religion) blog know, any talk of canon is talk of power. Who or what to include? Who or what to exclude? On what basis does one make those judgments? Alas, the blog must end and the class prep must resume, for my Spring 2014 syllabi for “Feminist Ethics” and “Ethical Theory: Metaethics” won’t write themselves. Here’s to all students and fellow academics for a successful Spring 2014 term! Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology  and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on two co-edited book projects–one on Asian American Christian Ethics (under contract with Baylor University Press) with Ilsup Ahn, the other on a theological exploration of women’s lives with Rebecca Todd Peters.   This blog was originally posted on Feminism and Religion—a blogsite dedicated to exploring the “f” word in religion and the...
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No More Of This in Academe!

No More Of This in Academe!
Last week, social media was ablaze over a September 18 Pittsburg Post-Gazette column entitled “Death of An Adjunct” by Daniel Kovalik that had the following teaser: “Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor of French for 25 years, died underpaid and underappreciated at age 83.”  Inside Higher Ed reports that the column went viral as “adjuncts across the country reported seeing something tragically familiar in her story.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education likewise covered the story with this tagline: “An Adjunct’s Death Becomes a Rallying Cry for Many In Academe.” This tragedy involves all sorts of issues with which readers of this blog are concerned: power, structural injustice, job insecurity, underemployment, unions, healthcare, and Catholic values (the last of these since Margaret worked at a Catholic institution), to name a few. To pay homage to Mary Margaret and to the plight of many today facing similar obstacles and difficulties, I invite you to read Daniel Kovalik’s full column. On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to. On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity — a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans’ Court…follow link to read the rest. Daniel Kovalik is senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union (DKovalik@usw.org). First Published September 18, 2013 12:00 am How can we work together to prevent more of these stories from happening? November 17, 2013 update: According to a recent Slate magazine article by L.V. Anderson, “the story…[i]s more complicated than the story that went viral. The reasons Vojtko’s life ended in misery had much less to do with her status as an adjunct professor than tweeters using the #IamMargaretMary hashtag might believe.” Grace Yia-Hei Kao is Associate Professor of Ethics and Co-Director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. She is the author of Grounding Human Rights in a Pluralist World (Georgetown University Press, 2011) and is working on a co-edited anthology providing a theological exploration of women’s...
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Some Friendly Advice for Female Graduate Students

Some Friendly Advice for Female Graduate Students
  I’m officially in “back to school” mode, as I put the finishing touches on my syllabi, get my course websites ready, and prepare my 5-year old son for Kindergarten. As I think about new graduate students studying theology or ministry, I’m reminded that while women make-up approximately 1/3 of all seminary students nationwide, at the place at which I work  (Claremont School of Theology), they comprise half of the student body. In honor of all the new, especially female, matriculates (at my school or elsewhere), I’m reposting below one of my first entries on this blogsite. It was entitled “Undermining Our Own Authority.” The advice I gave then still captures what I’d say now. *           *            * “I’ll be the first to admit that it can be difficult, if not exhausting, for women professionals to discern how to be strong and assertive (and thus be taken seriously) without coming across as arrogant or b*tchy. But there is indeed room for play between over-deference and cockiness, and the ability to code-switch while in formal settings would be a good step in the right direction for many of us.” Whatever your take is on Madonna’s feminist bona fides, she was definitely on to something in her 2001 hit “What it Feels Like For a Girl.”  Madonna sang about the tremendous pressures females of all ages face to conform to gendered norms of physical appearance and demeanor. I use her lyrics below to discuss some ways I have seen young women in academe subtly undermine their own authority. To cut to the chase: female students and junior scholars have a greater tendency than their male counterparts to engage in self-sabotaging patterns of speech, writing, and body language. I say these things both as someone who has worked with undergraduate and graduate students for the past 10 years and as someone who has had (and still has) to train herself out of certain bad habits. Many of us have been conditioned under mainstream conventions of femininity to self-efface, remain deferential toward men, and project an aura of a soft and inviting presence. The problem in academic settings is that these “ladylike” behaviors lead others to see us as insecure, under-confident, and unqualified. “When you open up your mouth to speak / Could you be a little weak?” (Madonna) Let’s start with public speaking. While there are several pitfalls to avoid, the one I’ll focus on here is very common: the tendency among women (and also, anecdotally, among “out” gay men who have affected speech) to end their declarative sentences with an upward lilt or inflection, effectively transforming their statements into questions. What I mean is the following. Instead of hearing this: “Today, I’m gong to talk about Kierkegaard. I’m going to argue that standard interpretations of his Fear and Trembling are mistaken.” I effectively hear this: “Today, I’m going to talk about Kierkegaard?  I’m going to argue that standard interpretations of his Fear and Trembling are mistaken?” To state the obvious, the speaker in the second set of sentences projects uncertainty, tentativeness, and a desire to please others. Those might be good things if the speaker is an already established senior scholar or is otherwise speaking in a context where s/he is clearly the one with more power or status (e.g., a veteran teacher to students), since the upwards lilt “works against type” in suggesting openness and an accommodating posture. But the upwards inflection generally won’t help those students or scholars who are trying to establish themselves as credible, competent, and authoritative. Embodiment, in short, counts. Speakers who appear younger or smaller in size than those in...
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It Was a Rainbow Graduation

