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Forging Community at HRC’s Summer Institute for Religion and Theological Study

The famous feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote “one is not born a woman, but becomes one.”  Paraphrasing her, Dr. Ellen Armour spoke to the 2011 HRC Scholarship and Mentorship Program’s Summer Institute for Religious and Theological Study class, “one is not born a community, but becomes one.”   And this is exactly what the class of 2011 did in Nashville, Tennessee!

Thanks to the generous support of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender, and Sexuality at Vanderbilt University School of Divinity, 16 students at this second annual HRC summer institute forged a community of accountability that will have direct implications in their universities, their places of worship and their neighborhoods.  At this year’s summer institute students developed a muscle for a different kind of scholarship and activism.  As newly emerging scholars, they explored ways of doing their work that does not privilege a scholarly ego over the importance of giving voice to the unseen, overlooked, and often discarded in our midst.  And, as scholar activists, they sought ways to connect with faith and secular communities on the ground without arrogance and without checking their theoretical analysis at the door, but by finding ways to build lasting connections with those working to change the conditions of their communities, whether through laws and policies or by changing cultural assumptions.

This second HRC Summer Institute brought together 16 students and over a dozen of some of the most gifted scholars and theologians working in the country today.  The institute brought back the brilliant facilitation of Dr. Rebecca Alpert and Dr. Ken Stone who, as seasoned teachers and well-regarded scholars in their respective fields, have an exceptional talent for helping students to find their voice and then connecting those individual voices to the larger community.  They were joined by the equally astonishing group of mentors, Dr. Kent Britnall, Dr. Patrick Cheng, and Dr. Heather White, who patiently worked with the students to navigate a sustainable path in the increasingly treacherous maze we call academia.

One of our keynote presenters, Mary Hunt referred to a presentation by three of last year’s participants, Sara Rosenau, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, and Dr. Nikki Young, “they will be at it for year’s to come and they will make change.”  She then went on to cite the remarkable scholarly/activist collaborative efforts of feminist theologians who came together for a similar program nearly 40 years ago.  These women, gathered to do the imaginative work of giving expression to the religious experiences of women and finding frames to speak to the challenges they faced, are now heading programs and organizations that have and continue to transform our understanding of women and religion.  The summer institute, still in its infancy, is doing that same work for the LGBTQ and allied community.  Together these extraordinary students are planting the seeds for a new kind of religious scholarship and activism that is good for LGBTQ people and is good for religion.

 

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