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U.Va. Project on Lived Theology To Host Annual Spring Conference May 22-24

“Theology’s Crippled Imagination” is just one of several subjects to be discussed at a three-day conference starting May 22 and hosted by the University of Virginia’s Project on Lived Theology.

The project’s goal is to understand the social consequences of religious beliefs, said project director Charles Marsh, a U.Va. professor of religious studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. The annual Spring Institute in Lived Theology conference is the project’s most important yearly gathering, he said.

Marking 10 years since the first conference, this year’s conference will result in a book, tentatively titled “Lived Theology in Method, Style and Pedagogy,” that will chart both the history and possible future courses for the enterprise of lived theology.

The book will feature contributed chapters from each of the conference’s three keynote speakers: Rev. Willie James Jennings, associate professor of theology and black church studies at Duke Divinity School; Rev. Traci C. West, professor of ethics and African-American studies at Drew University Theological School; and Ted A. Smith, assistant professor of preaching and ethics at Candler School of Theology.

All three speakers are accomplished authors. Each will give a free public talk at the Solarium in the U.Va. Colonnade Club.

An active Baptist minister with research interests including liberation theologies, cultural identities, and anthropology, Jennings is the author of the book, “The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race.” He will speak on “Theology’s Crippled Imagination” May 22 at 4 p.m.

West has written extensively on violence against women, racism, clergy ethics, sexuality and other issues of justice in church and society. She is the author of “Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter” (2006) and “Wounds of the Spirit: Black Women, Violence, and Resistance Ethics” (1999). She is the editor of “Our Family Values: Same-sex Marriage and Religion” (2006).

An ordained elder in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, West previously served in campus and parish ministry in the Hartford, Conn. area. She is a member of United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church.

She was interviewed in the film “NO!,” a documentary on sexual violence against black women. West will speak May 23 at 9:45 a.m. on “Waging Ethics through Community.”

Smith works at the intersections of practical and political theology, with special attention to the forms preaching and worship take in modern societies. He is the author of “The New Measures: A Theological History of Democratic Practice” (2007).  His current research explores the notion of “divine violence” through a study of sermons, speeches and essays about the abolitionist John Brown. Smith will speak May 23 at 2 p.m. on “Eschatological Memories of Everyday Life.”

Housed in U.Va.’s Department of Religious Studies, the Project on Lived Theology hosts meetings at U.Va. and in community centers across the country as well as in congregations across the ecumenical spectrum.

The heart of the project’s mission is encouraging younger theologians and scholars of religion to embrace theological life as a form of public responsibility, Marsh said. “Among an emerging generation of teachers, writers and researchers, we are discovering a hunger for the opportunity to reconnect the theological enterprise with lived experience, and it is our privilege to provide a public space in which that task can be pursued.”

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