On the Lived Theology Reading List: Madness

Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Illness, Heather H. Vacek, Fellow TravelersAmerican Protestant Responses to Mental Illness

Mental illness has always comprised a fundamental component of health, although the overwhelming majority of historical evidence shows little acceptance of and care for affected individuals. In Madness, Heather Vacek follows this trend in the American Protestant church’s response to mental illness through the last three centuries. Rooted in the notion that sickness was a consequence of sin, faith believers avoided association with patients and left them to the care of secular medical professionals.

However, five notable figures stood apart from this idea to reclaim the Christian response to mental illness: colonial clergyman Cotton Mather, Revolutionary-era physician Benjamin Rush, nineteenth-century activist Dorothea Dix, pastor and patient Anton Boisen, and psychiatrist Karl Menninger. Vacek considers these leaders amid the landscape of mass indifference to offer a way forward in the Christian care of patients and overall understanding of mental illness today.

In an excerpt from the book, Vacek writes:

“Human suffering concerned American Christians, but not all shapes of distress earned the same response. Beginning in the colonial era, Protestants professed to care for the well-being of bodies, minds, and souls, but those living with mental illnesses often received minimal attention…

The exploration of Protestants and mental illness demonstrates what appeared – and failed to appear – on congregational agendas. It also offers insight into how Christians engaged suffering, particularly seemingly intractable suffering. Within congregations, sufferers and their families struggled to voice their concerns about mental illness. Many simply remained silent and failed to receive the ministrations of the church. This volume explores why their journeys proved so difficult.”

To read more on this publication, click here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Save the Date: Firmin DeBrabander to Lecture in March 2017

gun, Firmin DeBrabander eventA Christian Critique of the Gun Movement

The core argument of Second Amendment advocates is that the proliferation of firearms is essential to maintaining freedom and safeguarding our rights in America, but is this argument valid? With his 2015 publication Do Guns Make Us Free?, Firmin DeBrabander tackles this question with an essential examination of the political and philosophical arguments of the contemporary gun rights movement in the United States. By exposing the contradictions and misinterpretations inherent in the case presented by gun rights supporters, he demonstrates that an armed society is not a free society but one that actively hinders democratic participation.

Drawing on this work, DeBrabander will deliver two guest presentations at the University of Virginia on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 to discuss the “Christian” critique of the gun movement based on the Catholic social teachings.

Following a class discussion and book signing at 2:00 pm, he will lead a public seminar with interested students and other area practitioners at 5:00 pm. Both events are free, and the public is invited to attend. More details will be announced closer to the event.

Find more information on DeBrabander’s publication here.

Firmin DeBrabander is professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He completed his graduate studies at the Katholieke Universities Leuven in Belgium, and at Emory University in Atlanta. His publications include Spinoza and the Stoics (Continuum Press, 2007) and Do Guns Make us Free? (Yale University Press, 2015). He has written articles on social and political commentary (notably on the gun debate) in a variety of national publications, including The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, the New Republic and Salon.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these and other news updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: American Prophets

American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice, Albert J. RaboteauSeven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice

In his latest release, acclaimed religious scholar Albert Raboteau explores the theology and legacy of seven major prophetic figures in twentieth-century America: Joshua Heschel, A. J. Muste, Dorothy Day, Howard Thurman, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Fannie Lou Hamer. Called to social activism to address the suffering of others, these leaders professed their faith through acts of writing, speaking, and demonstrating. Raboteau examines the influences that inspired them, the theology that grounded them, and the ways in which they convinced generations of Americans to join their cause. American Prophets illustrates the profound meaning lying at the intersection of thought and action, an inspiring testimony to lived theology at its best.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Compelling and provocative. . . . A momentous scholarly achievement as well as a moving testimony to the human spirit, American Prophets represents a major contribution to the history of religion in American politics. This book is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about social justice, or who wants to know what prophetic thought and action can mean in today’s world.” -Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, JewishMediaReview

“Albert Raboteau is the legendary godfather of Afro-American religious studies. He also is one of the exemplary spiritual radicals of our time. This wise and courageous book solidifies both well-deserved reputations.”-Cornel West

“Albert Raboteau’s magnificent American Prophets is a book that will make our hearts soar. Courageous, wise, and deeply compassionate, Raboteau’s prophets are political activists–Jews and Christians, blacks and whites, men and women–imbued with a deep faith in God and humanity. An inspiring journey into the inner lives of extraordinary human beings.”-Susannah Heschel, author of The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany

Find more information on the book here.

