On the Lived Theology Reading List: In the Pines: A Lynching, a Lie, a Reckoning

Untangling a Lie

Grace Elizabeth Hale learned in her early adult life about the heroism of her grandfather: a 1947 sheriff in Prentiss, Mississippi, who courageously protected a black man, wrongly accused of raping a white woman, from a ferocious mob. With the help of a Carnegie Fellowship, Hale endeavors in In the Pines: A Lynching, a Lie, a Reckoning to investigate the decades-old tale that held deep significance and emotional gravity in her family. The truth she uncovers unravels her own family history as she knows it.

Hale’s mission to uncover the story leads her to a new version of events that occurred on the day that Versie Johnson, the accused, died under the watch of Oury Berry, Hale’s grandfather. Johnson died by lynching, and Berry, as it turns out, sanctioned the attack. Through Hale’s deeply immersive research, In the Pines tells the buried, tortured story of Versie Johnson and examines the institutional and social structures of racism that conceal stories just like it. While grappling with her own family history, Hale seeks to uplift justice and set the record straight.

Grace Elizabeth Hale is a Commonwealth Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Virginia. She has received a variety of fellowships including the American Association of University Women, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and the American Historical Association. Interested in the topics of white supremacy and the culture of the American South, Hale is also the author of Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Hale is a phenomenal historian, a dogged researcher, and a gifted writer.” 

-Kevin M. Kruse, author of One Nation Under God

“Intimate, devastating, and historically meticulous.”

– Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prizer winner and author of Devil in the Grove

“Courageous and compelling… essential and critically important.”

-Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

“Remarkable… Hale deftly captures the racial terror of the Jim Crow South.”

– John Grisham, award-winning novelist

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Aesthetics of Solidarity: Our Lady of Guadalupe and American Democracy

Unifying Symbols in the Face of Oppression

In The Aesthetics of Solidarity, theologian and University of Virginia Professor Nichole M. Flores probes the historical uses of Our Lady of Guadalupe as an aesthetic symbol among Latine Catholics. Reflecting first on the legend of Our Lady and Juan Diego, she goes on to highlight in her work the religious, political, and economic interests that Guadalupe functions to uplift, “ranging from the Chicano movement and United Farm Workers’ movements to contemporary calls for just immigration reform.” Through the course of these observations, Flores tracks the ways in which the symbol serves as a mirror back toward the beholder, allowing them to reflect inward on Guadalupe’s meaning for their own self concept: as a mother, as a revolutionary, or as a believer, to name a few. Making note of many of Guadalupe’s culturally significant ‘little stories’ through a critical and philosophical lens, Aesthetics makes a theologically compelling case for Guadalupe’s value for unification and democracy.

Nichole M. Flores is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. Besides authoring The Aesthetics of Solidarity, Flores has written a number of articles and book chapters, including a chapter on Ella Baker for PLT Director Charles Marsh’s book Can I Get a Witness? Her research interests include the relationship between Catholic and Latinx communities and aesthetics to various issues, including (but not limited to) justice, democracy, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“At a moment when society is fraying and politics is polarized Flores provides a rich, ethical conception of democratic solidarity and its centrality to a politics of the common good in a pluralistic context. Arguing against key liberal philosophers, Flores’s theologically and aesthetically sophisticated political theology of solidarity creatively draws on a set of resources rooted in Latine responses to oppression, including movements for social justice, political campaigns, theatre, popular religious celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and experiences of lo cotidiano. In doing so the book models the best of what teologia en conjunto means both in practice and in scholarship.” 

-Luke Bretherton,  Robert E. Cushman Professor of Moral & Political Theology at Duke University

The Aesthetics of Solidarity represents a major contribution to the ongoing development of U.S. Latinx theology. Flores has produced a first-rate scholarly monograph in which she carefully develops, and clearly articulates, the intellectual features of an aesthetics of solidarity ― a rich notion that will, no doubt, influence theological conversation in the future, not only among Latinx scholars but in the broader theological community.”

– Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology

“Nichole M. Flores expertly weaves in storytelling and theology to examine the usage of Marian symbols, from the Chicano movement to immigration organizers today. The Aesthetics of Solidarity is a must-read for everyone looking to deepen their understanding of Latinx theology and proves why Flores is one of the most important theological voices in the Catholic Church today.”

