Lillian West to Study the History of Charlottesville’s Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church

We are pleased to announce that the Project on Lived Theology (PLT) has awarded an Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship to Lillian West, a rising fourth year from Memphis, Tennessee, majoring in Religious Studies and Global Security and Justice.  

Under the academic supervision of Professor Paul Daffyd Jones, Lilly will research the history of Charlottesville’s Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church through the lens of its 1884 beginnings on Ridge Street. 

In 2003, under the leadership of pastor Dr. Alvin Edwards, Mt. Zion relocated to 105 Lankford Avenue. The historic building became home to Charlottesville’s Music Resource Center until the past year, when a new Anglican congregation called the Church of the Good Shepherd took over the lease. 

Lilly intends to study the history of Mt. Zion Baptist and the challenges of commitment to honoring its history, which is interwoven with the complexities of race and racism. She will also study the commitment that both congregations have made to community flourishing, and how they use their spaces to unite and engage community. She plans to visit the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society and UVA Special Collections, as well as the church’s archive, to examine existing historical documents to better understand Mt. Zion’s history.

Lilly plans to enter into conversation with the congregations’ respective leadership to discuss delicate, respectful, and appreciative inhabitation of prominent and powerful space. Lilly’s project will add to the Project on Lived Theology’s scholarship by gathering documents and stories from three diverse Christian communities operating for social justice and human flourishing in Charlottesville’s own Ridge St. neighborhood. She hopes to “participate in a project of unifying storytelling, which could discuss lived theology in relation to racism, the Kingdom of God, and human and community flourishing.”  

Within the UVA community, Lilly serves as a book study leader for Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). She also leads a local WyldLife ministry at Lakeside and Journey Middle Schools. Lilly hopes to pursue further education in religious studies.

 If you are interested in following along with Lilly’s reading plan this summer, here is the list: 

  • The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois 
  • Why We Can’t Wait, Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements, George Breitman and Malcolm X
  • God of the Oppressed, James Cone
  • Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldly Church, Mary McClintock Fulkerson
  • God is Red, Vine Deloria, Jr. 
  • Longing for Running Water, Ivone Gebara
  • Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation, Jennifer Harvey 

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.

Charles Marsh has a Story to Tell of Evangelical Anxiety

Mark Wingfield and Maina Mwaura wrote on PLT Director Charles Marsh’s newest book, Evangelical Anxiety, for the Baptist News Global.

“And as someone who has walked the difficult road of unraveling the unhealthy messages of a narrow-minded faith, Marsh sees one other reason for evangelical anxiety: ‘It’s time for us to really roll up our sleeves and try to make sense of what emotional and psychological purposes are being fulfilled in the way these men and women think about God and how they use their faith as a weapon.'”

The full article is available here.

Jonathan Malesic Two Short Essays

A staff meeting at The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin. Credit: Ariana Gomez for The New York Times

Jonathan Malesic recently published two short essays, an essay for Notre Dame Magazine and an op-ed in the New York Times. The first essay is about a time when he volunteered to lead a Dungeons & Dragons campaign and the similarities to teaching college classes, connecting the narrative arc to the intellectual arc. The second essay is an op-ed about op-eds, and the perception that all U.S. college students are woke and out of control liberals.

Excerpt from “It’s Not How You Play the Game” in Notre Dame Magazine: “I wonder now if my subconscious mind got me to obsess over D&D so it could show me how self-destructive my obsession was with a job that rarely gave back what I put into it. The fantasy game wasn’t an escape from my real-life problems with work. It was the dress rehearsal for leaving them behind for good.”

Excerpt from “College Students Have Something to Say. It’s Just Not What You’d Expect” in New York Times: “Reading these essays is a deeply reassuring exercise. I see hope for the future of civic life in these students who are brave (or perhaps naïve) enough to examine an issue in their community and make their best case about it in writing. They know what matters to their readers and draw on shared vocabulary and experience. At their best, these essays exhibit all that opinion writing ought to be.”

Read more about the two essays here.

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.

The 2023 Scoper lecture featuring Bryan Stevenson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – Theological Horizons, in partnership with Central Virginia Community Justice, Project on Lived Theology at UVA, and UVA Arts, is mobilizing local churches, justice organizations, student groups and community activists to welcome Equal Justice Institute Founder and New York Times bestselling author Bryan Stevenson for the 2nd annual Scoper Lecture in Christian Thought at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, March 28, 2023 in the John Paul Jones Arena.

The address, titled “Act Justly, Love Mercy: Exploring the Heart of Equal Justice,” will explore the spiritual foundations of Mr. Stevenson’s work as a pioneer in the criminal justice field addressing systemic racial injustice and working on behalf of those who have been wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced. To date, nearly 2500 of the arena’s 3800 available seats have been sold for this unprecedented event, which has also mobilized almost 50 Community Partners and Event Sponsors that represent a diverse range of local schools, faith groups, justice and community organizations.

