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.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality

The War on Information

Combining elements of memoir and exposé, Peter Pomerantsev’s explosive book, This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, transports readers from Soviet-era Russia to the political landscape of the 2016 United States Presidential Election. Pomerantsev describes in the book his own family’s escape from Russia after his father’s arrest by the KGB in 1978, and from this reference point draws comparisons to the propaganda tactics employed in the ‘disinformation age’ we now find ourselves in. Recounting his own conversations with “Twitter revolutionaries and pop-up populists, ‘behavioral change’ salesmen, Jihadi fanboys, Identitarians, truth cops, and many others,” Pomerantsev takes a deep dive into a grim reality: that raging disinformation has swept not just communist regimes, but the entire world. This is Not Propaganda explores the weaponization of truth and the steps necessary to combat it, which begin at understanding how we and our personal relationships are impacted everyday by propaganda. Informative and shocking, Pomerantsev demonstrates through his book the global movement of misinformation tactics in their many changing forms.

Peter Pomerantsev is a Soviet-born British journalist and TV producer, alongside being the author of this and another book, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s SNF Agora Institute, and was previously a Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His interests include what he calls “post-modern politics,” information warfare, and English identity.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“The truth was supposed to set us free. But Peter Pomerantsev’s brilliant This Is Not Propaganda shows how the very idea of truth has been weaponized by dictators and other enemies of liberty. These techniques, first used against us in Russia, have spread around the globe like a toxic cloud. Taking us from the Philippines to Ukraine to MAGA-land, Pomerantsev is an unparalleled tour guide of our post-truth world-and what we all must learn to survive in it.”

-Garry Kasparov, chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative and author of Winter Is Coming

“In this moving, unusual, and carefully reported book, Peter Pomerantsev reminds us that propaganda is not just a political tool: it can also shape individuals, their relationships with their children, their friendships, their marriages. Far more than just another take on today’s chaotic information wars, this book argues that we will have to understand how propaganda seeks to shape our deepest thoughts and feelings before we can confront it.”

-Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag and Red Famine

For more information on the publication, click here.

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth

An Intimate Account of the Life of One of History’s Most Powerful Women

In Nancy Koester’s We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth, Koester crafts a stunningly detailed portrait of the life and faith of Isabella Baumfree, who would later become legendary abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. By traveling herself to notable place’s throughout Sojourner Truth’s life, Koester is able in We Will Be Free to bring together an array of dictated letters, eyewitness accounts, speeches, and sermons to paint a clearer picture of this human rights maverick. Koester’s book recalls in vivid detail Truth’s activism through the Antebellum period, Civil War, and Reconstruction, describing her interactions with U.S. presidents, notable activists, and enslaved people. Koester also makes a point to describe the evolution of Truth’s personal perspective and motivations for justice: from being enslaved from the age of nine, to her urgent mission to rescue her own five year old son from slavery, to her call from God to begin preaching the Gospel in her forties. Having overcome a number of unimaginable challenges, Truth built resilience throughout the course of her life that Koester captures with eloquence in We Will Be Free. Weaving throughout the entire story, Koester describes Sojourner’s faith and joy in the promise of heavenly salvation, which lives in the heart of her activism.

Nancy Koester is the author of several books, including the award-winning Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life. She is an ordained Lutheran preacher and has taught at both the college and seminary level. Her research interests include 19th century American history and particularly the untold stories of women who shaped the period.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“In We Will Be Free, Nancy Koester helps us move beyond the superficial knowledge we have of Sojourner Truth and takes us into the spirit of a woman whose life should inspire and inform us all. This is more than the biography of a single, remarkable woman, it tells the story of the whole nation—halting steps toward freedom, the risk and rewards of speaking the truth and, most of all, the unflagging hope that change is possible.” 
– Dr. Jemar Tisby, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism

