HRC Blog

A Different Conversation: HRC Invests in Future Thought Leaders

DSCPost submitted by Sharon Groves, former HRC Director, Religion and Faith Program

This August, HRC partnered with Vanderbilt University Divinity School to make possible the third Summer Institute for Religious and Theological Study.  As with each institute before it, all who took part in this year’s institute (including me) left transformed by the experience. Students and scholars together built a network of support for LGBTQ religious scholarship and advocacy that I believe will have lasting effects on the future, not just for LGBTQ scholarship but for those of us working in the state house, the congregation, the school, or the halls of Congress. 

The students that came for the week-long intensive program at Vanderbilt were chosen through a very competitive scholarship process—this year over 60 students applied for 15 spots!  This was an extraordinarily diverse group and, not surprisingly, the discussions centered on how the multifaceted nature of identity defines what can be said, who can say it, and the arenas where it can be heard.  There was no normative position represented by those attending.  Students were Evangelical, Muslim, Two-Spirit, Catholic, Jewish, Agnostic, and combinations of the above.  They were Latino/a, Asian Pacific Islander, African American, Caucasian, and mixed race.  They came from very different educational arenas: religious studies programs at universities, seminaries, law schools, with many working across disciplines, schools and often within congregational or non-profit settings. 

This rich and layered diversity was the greatest strength of the gathering and the students worked together to create rituals and future projects that showed us how our diverse identities--when liberated--have the potential to transform our political landscape and our cultural institutions in ways that honor our full humanity.

This program, one of my favorite projects the Religion and Faith program is privileged to provide, reflects HRC’s investment in the next generation of thought leaders.  At a time when university and seminary jobs are scarce and when LGBT scholars and/or those working on LGBT projects are marginalized, it is even more urgent to provide spaces where generative and imaginative work can take place. 

Through HRC’s Summer Institute, we are seeing generations of LGBTQ students break down old and unhelpful barriers between faith advocacy and scholarship in order to create new spaces of engagement that do not pit non-profit advocates, unpaid activists, and marginalized academics against one another, but forge alternative conversations and new avenues for work around faith, sexuality, race, identity, and community.   We will be watching closely and will be guided by the fresh ways that these students change our classrooms, our congregations, and all public arenas that are shaped by the shifting and intersecting relationships of religion, faith, race, and LGBTQ identities.  

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