Graduate Theological Union


by Arthur Holder (December 2012 Dean's Newsletter)

Every year on the weekend before Thanksgiving, several thousand scholars of religion gather for the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. When this event took place in Chicago last month, the GTU was as usual well represented. These two scholarly organizations are by no means the only ones that attract people from the GTU, but they probably do cover the widest range of disciplines and fields within theology and religious studies.

The AAR/SBL program book listed at least 32 appearances by members of our faculty, 20 by current students, and 75 by graduates. Many more of us were there to hear the papers, browse the book exhibits, attend business meetings, and work the scholarly networks. Some of our doctoral students were interviewing for jobs in the Employment Center. A highlight of the meeting was the GTU Graduate Reception on Saturday evening where we recognized the 2012 Alumna of the Year Kristen Johnston Largen (Theology Ph.D., 2002) who teaches at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, PA and has recently published Baby Krishna, Infant Christ:  A Comparative Theology of Salvation (Orbis, 2011).

GTU folks have frequently served in leadership positions within these organizations and their affiliates. The GTU’s first dean was Sherman Johnson (then president and dean of CDSP) who served a term as president of SBL. All of my predecessors as dean have been elected president of the AAR: John Dillenberger, Claude Welch, Judith Berling, and Margaret Miles. Our current president Jim Donahue is just finishing a term on the Theological Education Committee for AAR, and I have been appointed to take his place in that group along with our alumna Julia Watts Belser (Jewish Studies Ph.D., 2008). There are many, many others who could be named if space permitted, but I should at least mention our 2005 Alumna of the Year Laurie Zoloth (Ethics Ph.D., 1993 and Professor of Medical Humanities & Bioethics and Religion at Northwestern University) who has been elected to serve as president of the AAR in 2015.

Whenever faculty are being evaluated, the usual categories are teaching, research, and service. At the GTU, “service” is understood to include service to the institution, to the religious communities we represent, to the wider public, and to the academy. There are of course many ways of serving the academy, but active participation in scholarly professional organizations is one of the most important. Through the AAR, SBL, and other such groups, we at the GTU are connected with scholars all over the country and all around the world. We could not do the work we do without these organizations, so it is good when we are able to give something in return.