“Nancy Koester’s We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth uses Sojourner Truth’s words, along with firsthand accounts from the people around her, to narrate the icon’s journey from enslavement to the national stage amid racial violence and extreme poverty. The result is a biography animated by the activist’s wit, ideas, and affect. Adding to the corpus of knowledge about nineteenth-century freedwomen’s lives, Koester’s book amplifies Truth’s extraordinary contribution to our nation’s history.” 
– Dr. Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, Stanford University 

“This biography of Sojourner Truth carefully and thoroughly documents her astonishing life, paying particular attention to the varying religious contexts that shaped her. From her early years of enslavement to her years fighting for abolition and the rights of women and freedpeople, Truth bravely crossed swords with the powers that be and occasionally with her own allies. Koester writes in a style that will appeal to broad audiences and incorporates the best historical scholarship and research. Sojourner Truth’s life receives a graceful and illuminating treatment here.” 
 – Dr. Paul Harvey, University of Colorado

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: You Shall Not Condemn: A Story of Faith and Advocacy on Death Row

Faith to the Last

A story of redemption and perseverance, Jennifer McBride recounts the life, work, and death of Kelly Gissendaner. Gissendaner entered a Georgia prison after orchestrating her ex-husband’s murder in 1997. There, she converted to Christianity and began to minister to other imprisoned women and to study theology up until her execution in 2015. She had a particular interest in the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rowan Williams, and during her incarceration began to correspond with theologian Jürgen Moltmann. Seamlessly weaving Gissendaner’s story of faith and commitment to fellowship with a relevant critique of the American criminal justice system, McBride highlights through You Shall Not Condemn the importance of the prisoner’s story in understanding the scope of God’s grace. A lesson on transformation, McBride’s book offers a beautiful and important example of God’s mercy entering broken places.

Jennifer McBride is an associate professor and dean at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. She holds a PHD from the University of Virginia in Religious Studies and is also the author of the books Radical Discipleship: A Liturgical Politics of the Gospel and The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness. She is particularly interested in studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer the practice of lived theology.

Reviews and endorsements of this publication include:

“For those of us who worship a Savior who was executed by the state, death row is a place for theology. Yet, the church has had little opportunity to hear and learn from the God talk that happens among the condemned. Jenny McBride has given us a gift in You Shall Not Condemn. . . . May we receive it and let its truth change us.”

-Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Revolution of Value

“Jenny McBride narrates the powerful story of Kelly Gissendaner, a condemned occupant of death row forgiven and transformed, . . . inspired by her exchange of beautiful letters with Jürgen Moltmann, upheld in hope by a community of love, full of God’s power of resurrection. Entering this story will be a blessing, urging you to stand up against unjust legal and prison systems and shaking you to the core by our self-imprisonment through our condemnation of others.”

-M. Douglas Meeks, Vanderbilt University Divinity School

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Cafe Theology

Christianity Over a Cup of Coffee

In one alluringly thoughtful volume, Michael Lloyd introduces the tenants of Christian faith- from Creation to the modern Church- in a manner accessible to all- believers and the newly curious alike. Inviting his readers to meet him and “grab a cappuchino,” Lloyd uses his wit and honesty to present a Christianity that enriches and emboldens human life. Lloyd starts at creation and moves chapter by chapter through fundamental pillars such as the Fall, the life of Jesus Christ, Providence, and the Holy Spirit. Along the way, Lloyd offers complementary resources and advice to advance readers’ understandings of their own relationship to God, the church and its people, and themselves. Both a priest of the Church of England and an academic, Lloyd offers decades of experience to provide insight that is both deeply contemplative and unmistakably human.

Michael Lloyd is the current Principal of Wycliffe Hall at the University of Oxford. He is an ordained priest in the Church of England and was formally a chaplain at Queen’s College, Oxford, and Chaplain and director of theological studies at Christ College, Cambridge. He has written a number of articles and chapters and has particular research interests in the doctrine of evil and the problem of pain.