It Was a Rainbow Graduation
I have the privilege of serving as Co-director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. I am ecstatic that we just hosted our version of a “rainbow graduation” at this year’s Commencement. The day before graduation, all CST graduates received a rainbow tassel as a free gift from the CSGR, with the following accompanying letter: May 20, 2013 Dear CST Graduate, This tassel is a gift from the Center for Sexuality, Gender and Religion (CSGR). It carries with it our congratulations as you receive your diploma from Claremont School of Theology. Well done! We invite you to wear this rainbow tassel at Commencement and to display it after graduation in a place where you and others will see it on a regular basis. The colors of the rainbow carry significance in many spiritual traditions; in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the rainbow signifies God’s covenant with the earth. The rainbow can also signify the diversities of human love, identity, and experience. A unique part of theological education at CST is a public commitment to the flourishing of, and justice for, persons of all genders and sexualities. On October 11, 2010, National Coming Out Day, the CST faculty unanimously approved the following statement: Claremont School of Theology affirms its longstanding welcome to LGBTQI students, faculty, and staff. This commitment is in harmony with the specific call of the United Methodist Church toward inclusiveness. It reflects our hope and expectation that welcome and inclusiveness will become the accepted norm throughout the world. Since 2011, the CSGR has been one of the sponsoring institutions of the Human Rights Campaign’s LGBT Summer Institute in Religious and Theological Study. CST was also selected in 2012 by the Religious Institute as one of the twenty most sexually healthy and responsible seminaries in the nation. Given that CST is a nationally recognized leader in these areas, we hope you will proudly reflect our values in the world as a CST alumnus. Wherever you serve after graduation, remember that this tassel communicates our best wishes and confidence in you. You are equipped to lead diverse religious, racial-ethnic and social communities, and we look forward to hearing great things from and about you.   With best wishes, Grace Kao                                            Duane Bidwell                                   Carleen Mandolfo Co-Director, CSGR                           Co-Director, CSGR                           Co-Director, CSGR  —- [All Claremont Lincoln University graduates also received the same gift, with a slightly modified corresponding letter.] I was ecstatic to see the vast majority of graduates, as well as the faculty, staff, and other luminaries participating in Commencement eagerly don their rainbow tassels (n.b., when I told the president of CST of our plan one month beforehand, he said with a smile “I want one, too!” which then prompted us to purchase enough tassels for other non-students participating in regalia to wear one at graduation at their discretion as well). The tradition of hosting a “rainbow” or “lavender” graduation began at the University of Michigan in 1995 and honors the achievements, hopes, and struggles of graduates whose identities span across the spectrum of gender identity, gender expression and/or sexual orientation. These ceremonies usually take place at a separate time from the formal graduation ceremony and can include awards to outstanding individuals, a guest speaker’s exhortation, some reflections by the graduating students, and a commemorative gift (e.g., tassel, cord, stole, pin) that the graduates are encouraged to wear with pride during the formal graduation ceremony. As HuffPost...
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The Future of Christian Ethics

The Future of Christian Ethics
The annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics is just around the corner (Jan 3-6, 2013). One of my responsibilities will be to meet again with members of the 2020 Future of Christian Ethics task force. Our “charge” according to the chair of the committee, Charles Matthewes, is as follows: The 2020 Committee will explore the current status of, and future prospects for, the field of ‘Christian ethics’ as a field of scholarship and teaching in the academy. It will do so with an eye to reporting the findings of its inquiries, and communicating what recommendations may be derived therefrom, to the whole Society of Christian Ethics, in order better to inform and guide the actions of the Society, now and in years to come. The Committee has two objectives. First, it seeks to understand, using all possible evidence, the current state of the field of Christian ethics — both in terms of its pedagogical, intellectual, and institutional presence in the academy, and in terms of its role (both pedagogically and institutionally) in American churches and ecclesial bodies. Second, it seeks to use that understanding to offer tentative practical recommendations regarding how best to commit the resources of the Society to the present encouragement, and future cultivation, of the field of Christian ethics in the academy and for the churches. In preparation for our meeting, each task force member submitted a 1000-word piece on the future of Christian Ethics. What follows below is a slightly revised version of my submission. — Several of the major tasks assigned to the SCE 2020 committee have weighed heavily on me in recent years, coinciding with my move from undergraduate to graduate teaching. While I have long taught “Christian ethics” (previously, as a portion of my undergraduate courses in “religious ethics” and now in a stand-alone manner in both introductory and advanced seminar courses at a seminary), I am now institutionally responsible for selecting and recruiting talented students for doctoral admissions and then training them to become the next generation of scholar-teachers. Many of the questions that Stanley Hauerwas discussed in his 2003 Journal of Religious Ethics piece “Between Christian Ethics and Religious Ethics: How Should Graduate Students Be Trained?” are accordingly my own: (1) What does it take to train graduate students in our field today—what do they need to know, with whom (if anyone) must they be taught to think, and do they “need to travel the same intellectual path my generation traveled in order to do the kind of work they associate with Christian or religious ethics?” (p. 406) (2) What should I understand myself to be doing in producing graduates in the “field,” when the nature and boundaries of the field are under dispute and when the realities of the job market, coupled with shifting church and religious affiliation demographics, may suggest different answers (i.e., it might be the case that training a competent Christian ethicist and training someone who can get—and keep—a job are two different things entirely). Here are some preliminary answers to these questions: (1)  The next generation needs to continue to know the moral vocabulary of and various approaches to character formation and decision-making that have long been associated with Christian ethics. (Let me add that while I am an unabashed defender of “rights talk,” the study of ethics would be enriched if we all remembered that our tradition of ethical thinking is much broader than the moral vocabulary of rights). (2)   The next generation should ideally do #1 in service to the church (particularly for those who teach Christian ethics to those training for ministry) and for the larger academy. (Yes, the first...
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