February 8, 2012 — Muscular Christianity and Viagra, and what makes a "weird religious background," are two of the topics that will be addressed by the nine writers selected for the second Virginia Seminar in Lived Theology, a program of the University of Virginia's Project on Lived Theology.
The Virginia Seminar enables scholars of religion and practitioners to write single-authored books that explore vital issues in religion and society – like "Evangelicals and Racial Reconciliation from the 1990s to the Present," another of the planned book topics.
The participants, chosen from a national call for applications, will gather in person once a year for the next four years, beginning May 23-25, at U.Va.'s Colonnade Club, said Charles Marsh, director of the Project on Lived Theology and professor of religious studies in the College of Arts & Sciences. The seminar provides each member a fellowship that pays research expenses, editorial assistance and opportunities for creative exchange with fellow members.
The books produced in the Virginia Seminar will be distinguished not only by their theological interests, but also by their writing, Marsh explained.
"Our aim is not to produce monographs that will be of use only to academics, but to support intellectually sophisticated, yet accessible books," he said. "The Virginia Seminar brings together scholars who have primarily written for an academic audience, along with authors and activists who have made their mark writing for more popular, general audiences. The back and forth between them benefits both types of writers. The popular writers get scholarly scrutiny, and the academic writers are pushed to craft lively, readable prose."
The program also offers participants daylong seminars on basics like finding an agent, querying trade publishers and pitching articles, essays and reviews to magazines.
"Because the heart of the project focuses on the connections between theology and real life, we are committed to helping the seminar participants get their valuable ideas to the largest possible audience, out in the real world," he said.
The formula seems to be working. The first Virginia Seminar concluded in December 2009, and its six participants included Mark Gornik, director of the City Seminary of Harlem; and Susan Holman, creator of www.povertystudies.org, a directory of online academic and social action resources to help link religious scholarship with community action.
Holman's book, "God Knows There's Need: Christian Responses to Poverty," was praised by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as a "unique achievement" that combines "sensitive and accurate historical scholarship with deep personal engagement" in poverty analysis and relief. Gornik's book, "Word Made Global: African Christianity in Motion," a narrative of the lived theologies of immigrant Christian communities in New York City, recently won the 2012 Christianity Today Book Award in the Global Affairs category.
The nine members of the newly convened Virginia Seminar, and their book projects, are:
• Valerie C. Cooper, a U.Va. assistant professor of religious studies, for the book project, "Down at the Crossroads: Evangelicals and Racial Reconciliation from the 1990s to the Present."
• David Dark, an independent writer in Nashville and author of "The Sacredness of Questioning Everything" and "The Theology of Radiohead," for the project, "Weird Religious Background: Yours, Mine, and Everyone Else's."
• Shannon Gayk, associate professor of medieval literature at Indiana University in Bloomington, for "Ten Thousand Places: Encounters with the Instruments of Christ."
• Amy Laura Hall, associate professor of religious ethics at Duke University, for "Erecting the Pulpit: Muscular Christianity from Victoria to Viagra."
• Russell Jeung, associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, for "Panda In the Hood: A Diasporic Tale of Faith, Race, and Class."
• John Kiess, a 2001 graduate of the College, now assistant professor of theology at Loyola University in Maryland, for "In the Morning We Will Speak of Your Glory: Stories of Faith from the War in the Congo."
• Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, a 1982 doctoral graduate of U.Va., now priest-in-charge of Trinity Church at Copley Square in Boston, and former dean of the Washington National Cathedral, for "A Home Big Enough for the World: Discovering a Faith for the 21st Century."
• Jennifer M. McBride, a 2008 doctoral graduate of U.Va., now Board of Regents Chair of Ethics at Warburg College, for "Political Theology Through the Community of the Open Door."
• Vanessa L. Ochs, professor of religious studies and a former director of the Jewish studies program at U.Va., for a biography of the Passover Haggadah, the text that guides the Passover seder meal.
The Project on Lived Theology is funded by a $2.1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.
– By Brevy Cannon