For more information on the publication, click here.

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Prodigal Christ: A Parabolic Theology

Uniting Ricoeur, Barth, and Julian in One Christology

In Kendall Walser Cox’s Prodigal Christ: A Parabolic Theology, Cox seamlessly weaves together the parable of the prodigal son with the theology of Karl Barth and Julian of Norwich to form a fully effective christology, positing Jesus as the ultimate prodigal son. Through her unique understanding of parable as a theological genre, Cox employs Barth’s Church Dogmatics and Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love to argue for the value of parabolic narratives in systematic theology. Drawing from Julian’s insight of divine motherhood, and likewise Barth’s insight on God’s humanity, Cox also uses Paul Ricoeur’s notions of metaphorical narrative and intertextuality to retell the christologically demonstrative story of the prodigal son’s return to comfort and love. Ultimately, it becomes a story of the Trinity.

Kendall Walser Cox is the Director of Academic Affairs for the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University. She previously taught ethics and theology at the University of Virginia and was a Fellow at UVA’s Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“With this book Kendall Cox achieves the near impossible, casting new light on both Julian of Norwich and Karl Barth and doing so with an elegance and depth of reading that does honor to both, and to the text of scripture which enfolds them.”

-Janet Soskice, William K. Warren Distinguished Research Professor of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School

“Many lament the division between biblical studies and systematic theology. This learned and original book does something about it. With keen literary and theological analysis, Cox’s creative pairing of Julian of Norwich and Karl Barth reimagines narrative theology as parabolic. Prodigal Christ is well worth reading, and not only by those interested in these figures or parable studies.”

– Eric Gregory, Professor of Religion at Princeton University

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society

Engaging Powerfully

In Amy Sherman’s timely work Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society, she highlights the importance of meaningful civic and cultural engagement as directed by the Bible. The ultimate state of Shalom to be pursued (otherwise known as Biblical flourishing), according to Sherman, appears in six parts of civic life: the good, beautiful, true, just, prosperous, and sustainable.

Using examples of faith communities that have answered the call to Shalom, as well as including Biblical grounding for her interpretation of flourishing, Sherman offers a guide for communities seeking to live out God’s intentions for engaged and purposeful citizenship. As the author of other books on thoughtful faith engagement, including Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good and Restorers of Hope: Reaching the Poor in Your Community with Church-Based Ministries that Work, and as a person deeply committed to community outreach in the city of Charlottesville, Sherman employs her skills and experience beautifully in Agents of Flourishing.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“When history looks back on the church in America at the start of the twenty-first century, it won’t be a pretty sight. Division, scandals, unbelief, materialism, individualism, theological drift . . . the list goes on and on. We’ve simply lost our way. Fortunately, this latest work by Dr. Amy Sherman provides a road map to help us get back on track. Amy rightly focuses our attention on the central message of Jesus―the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43)―and provides readers with helpful prompts to improvise this story in their cities and neighborhoods. Miraculously, we are to do this―not by exercising worldly power but from a posture of humility, grace, and sacrificial love. This is the way of King Jesus, and it needs to be the way of the church once again.”

– Brian Fikkert, president and founder of the Chalmers Center

“In an age of political division and a shrinking Western church, Amy Sherman gives pastors, scholars, and students a comprehensive vision for equipping the saints to work toward the healing of our cities. Sherman bridges the gap from Scripture to praxis and gives readers both theological frameworks and practical examples of how our work and churches once again show our culture what the gospel looks like in the ordinary, everyday movements in our lives. I highly recommend Agents of Flourishing for anyone longing to see a reintegration of faith and work, private and public, church and city.”

– Jeff Haanen, founder and CEO of the Denver Institute for Faith & Work

Agents of Flourishing is a timely book loaded with expert guidance and amazingly practical insights for local churches (agents of God’s inbreaking kingdom) seeking the flourishing of their communities. It presents captivating examples of local churches’ engagement with six community endowments―the good (ethics), the true (knowledge), the beautiful (creativity), the just and well-ordered (political), the prosperous (economic), and the sustainable (natural environment)―as congregants carry out their priestly work of restoring shalom: rightness of relationships with God, self, others, and creation.”