Albert J. Raboteau arrived at Princeton in 1982 as a specialist in American religious history. His research and teaching have focused on American Catholic history, African-American religious movements, and the place of beauty in the history of Eastern and Western Christian Spirituality. His other publications Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South (2004) and A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History (1996). He was the first recipient of the J.W.C. Pennington Award from the University of Heidelberg and delivered the Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2012. He retired in June 2013. 

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Long Anticipated PLT Publication Release: Lived Theology

Lived Theology: New Perspectives on Method, Style, and Pedagogy; Charles Marsh; Sarah Azaransky; Peter SladeNew Perspectives on Method, Style, and Pedagogy

The Project on Lived Theology is delighted to announce the release of our new book, available now at Oxford University Press, Amazon, and other retailers. Use promo code AAFLYG6 for 30% off at the OUP site.

Join the conversation about the book on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, using #LivedTheology.

And if you’re in the San Antonio area during the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, please join us for a celebratory reception, Saturday, November 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Pecos Room at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk.

Lived Theology contains the work of an emerging generation of theologians and scholars who pursue research, teaching, and writing as a form of public responsibility motivated by the conviction that theological ideas aspire in their inner logic toward social expression. Edited by Charles Marsh, Peter Slade, and Sarah Azaransky, this volume offers a series of illustrations and styles that distinguish Lived Theology in the broader conversation with other major approaches to the religious interpretation of embodied life.

The book begins with a modest query: How might theological writing, research, and teaching be expanded to engage lived experience with the same care and precision given by scholars to books and articles? Behind this question lies the claim that theological engagements and interpretations of lived experience offer rich and often surprising insights into God’s presence and activity in the world. Lived Theology offers a fresh and exciting model for scholars, teachers, practitioners and students seeking to reconnect the lived experience of faith communities with academic study and reflection.

The contributors with a chapter in the publication, three of whom recently received Grawemeyer Awards, include Sarah Azaransky, Jacqueline Bussie, David Dark, Susan Glisson, John de Gruchy, Susan R. Holman, Lori Brandt Hale, Willis Jenkins, Willie James Jennings, John Kiess, Jennifer M. McBride, Mary McClintock Fulkerson, Charles Marsh, Peter Slade, and Ted Smith.

For more information on the book, click here. Connect to the Facebook event for the book reception here.

For more of featured writings of our PLT Contributors, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyWrites. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Holy Thursday Revolution

The Holy Thursday Revolution, Beatrice BruteauChanging the Narrative from Foe to Friend

Is there any hope for a future of better relations and peaceful coexisting between and among communities? Author Beatrice Bruteau says yes, basing her argument on two practices of Holy Thursday: the Footwashing and the Supper, or Holy Communion. She illustrates “how this new paradigm–a movement from Lord to friend–can dramatically alter our personal and social relations, our economic and political practices.” Creating new hopes out of a 2000-year-old tradition, The Holy Thursday Revolution is Bruteau’s longing for the transition from a world of distrust and dominance to one of peace and understanding.

In an excerpt of the 2005 publication, Bruteau writes:

“‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This is such a well-known saying among us that we may not realize the profound dissonance involved, but we know that we are not able to live up to this ideal. We have excused ourselves by saying that it is an ideal, after all, and very difficult to attain, and we can only hope to approximate it sometimes and to a certain extent.

But this, according to my thesis, is not the trouble. The difficulty is that this exhortation flies in the face of everything else that our culture encourages and that our worldview sees. If we cannot love our neighbor as ourself, it is because we do not perceive our neighbor as ourself. We perceive the neighbor as precisely not ourself, but as a potential threat (or potential aid) to ourself… It is not a matter of the exhortation being an ideal that is difficult to attain; it is a contradiction of our culture that is strictly impossible to realize, so long as we see the world the way we do.”

Find more information on this book here.

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Presentations Mark Close of 2016 Internships in Lived Theology

PLT Interns Reflect on Summers of Service

On September 15, the interns shared memorable stories and theological reflections from their summer work with the community, wrapping up this year’s summer internships in lived theology. The cohort included Tessa Crews (Col ’16), Brit Dunnavant (Col ’17), and Elizabeth Surratt (Col ’17).