-Olga Segura, author of Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: From Pandemic to Renewal: Practices for a World Shaken by Crisis

Faith in the Aftermath of a Global Crisis

Chris Rice is confronting a world utterly changed by disease, death, and division in From Pandemic to Renewal: Practices for a World Shaken by Crisis. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rice recognizes that things can never go back to the way they once were. However, he believes that such a crisis calls for a renewed relationship between God and humanity. The pandemic brought to light and exasperated various global issues, and Rice considers eight of these in his book with meaningful perspective on their implications to our faith lives. Drawing from his own experience in international and humanitarian relief, Rice offers a tangible vision and advice for redeemed relationships informed by our changing world.

Chris Rice is the director of the United Nations Office of the Mennonite Central Committee, where he promotes peace and reconciliation across the world through advocacy and education. He was the cofounding direction for the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation, and his work has led him to east Africa, Northeast Asia, and the American South. His other works include Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing (2009), More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel (2021), and his memoir Grace Matters: A Memoir of Faith, Friendship, and Hope in the Heart of the South (2003).

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

For the first time in the eight decades since World War II, the entire world has been affected by the same devastating crisis at the same time.’ These words written by Chris Rice highlight the unique moment we have journeyed through. But this moment―in a culture that quickly and mindlessly moves on―requires sustained reflection on the ways the global pandemic has shaped and continues to shape our lives. With clarity of vision and actionable practices, Chris powerfully explores the ways we are globally connected as well as the opportunities for renewal that are before us. This is a book we all need, every single one of us.”

-Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship and author of The Deeply Formed Life

“In the midst of crisis, the church finds an opportunity. My friend Chris Rice has written a text that shines the moral lens of our Christian faith on the complex social reality we find ourselves in as a church. Chris offers a compelling and hopeful vision of how spiritual practices can provide the power and opportunity for Christian witness. He offers the possibility of hope even in these challenging times.”

-Soong-Chan Rah, Robert Munger Professor of Evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Prophetic Lament 

“This is a book of honest, truth-seeking stories and practices emerging from and leading to a life of spiritual alertness. In a time when many of us are going numb, with consequences that can only be fatal on a massive scale, Chris Rice is throwing us a lifeline. Read this book slowly, in the company of others, to explore how the personal, relational, political, and structural dimensions of essential change connect for each one of us.”

-Ellen F. Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Last Works: Lessons in Leaving

The Significance of Endings

Reflecting on the retirements of noted writers like Søren Kierkegaard and David Foster Wallace, Mark C. Taylor considers the intellectual and emotional importance of reaching the end of one’s career and later, their life, in Last Works: Lessons in Leaving. Careful to reckon with cultural conceptions of retirement, Taylor describes the various attitudes of authors on the edge of life – ranging from deep sadness to exhaustion to resounding joy – and gently leads his readers into a nuanced conversation with death. Ultimately, Taylor argues that the agreement one must come to with dying is deeply valuable to recognizing and appreciating the present circumstance of life. Bursting with creativity and emotion, Taylor employs his masterful knowledge of religion and philosophy’s most prominent figures and works to build a powerful case for the spiritual purpose of leaving.

Mark C. Taylor is currently a professor of religion at Columbia University and also taught at Williams College from 1973-2007. He is the author of many books, including Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left (2014), Journeys to Selfhood: Hegel and Kiregaard (1980), and After God (2007). His research interests include the intersection between religion and art, philosophy of religion, and artificial intelligence. He writes frequently for the New York Times and appears often on NPR.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Last Works is a dazzling tapestry of reflection on the final works of writers Mark Taylor has loved through his many transformations. This is Taylor’s intellectual autobiography, his relentless and moving quest to understand religion in its many engagements with literature.”

-Kevin Hart, The University of Virginia

“As Mark Taylor’s brilliant meditation on last works moves towards its own end, it folds one writer’s life and language into the next to thicken the strange meanings of thought time: knowing that we die.

-Siri Hustvedt, author of The Blazing World

“Modern life is a map of realms or worlds, intellectual and cultural as well as geographic that abut without necessarily connecting. The thinkers whom the larger world needs most are those who have ventured farthest from their starting points without sacrificing intellectual rigor. Such a thinker is Mark C. Taylor.”

-Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: My Body, Their Baby: A Progressive Christian Vision for Surrogacy

Celebrating Surrogacy Through a Feminist Christian Lens

As both an accomplished ethicist and surrogate mother herself, Grace Kao offers a perspective on modern surrogacy that draws on both the philosophical and the emotional in My Body, Their Baby: A Progressive Christian Vision for Surrogacy. Kao weaves her unique experience into her conversation of the complexities and nuance of surrogacy, where she also invites and elaborates on vital queer, feminist, and non-White perspectives. All the while, Kao centers her argument around a Christian framework that not only permits, but honors the generosity of, a person becoming pregnant for someone else. Emphasizing the shared importance of experience to both feminist and Christian understandings, she breaks down prevailing objections to surrogacy with the cogency and conciseness of a practiced theologian while at the same time sharing deeply emotional stories of joy surrounding her own surrogacy journey. In My Body, Their Baby, Kao offers an essential resource for progressive reproductive ethics that speaks directly- and accessibly- to the Biblically engaged.

Grace Y. Kao is a professor of ethics at Claremont School of Theology and is also a founding co-director of Claremont’s Center for Sexuality, Gender, and Religion. In addition, Kao has taught at Claremont Graduate University and at Virginia Tech. She is the co-editor of Encountering the Sacred: Feminist Reflections on Women’s Lives (2018) and Asian American Christian Ethics (2015). She currently serves as the Bishop Roy I. Sano and Kathleen A. Thomas-Sano Chair in Pacific and Asian American Theology and is the first Asian American woman to receive tenure at Claremont School of Theology.

Grace Y. Kat was a participant in the SILT 16/17: Can I Get a Witness? The SILT celebrates scholars, activists, laypeople, and religious leaders whose lived theologies produced and inspired social justice in the United States, and produced a volume entitled Can I Get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice. Grace contributed a chapter on Yuri Kochiyama, a life-long activist at the forefront of issues in the black, Latino, Native American and Asian American communities.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“The world needs more scholars like Grace Kao. With thoughtful rigor and deeply human tenderness, she provides a faithful framework for understanding surrogacy. Her cogent, compassionate arguments illuminate a practice that is often consigned to the shadows, and her work shines with creativity, empathy, and care.”

-Jeff Chu, author of Does Jesus Really Love Me?

“This book provides an expansive Christian vision for surrogacy that bravely probes complex social ethics questions surrounding it. Kao’s accessibly articulated and social justice–oriented guidelines offer a roadmap for decision-making that contributes fresh, thought-provoking analysis to feminist reproductive ethics”

-Traci C. West, Drew University Theological School, author of Solidarity and Defiant Spirituality

“Drawing on her own experience both as a surrogate and a Christian theologian, Kao makes a powerful and rigorously argued Christian ethical case for surrogacy. An invaluable resource for parents, pastors, and all concerned with reproduction and its ethical implications.”

-Susan A. Ross, Loyola University Chicago, author of Anthropology: Seeking Light and Beauty

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now

Appreciating Then and Now

Taken from a theologically driven and culturally minded perspective, James K. A. Smith’s How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now combats one of the most pressing issues in Christian life today: the tendency to see the current generation, as Smith says, as a ‘clean slate.’ In How to Inhabit Time, Smith explores the theological importance of time and history, and makes a case for temporally contextualized living. Discussing both Biblical and cultural history in this volume, as well as delving into his own experience of reckoning with the reality of time’s movement, Smith argues that time is a gift to be savored and that its passage is ripe for deep reflection. Both philosophically deep and playfully light, How to Inhabit Time serves as a vital resource for Christians seeking to make sense of the past, present, and future.

James K.A. Smith is currently a professor of Philosophy at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has also taught at Loyola Marymount University, Fuller Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Regent College. He is the author of many books, including You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit and On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. His research interests include the intersection of church communities and culture and the impacts of postmodernism and the Enlightenment on the church.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“In this arresting and elegant book, Jamie Smith gives us a profound and beguiling meditation on time (and therefore death), on embodiment (and therefore love), on creaturehood (and therefore our orientation toward God). Philosophically rigorous and creatively daring, this original and provocative exploration summons each of us to diligent thinking and unflinching honesty, to (in Smith’s own phrase) ‘shared vulnerability’ and deep prayer.”

-Charles Marsh, PLT Director

“James K. A. Smith shows us that time is a gift waiting to be redeemed, and a central conviction of this book is that ‘the Lord of the star fields’ is intimately attuned to our haunted, beautiful histories. Dwelling with these lucid, winsome meditations on ‘spiritual timekeeping’ was like listening in on a lively conversation between St. Augustine, Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Baldwin, and Marilynne Robinson, while Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon played in the background.”

-Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament

“James K. A. Smith’s inspired work examines time not as hourglass sand running hopelessly through our fingers but as a divine gift that we can capture just enough to recognize the pearl of life that time shapes. A thoughtful and engaging book.”

-Sophfronia Scott, author of The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: A Brief History of Heaven

Picturing Heaven Through the Ages

In one concise and accessible volume, scholar Alister E. McGrath considers the history and societal implications of the concept of heaven. McGrath begins with the earliest Biblical accounts of heaven and makes his way throughout history, along the way consulting theologians, scholars, artists, and poets. McGrath specifically explores heaven’s utility as a concept in theological thinking: including viewing heaven as a garden, city, or place for meeting lost loved ones. McGrath Drawing upon the works of Dante, Bunyan, Herbert, Marx, and Freud, among others, McGrath considers diverse perspectives in Christianity’s complex relationship to the afterlife. Delightfully readable, while at the same time thoroughly researched, McGrath sketches out the origins of our modern heavenly understanding and describes the necessity of heavenly yearning in early and modern Christians alike.

Alister E. McGrath is an Anglican priest and theologian who has taught at a variety of British universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, and King’s College London. He is the author of over fifty books, and is known for his work in apologetics, systematic theology, and historical theology. A former atheist, McGrath promotes evolution and is particularly interested in the intersection between Christian faith and science.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Though clearly a scholar, McGrath transcends the drone of the academic dissertation, offering an accessible and thorough narrative. Using the rich visual imagery of heaven, McGrath has created a fascinating kaleidoscope for viewing the evolution of Christian worship.” 

Publishers Weekly

“Alister McGrath invariably combines enormous scholarship with an accessible and engaging style. This book is no exception – a splendid survey of a centrally important subject, covering theology and the arts with equal grace and clarity”

-Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

“Bringing together literature, theology, politics and the arts, this fascinating book traces the remarkable influence that the idea of heaven has had – and continues to have – on western culture.”

Publishing News

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir

Ethics, Motherhood, and Geopolitics

A Pulitzer Prize winner and human rights activist, Samantha Power’s The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir is a deeply personal account of her incredible life. Committed to the cause of interventionism, Power’s career as a member of the United Nations and on the Obama Administration has been met with a number of highs and lows, which she recalls with unflinching candor in The Education of an Idealist. From her immigration from Ireland to the United States, to her early activism, to stepping onto the global policy stage, to raising two children, Power offers meditations on ethics through the lens of a myriad of diverse experiences. Throughout her vibrant life, Power continues to emphasize her focus on human dignity and global interconnectedness and concern. She describes in The Education of an Idealist how she juggles everything at once- and confesses her shortcomings in the path of leadership with goodness in mind.

Samantha Power is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, government official, and diplomat. She previously served as the youngest ever U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as well as the chair of the Atrocities Prevention Board under President Obama. She currently serves as the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development under President Biden. Further, she was the Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. She is known also for her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which explores the United States’ relationship to genocide across the world.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Problem solving in a complex world can challenge idealism. Samantha Power’s compelling memoir provides critically important insights we should all understand as we face some of the most vexing issues of our time.”

– Bryan Stevenson, Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy

“Power writes with heart about her upbringing — in Ireland, Pittsburgh and Atlanta — and she is especially poignant when recounting a few traumatic episodes… Still, the book is suffused with humor, and [President Obama] furnishes the funniest anecdotes that don’t come from her charming children…The Education of an Idealist is a moving account of how to serve righteously, or at least how to try.”

-The Washington Post

“In this gripping and revelatory memoir, Power chronicles, with vibrant precision and stunning candor, her best and worst moments navigating the obstacle courses within the White House and the UN, daunting global crises, and personal struggles. She is utterly compelling in her eye-witness accounts of violence and political standoffs and shrewdly witty in her tales about balancing diplomacy and motherhood.


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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Love Your Mother: 50 States, 50 Stories, and 50 Women United for Climate Justice

Women and the Fight for Climate Justice

Mallory McDuff understands the urgent situation that the world, and particularly women, face with the global climate crisis. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, with a majority of the world’s impoverished population being women and with social expectations keeping them from migrating to places free of climate-related disaster. In Love Your Mother, McDuff tells the stories of fifty women- one from each U.S. state- who have stepped up to lead their communities and the world in climate action. Bringing together women from a variety of fields and backgrounds, Mcduff uses their stories to inspire the next generation of climate activists. By elevating stories from across the nation and across vocations, McDuff offers stories of women that feel familiar to readers from all sorts of places and all walks of life.