– JoAnn Flett, executive director of the Center for Faithful Business at Seattle Pacific University

For more information on the publication, click here.

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: The Child’s Song: The Religious Abuse of Children

Bringing Childhood Back Home

In The Child’s Song: The Religious Abuse of Children, Donald Capps discusses the impact of legalistic, bible-bludgeoning parenting and the urgency of its injustice toward the children involved; children who will eventually grow into anxious adults. Capps begins his book by reflecting on the life and works of Swiss Psychologist Alice Miller, and then moves into discussing the abuse suffered by Saint Augustine as an example of religious trauma, as well as the “vicious cycle” of abuse that follows. From here, Capps discusses various religious sources of trauma and the long-term consequences of trauma, instilled by religious authorities who think that religion justifies abuse. Capps later will go on to discuss the parent-child relationships between Abraham and Isaac and God the Father and Jesus Christ. 

As a resolution to his exposé, Capps employs the Biblical image of the Garden drawing upon, as described on the back cover, “the same biblical tradition that has contributed to the physical and emotional abuse of children to envision and initiate the healing process.” Explosive and honest, The Child’s Song offers an alternative look at the child’s will: one to be cherished and protected, not broken by fundamentalist teachings.

Donald Capps is a professor of Pastoral Theology at Princeton. He is the author of dozens of books, including At Home in the World: A Study in Psychoanalysis, Religion, and Art, Jesus: A Psychological Biography, and A Time to Laugh: The Religion of Humor. This book was used as a topic of discussion during PLT Director Charles Marsh’s class “Anxiety: Religious and Theological Perspectives” this Fall.

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On the Lived Theology Reading List: Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling: A Reader’s Guide

Abrahamic Existentialism for the Everyday Scholar

Fear and Trembling, Soren Kierkegaard’s landmark work, is made accessible and concise to the modern scholar in Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling: A Reader’s Guide by Clare Carlisle. Kierkegaard, who sought to understand Abraham’s experience when God called him to sacrifice his son, discusses the “absurdity” of religious life in Fear and Trembling. Carlisle brings together the philosophical specificities and historical conditions of Kierkegaard’s work to present an informed commentary on Kierkegaard’s reconciliation of religious faith and ethical living. 

Carlisle places Fear and Trembling in the context of greater Christian philosophical thought, offering a holistic and thorough study of the work along with its position in the prevailing philosophies of Kierkegaard’s and our own time. She begins by discussing Kierkegaard’s influences in writing Fear and Trembling, particularly Hegelian Philosophy, the quickly evolving ‘philosophical enlightenment’ of his time, and even his tumultuous relationship with fiance Regine Olsen. Carlisle then enters into her second section, Reading the Text, where she clarifies Kierkegaard’s metaphors and terminology, walking the reader step-by-step through his argument regarding Abraham’s ethics. Finally, she concludes her book by divulging the lasting cultural impacts of Kierkegaard’s work in a section titled Reception and Influence. 

Clare Carlisle, Professor of Philosophy at King’s College, London, recently joined PLT Director Charles Marsh’s class, Anxiety: Religious and Theological Perspectives, to discuss Kierkegaard’s life and anxiety. Her lecture will be posted on the PLT website shortly ]for those interested in hearing her speak.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Clare Carlisle’s patient and probing orchestration of the many levels and the smallest details of this thrillingly complex text promises to be as illuminating for Kierkegaard scholars as it is useful for those approaching it for the first time.”

— Stephen Mulhall, of University of Oxford, UK, and author of The Ascetic Ideal: Genealogies of Life-Denial in Religion, Morality, Art, Science, and Philosophy

For more information on the publication, click here.

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