“Bryan Stevenson is an inspiration for so many of our students, and his message of hope is so timely for our wider university community which is still grieving from the tragic shooting last fall,” said Karen Wright Marsh, Executive Director for Theological Horizons. “Seeing the way groups and individuals from across the ideological spectrum are rallying to support this event is such an encouragement that despite our painful history, differences, and divisions we can still connect around a shared desire for justice and mercy to prevail.”

Mr. Stevenson’s bestselling book, Just Mercy, recounts the story of one of his first cases in which he secured an acquittal for Walter McMillan, an African-American man sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. In 2019 the story was adapted into the box-office hit Just Mercy and the HBO documentary True Justice.

“To see this community coming together around the message of racial justice is really hopeful,” said Eddie Howard, Executive Director of Abundant Life Ministries and a member of the event’s Host Committee. “We’ve tolerated a lopsided justice system for too long, harming our most vulnerable communities. It’s time we follow Mr. Stevenson’s example and listen to what our faith has to say about caring for ‘the least of these’.”

The March 28 event is the second annual Scoper Lecture Series in Christian Thought, which brings eminent scholars to the University of Virginia to explore the breadth of Christian expression in science, medicine, culture, and the arts. The series is generously funded by UVA parent and past UVA assistant professor of ophthalmology Stephen Scoper, M.D. and his wife Nancy. Last year’s speaker was New York Times bestselling author and Duke associate professor, Kate Bowler, PhD.

“Too often, faith perspectives can be unhelpfully narrow,” Dr. Scoper said. “It’s so important we hear from people like Bryan whose inspiring work can challenge and stretch our understanding of what really matters.”

This event is open to the public. Tickets may be purchased for $8 (plus fees) via Ticketmaster at For groups of 20 or more tickets are discounted to $6/person (plus fees) or guests may purchase a livestream ticket for $4. This event will not be recorded.

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.

PLT Research Fellow to Present at Indiana University Symposium

PLT Research Fellow Emily Miller was recently accepted into Indiana University’s Undergraduate Religious Studies Association Spring Symposium for the work she conducted last summer during her internship in Lived Theology. The symposium’s central aim is interdisciplinary conversation about religion that span across the humanities—Anthropology, Area Studies, English, Comparative Literature, History, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Sociology.

At the beginning of April, Emily will travel to Indiana to present her work on Charlottesville’s two First Baptist Churches: on Main Street and Park Street, respectively. Her presentation will highlight her findings that were published as blog posts to the PLT website, including her work on Charlottesville heroes Fairfax Taylor, William Gibbons, and Lottie Moon. Two other UVA religious studies undergraduates have also been invited to speak at the symposium.

Abstract: The brainchild of President Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia’s white supremacist roots permeate subtly and not-so-subtly into the complex landscape of modern Charlottesville and Albemarle County, where the University is located. There are two First Baptist Churches in Charlottesville: Main Street and Park Street, predominantly black and white respectively. The original Charlottesville Baptist Church’s division into two in 1863 tells the larger story of the continued struggle for black freedom following Emancipation. Through a summer of archival research, visiting historic sites, and interviews with historians, clergy, and congregants, I attempted to piece together the full story of Charlottesville’s First Baptist. What I uncovered revealed the deeply spiritual nature of First Baptist on Main’s journey as an independent body toward autonomy, agency, and education. This paper presents the timeline of the establishment of First Baptist Church on Main Street, Charlottesville’s first black Baptist church, including the closely intertwined history of racism at UVA and in Charlottesville during its development. This microcosmic narrative- specifically the juxtaposition of First Baptist on Main and First Baptist on Park- is reflective also of the increasingly separated Baptist church in the United States at large: black and white. Through first-hand accounts of heroic activism, systemic inequality, and unending perseverance, this paper tells an important story of the spiritual meaning of liberation.

Emily wishes to extend profound thanks to Charles Marsh, Guy Aiken, and Jessica Seibert for their encouragement and guidance with this project.

Charles Marsh’s New Bonhoeffer Essay

“Are We Still of Any Use?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christian Witness in a Perilous Age

Christmas 1942 would find Dietrich Bonhoeffer with his family and with his best friend Eberhard Bethge. It would be their last one together. Shortly before New Year’s Day, Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his closest comrades in the Berlin conspiracy to overthrow the Hitler regime. The letter would come to be known by a name suggesting casual self-reflection: “After Ten Years: A Reckoning Made at New Years 1943”, though there is nothing casual in its intent to survey the ruins of the German nation and its apostate churches.

Reading “After Ten Years”, we meet Bonhoeffer in his last days of freedom and at the height of his intellectual powers. Promising that the future will be uncertain and that personal goals will remain unfulfilled, everything in the essay – and let’s call it that, since there is no salutation, complimentary close or other elements of a letter – rushes toward the one inescapable question: “Are we still of any use?”

Read Charles Marsh’s new essay on this essential late work.