Mallory McDuff is a professor of environmental education at Warren Wilson College, a Christian school in Asheville, North Carolina. She is the author of four other books, including Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love, and has published numerous articles and essays in prominent newspapers and academic journals. She is particularly concerned with the study of how people relate to places, and how these relationships can build a better world.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Women have been at the forefront of the climate battle from the start, and this book is proof of it. If we have a fighting chance of coming through these decades, it’s because of them!”

-Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

“This book is a mighty collection, a great read for anyone who cares deeply to care about Earth, community, and the climate crisis. Dr. McDuff offers up bite-size stories of inspiring climate action from across all fifty states, from a spectacularly diverse and accomplished group of women

-Leah Stokes, Professor of Environmental Politics, University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Short Circuiting Policy

“Through vivid, thoughtful storytelling, McDuff’s profiles emphasize a timely truth: climate leadership isn’t a monolith. Matriarchs, farmers, writers, rebels, scientists, doctors, innovators, influencers, teachers–all of us, in short–have a home in this movement, if we choose to seek it.”

-Georgia Wright, co-creator of the podcast Inherited

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Introducing Theologian and Pastor Diana Guzman Lugo

The Project on Lived Theology (PLT) congratulates UVA Fourth Year Diana Guzman Lugo on her acceptance to the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where she will be pursuing a Masters in Divinity. Diana hopes to become a pastor one day so that she can eventually foster a church community that emphasizes vulnerability, curiosity, knowledge, and love.

PLT Research Fellow Emily Miller had the opportunity to sit down with Diana and learn more about her incredible life story. Diana’s dream to become a pastor is a result of her unrelenting inquisitiveness and faith. In her entire life she has only ever seen two female Hispanic pastors, and seeks to increase representation with her own entrance into ministry. Already having experience preaching at youth services, she has a rich passion for church history and understanding the Bible. All the while, she emphasizes the importance of remaining humble and always continuing to ask questions. In addition, she feels that she wants to see mental health issues addressed more openly in a church setting. Through her time at her home church and especially during her time at UVA, Diana says that she often found herself asking, in her own words, “How can I say God is my strength when I take antidepressants?”

Diana describes her mental health journey as something that has deeply informed her career and life path. Having dealt with the death of her father and losing her home to a fire, both when she was very young, Diana says that she learned to compartmentalize her emotions instead of feeling them. “I stopped crying.” she said, “In college, I realized that I needed to cry.”

Diana dealt with a depressive episode during her undergraduate career that almost uprooted her: having lost hope and struggling academically as a result, in retrospect she believes that her faith and community are what kept her going. Diana ended up switching from computer science to a religious studies major, finding that she thrived in spaces that reckoned with spiritual and philosophical questions that she’d always had. She names History of Christian Ethics and Modern Theology as classes that she found particularly invigorating. In addition, she particularly enjoyed PLT Director Charles Marsh’s class, Anxiety: Religious and Theological Perspectives, saying that seeing “God and mental illness seated at same table” in the class themes was refreshing and comforting for her.

Marsh describes Diana as an excellent student and one of the people who kept his Anxiety class invigorating: “Diana engaged the readings as if her life depended on them. Her written work reflected a facile mind, undaunted by complex ideas and ponderous arguments, alert to the ways they might invigorate a more generative relationship between theological and psychological life… Diana was a joy to teach for a more pragmatic reason as well – and this is worth noting. If the room fell silent during a class discussion, she was the one I could turn to for a deft insight efficiently conveyed. What professor is not ever grateful for the reliably insightful interlocutor.”

Diana was also an active participant in Chi Alpha at UVA and was the co-president of Yahweh Night at UVA. She credits both Christian communities for helping her, in her words, “get out of bed in the morning.” As vice president of Yahweh Night for one year and co-president for two years, she has coordinated the bi-annual multicultural worship night which includes words of encouragement, music, and praise dance. In her Chi Alpha community, she has found invaluable support from her peers and realized through this community that God fights for and with her in her struggles.

Her religious studies advisor, Janet Spittler, first encouraged Diana to pursue graduate school. Diana describes this as a realization that instantly felt right for her and was immediately something she knew she wanted. She received full scholarships from Duke University and from Candler School at Emory, and decided to go with Candler- her dream school. In the future, Diana hopes to write a book on death and eternity- topics that she’s relentlessly curious about- and looks forward to engaging in deep dialogues about these and more during graduate school.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.