“One verse that really spoke to me is from the Bhagavad-Gita because I like to read it daily. It was one that I would reflect on while I was out doing my work because it reminded me of how to see God in nature. It goes, ‘I am the original fragrance of the Earth.’ So I would be pulling the weeds and I would smell the scent of moist soil… it’s so rich and vibrant that you think, God smells like this. That’s amazing. That’s really incredible.”

A 2016 graduate of U.Va.’s College of Arts and Sciences, Tessa Crews completed a summer internship at the Green Comfort School of Herbal Medicine in Washington, Virginia. Crews learned about integrating herbs, foods and supplements necessary to achieve optimal health and wellbeing and worked to educate the community about this mission. She was mentored by Vanessa Ochs and Teresa Boardwine.


“A lot of times I went into my theological work, going into the Haven looking for big moments, for moments that I thought would really radically reorient my thinking, but it had to be something good… As I thought about it more, it became clear that it wasn’t these big moments that would completely reorient everything, but it was a million small moments that would come together to radically transform.”

Britton Dunnavant, a fourth year student majoring in religious studies, spent his summer working at The Haven in Charlottesville. An organization working to end homelessness, The Haven runs a day shelter and administers housing-focused programming. With the help of his two mentors, Heather A. Warren and Stephen Hitchcock, Dunnavant reflected theologically on his duties in the kitchen and in working with other staff members and guests.


“It was during this period that I started realizing that it’s not about me… I know very little of Barth, but the part I did read was about divine command and how we always try to look at what’s ethical, what do we do in the moment to do everything right. There’s one decision we have to make, and that’s the decision to surrender our lives and our actions to God. And from that place of complete surrender to his command, that’s where we’re acting in the world in a way that is pleasing, that is honorable.”

Elizabeth Surratt is a fourth year student majoring in political and social thought with a minor in religious studies. Guided by mentors Nichole M. Flores and Mo Leverett, Surratt cultivated relationships with inner city middle school girls through an internship with Rebirth Community Ministries in Jacksonville, Florida. Rebirth’s mission involves mentoring next-generation urban ministry entrepreneurs in the most at-risk American communities.

To read the intern blog compiled of each student’s reflections over the summer, click here.

The Summer Internship in Lived Theology is an immersion program designed to complement the numerous existing urban and rural service immersion programs flourishing nationally and globally by offering a unique opportunity to think and write theologically about service.

For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here. We also post updates online using #PLTinterns. To get these updates please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Newest PLT Publication Now Available: At Home in Exile

At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus Among My Ancestors And Refugee Neighbors, Russell JeungFinding Jesus among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors

Christians hear the call for justice, but how many truly live out their daily responsibility to facilitate its progression?  Russell Jeung moved into the “Murder Dubs” neighborhood of East Oakland in 1991 for sociological fieldwork, but has stayed for relationship building and community ministry. The latest PLT publication through the Virginia Seminar, At Home in Exile is his spiritual memoir chronicling the joys and the dangers of his life, including a successful landmark housing settlement against slumlords with 200 of his closest Cambodian and Latino friends. Reflecting on the journeys and influence of his ancestors and refugee neighbors, Jeung pens an inspiring narrative that challenges us all to recommit to the justice calling.

An interview by Inheritance Magazine with the Jeungs writes:

“‘Part of our calling [as Christians] is to suffer alongside others. We have to know the fellowship of [Jesus’] sufferings,’ said Russell. ‘Unless we do that, we don’t understand how much God has suffered for us and how much love He has for us.’

Imitating Jesus, for the Jeungs, meant being God’s hands and feet in a world where neighbors struggled with deportation, eviction, and death. ‘That’s why we’re there — to show that despite all these hardships, God is still with us and God is still with our neighbors.’”

For more information on the book, click here.

Russell M. Jeung is professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. His research interests include the sociology of race, the sociology of religion, and social movements. His other publications include Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity and Religion Among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation (2012) and Faithful Generations: Race and New Asian American Churches (2004). In addition, he has co-produced with Valerie Soe the documentary The Oak Park Story (2010) about his faith-based community organizing in East Oakland with Cambodians and Latinos.

