Graduate Theological Union

Alumni Then and Now

GTU Alumni speak about how their GTU experience has influenced their life's work

Alumni Then and Now

Bernard Adeney-RisakottaDr. Bernard Adeney-Risakotta (Ph.D. 1982) is Director of the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), the first cooperative interreligious Ph.D. program in Indonesia. He received the GTU 2007 Alum of the Year award for his outstanding work in the field of religion. Here he talks about his interfaith journey.

Early Years
I grew up in China, Chicago, Hong Kong, Indianapolis, and Taiwan in a family of devout Christian evangelical missionaries. My English father was a historian from Cambridge and something of a genuine saint. My mother, who came from a Baptist farming family in Minnesota, did her best to mold me into a properly pious evangelical. After many failed attempts to live up to my own idealized understanding of what it means to follow Jesus, I finally gave it up and became a rebellious, mystical, agnostic existentialist while attending a missionary boarding school in Taiwan. Shortly before graduating from high school, I had a profound spiritual experience that led to a new commitment to learn to live like a follower of Jesus.

GTU Years
After completing a degree in Asian studies and English literature at the University of Wisconsin, I spent some years traveling and studying in Europe and Asia, and eventually earned a second degree in theology, ethics, and Asian religions at the University of London. Then I came to Berkeley to work with the Christian World Liberation Front, a kind of wild Jesus movement group. Along the way I took a GTU course taught by Jurgen Moltmann, and Charles McCoy convinced me to apply to the GTU Ph.D. program. My passion was to learn to understand violence and conflict as they related to religion and nuclear technology. Many scholars at the GTU inspired me. Tom Schubeck introduced me to liberation theology. Bill Spohn, John C. Bennet, and Robert McAfee Brown challenged me to think critically about Christianity and politics. Karen Lebacqz was my mentor. As her teaching assistant, I watched with amazement her brilliance in teasing students into real thought.

"I love to break down stereotypes and prejudices, and help people talk to each other across seemingly irreconcilable assumptions."

Bringing GTU lessons to Indonesia
I spent several years as a professor at New College for Advanced Christian Studies at Berkeley (NCB) and the GTU. After a sabbatical year in Asia and England, I left NCB and the GTU to help develop a graduate program in religion and society at a Christian university in Indonesia. I expected to be in Indonesia for three to six years. Seventeen years later I am still teaching and learning here. After helping to develop graduate programs in Christian universities, I spent several years teaching in predominantly Muslim institutions. Now I am coordinating the efforts of leading national, Muslim, and Christian universities to jointly develop an international Ph.D. program in religious studies. Indonesia may be the only place in the world where secular, Muslim and Christian universities can jointly sponsor a doctoral program in religious studies. During these past years, I witnessed the huge transformations of Indonesian society as a result of the fall of Suharto’s authoritarian government.

This is what I know now —
I love learning from those of other faiths. I love to see the light in my Muslim neighbors. Our path is not so dark because we walk together. I love to break down stereotypes and prejudices, and help people talk to each other across seemingly irreconcilable assumptions. The GTU taught me that it is much more fun to talk with people who are different than I am than to argue with those who are the same. I want to keep learning and changing as long as I live.

For more information about Adeney-Risakotta's work: email alumni@gtu.edu.