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.

People Get Ready YouTube Conversation

People Get Ready tells the stories of twelve twentieth-century activists whose faith led them to speak prophetically and work peacefully toward justice for the marginalized.

Join us LIVE on Youtube at 6:30 EST on January 6 for a conversation with the book editors and some of the contributors to see what this book is all about and learn how some distinct people of faith have contributed to the pursuit of justice.

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: Anxiety, A Philosophical History

Bettina Bergo provides a wide-ranging and sweeping history of philosophy which details 250 years of European thought from the perspective of anxiety. Her study dives deep into the examination of present-day anxiety and its philosophical context. She explores the works of philosophers including Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Levinas, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and many other luminaries.

The author draws from historical European thought, beginning with Kant’s transcendental project, to European intellectual culture, through Romanticism and metaphysics, and to the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. She draws a connection between evolving psychoanalysis, rationalism, and formalism. Bergo shows how anxiety plays a large role in philosophy and ends up lying at the intersection of embodiment and cognition, between mind and body. She details the surprising connections between important philosophical thinkers, bringing a rich understanding to the subject of anxiety.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:


“…what stands out is [Bergo’s] capacity to inflect familiar material with uncanny resonances, without much editorial prodding. The Nietzsche we encounter here, for example, is one concerned with ‘two pairs of anxiety’: embodied pathos and reactive resentment, as well as mourning the death of God and rendering it the ‘ultimate transvaluation’ through eternal recurrence. The result is a demystified, non-reductive picture of Nietzsche that is theologically unavoidable and plausibly resonant with current conceptions of emergent consciousness. Later in the book, it is refreshing to see Husserl’s work on time consciousness and passive synthesis described so clearly and with such a suggestive eye toward the theme of affect. In Bergo’s account, we get a convincing sense both of his setting a ‘new formal groundwork for psychology,’ and of his role as a target for subsequent deformalizing dismantlings.”

—Continental Philosophy Review

“This is a remarkably detailed study, and unlike many of the large and avowed exhaustive histories of philosophy, this one makes no claim to such. Bettina Bergo does something wonderfully creative. Instead of advancing a genealogy of anxiety, she makes a double move of examining the, in fact, fear of power, the desire for liberty without responsibility, and in doing so examines the conundrums of evasion. The work is valuable as a performance of its own philosophical concerns, and for scholars interested in fresh readings of canonical figures of Euromodern continental philosophy. This is a beautifully written, extraordinarily well-researched work that should generate a stir not only among scholars researching on the history of Euromodern philosophy, but also those interested in a rich understanding of subjectivity beyond pronouncements of eradication of its mark–in a word, ‘the’ subject.'”

—Lewis Gordon, Professor and Department Head of Philosophy, University of Connecticut

For more information on the publication, click here.

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People Get Ready Book Release

Twelve Jesus-Haunted Misfits, Malcontents, and Dreamers in Pursuit of Justice
We are excited to announce the release or our newest book, People Get Ready. The book is available on January 10 and can be pre-ordered now.

From the Publisher: “Narrated by some of the most galvanizing voices of the current moment, this collection of succinct and evocative biographies tells the stories of twelve modern apostles who lived the gospel mission and unsettles what we think we know about Christianity’s role in American politics.”
“As the spiritual successor to Can I Get a Witness?, People Get Ready presents a diverse cast of twentieth-century ‘saints’ who bore witness to their faith with unapologetic advocacy for the marginalized. From novelists to musicians to scientists, these courageous men and women rose to the challenges of their times. Just so, readers will reflect on their legacies in light of the challenges of today.”

“The 12 people profiled in this fascinating collection of were indeed, as the title suggests, ready to pursue justice often against great odds. All are well served by the authors, who do not hesitate to point out flaws while celebrating their subjects’ contributions.” –Booklist

“The sharp biographical sketches affirm that faith can fuel progressive action and illuminate complexities. The stories will inspire and discomfit.” –Publishers Weekly

“I hope to take up later the subject of ‘example’ and its place in the New Testament,” Bonhoeffer wrote in one of his last letters to Eberhard. It is our hope that People Get Ready contributes towards this unfinished project.

Contributors: Jacqueline A. Bussie, Carolyn Renée Dupont, Mark R. Gornik, Jane Hong, Ann Hostetler, M. Therese Lysaught, Charles Marsh, Mallory McDuff, Ansley L. Quiros, Daniel P. Rhodes, Peter Slade, Jemar Tisby, Shea Tuttle, and Lauren F. Winner.

The book is a product of The Project on Lived Theology’s 2019/20 SILT.

Pre-order your copy here.

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.

My Evangelical Anxiety

PLT Director Charles Marsh unpacks different ways of understanding anxiety and depression from the lens of religion for his latest article in Religion & Politics.

“In those hours against unspeakable tragedy, I understood, once again, that the strongest antidote to fear is the knowledge that we are not alone.”

Read the article here.

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.