For more of featured writings of our PLT Contributors, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter,@LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyWrites. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

Loving the Stranger: Rapazzini Reflects on El Camino del Immigrante

rapazzini-el-caminoA Pilgrimage for Immigration Reform

From August 20-30, participants from all over the country partnered with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) to walk for a new immigration system. A 10 day, 150 mile walking pilgrimage from the Tijuana border to their National Conference location in Los Angeles, the event aimed to serve as a wake up call to policymakers to work towards reform. El Camino del Immigrante, translated as the journey, the way, the path of the immigrant, was founded “in solidarity to call out this injustice and highlight the often silenced voices of suffering immigrants and their families,” says Noel Castellanos, President & CEO, CCDA.

A former PLT intern, Melina Rapazzini participated in the walk. In an excerpt from her paper on El Camino del Immigrante, she writes:

“In America we treat immigrants and refugees as commodities; we exploit their bodies, refuse to pay them fair wages, eat the berries their children pick in North Carolina, resent them for being in our country, and scapegoat them for our problems. This is not a new narrative. We have always done this to people unfamiliar to our tribe. We must reorient our vision to seeing these sisters and brothers as human because they are, and because they are imbibed with the image of God. For no other reason than that, the church must throw off the veil of privilege, take the side of justice, and join God’s work already being done, even if this work includes political action.

I did not know any person who was undocumented before I intentionally sought them out through going on the Camino. When faces and relationships move to overshadow the relentlessly numbing onslaught of statistics and tragic news articles, humanization begins. ‘Imago Dei’ humanization can inspire a cultural shift that will rework the way the Church welcomes immigrants.”

To read Rapazzini’s full paper click here. For more information on the CCDA, visit their website here.

Melina Rapazzini (Col ’16) graduated from U.Va. with degrees in religious studies and nursing. As a 2015 summer intern in Lived Theology, Rapazzini worked with New Covenant Hope Church in Oakland to develop a reading, art, and gardening program for inner-city refugee children. In August 2016, she joined the CCDA on El Camino del Immigrante, a 10 day, 150 mile walking pilgrimage from the Tijuana border to Los Angeles in support of immigration reform.

For updates about the PLT Summer Internship, click here. We also post updates online using #PLTinterns. To get these updates please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @LivedTheology. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Weird John Brown

Weird John Brown: Divine Violence and the Limits of Ethics, by Ted SmithDivine Violence and the Limits of Ethics

Religion and politics produce a deadly combination, often inciting strife and violence in its wake. In an effort to limit these catastrophic consequences, many believe violence needs to be approached from a purely secular perspective void of any religious connotations. In Weird John Brown, Ted Smith rejects this view by arguing that a secular context triggers unimaginable violence of its own. Delving into the American political landscape and examining reflections by nineteenth-century abolitionist John Brown, Smith writes that violence is limited by way of deeper religious reflection rather than separation from religion all together. A new take on American history, Weird John Brown will change the reader’s understanding of ethics, religion, and violence.

PLT Contributor Willie James Jennings (Yale Divinity School) reviews:

“Ted Smith has given us something that heretofore has not existed, a very sophisticated philosophical and theological reflection on John Brown and the question of divine violence. Smith not only analyzes the shortcomings of ethical reasoning and moral vision locked within an immanent frame against the backdrop of the complexity of John Brown, but he also explores the racial unconscious embedded in the American political unconscious in ways both refreshing and convincing. This book teaches John Brown. It gives us a John Brown restored to his preeminent place as a mirror of the dilemmas of an American world, a white world that has forgotten we exist in God’s world.”

Find more information on the publication here.

Dr. Ted A. Smith is assistant professor of teaching and ethics at Candler School of Theology. He works at the intersections of practical and political theology, with special attention to the forms preaching and worship take in modern societies. His other publications include The New Measures:  A Theological History of Democratic Practice (2007).  Smith’s current research explores the notion of “divine violence” through a study of sermons, speeches, and essays about the abolitionist John Brown.

Rev. Dr. Willie James Jennings is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale Divinity School. Jennings teaches in the areas of systematic theology and black church and cultural studies. The author of numerous articles, his research interests include these areas as well as liberation theologies, cultural identities, and anthropology. An ordained Baptist minister, Jennings has served as interim pastor of several North Carolina churches and continues to be an active teaching and preaching minister in the local church. He is the winner of the 2015 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.