Kayko Driedger Hesslein’s daily life is both multicultural and multireligious: she is Canadian of Japanese and German descent and Lutheran. Her husband is both American and Jewish. Her two children have inherited all of these identities. Both as a pastor and as someone diving more deeply into theology, she has been trying to develop a language that explained her and her family’s multiplicious identities on a theological level.
Daeseop Yi is a Ph.D. candidate who hails from South Korea. He came to study at San Francisco Theological Seminary in 2004 in the Doctor of Ministry program. During his program, he discerned a desire to study more deeply about how transformation within the spiritual process occurs. With this focus he entered the Ph.D. program. “While I was doing coursework in the Christian Spirituality Area, we had to study a religion and a discipline in addition to Christianity.” He became fascinated with Buddhism, he focused on comparing Christian and Buddhist traditions. “I realized that I had been living, integrating, and adopting Buddhist and other Indigenous practices, but studying in an academic way made it really interesting for me.”
Courtney Bruntz came to the GTU unsure of exactly what direction she would take. “At that point I was really interested in interreligious work, but thought at some point I would focus solely on Buddhism and the religions of Asia. GTU was a really good place to start that process because of all the different member schools and centers of distinction.” Bruntz’s journey beyond her Lutheran upbringing in Nebraska began at the age of 19 when her sister got married. Her brother-in-law is a third generation Japanese American. She recalls that her brother-in-law’s grandmother kept initiating conversations on the wedding being interreligious and intercultural. “I hadn’t thought about the intersection of two cultures and faith traditions until then. That experience shaped my initial years at college.”
Each year the Graduate Theological Union recognizes a group of doctoral students as Newhall Scholars, providing the opportunity to work collaboratively with core faculty to develop and teach new courses, lead research, and expand the boundaries of innovative scholarship. This year 23 scholars will present a broad spectrum of topics, including religious conversion theories, Asian American congregational identities, new media in worship, and the moral status of animals. These fellowships were made possible through the generosity of Jane Newhall, a Trustee Emerita and longtime friend of the GTU.
“I believe imagination is the central part of our identity as humans, our belief system, and how we conceive of God.”
So says Graduate Theological Union 2007-2008 Newhall Scholar Jennifer (Jenny) Veninga, who will teach a course next spring under the supervision of Dr. George Greiner, on the relevancy of 19th century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s existentialist thought in the 21st century. “Theology,” Veninga says, “can emerge in the imagination. Kierkegaard wrote extensively about imagination, the media, and religious thought, but this work is seldom discussed among scholars.”