Perkins School of Theology is renowned for the depth of the scholarly training it provides. Equally impressive is the breadth.

Perkins prides itself on being an inclusive community of people sharing diverse, respected viewpoints. That’s evident in the wide array of classes offered, and the rich variety of research being done by faculty members.

From queer Bible studies to care of the poor, from immigration to the treatment of women in ministry, from promoting interfaith dialogue to preserving Christian ideals in a religiously pluralistic world, the range of topics explored at Perkins is dizzying.

School leaders say a diverse, inclusive portfolio of learning opportunities is critical to the school’s mission of training students to be effective, empathetic ministers who will serve an ever-expanding universe of Christian constituencies.

Evelyn L. Parker (M.R.E. ’91)
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

 

“The motto of Perkins is Called to Serve, Empowered to Lead,” noted Evelyn L. Parker (M.R.E. ’91), associate dean for academic affairs.

“If we are to fulfill that ideal, we must be attuned to all aspects of spiritual abundance, to the spiritual thriving of all individuals.

“An institution of learning must embrace the needs and aspirations of all people. That means we have to make space for difficult subjects, for tough conversations. We may passionately disagree, but we must invite conversation about our differences as well as the many things we have in common.”

Her own work embodies that ethos. Parker’s latest book, Between Sisters: Emancipatory Hope out of Tragic Relationships (Cascade Books, 2017) examines the difficulties that black-white, mixed-race young women encounter in dealing with women and girls of all ethnicities.

Parker, the Susanna Wesley Centennial Professor of Practical Theology, explores what she calls “the tragic mulatto myth.” An outgrowth of the “one drop rule” that originated in the Old South, the myth holds that anyone with a single drop of black blood — if it shows up in pigmentation or physical features — is “destined for a tragic end,” never fully welcome among whites or blacks.

As a counterpoint to the myth, which persisted in movies, fiction and memoirs well into the 20th century, Between Sisters offers readers, and particularly mixed-race young women, the promise of “emancipatory hope through forgiveness, femaleship, fortitude and freedom.”

Parker said diverse academic explorations are vital, alongside what may be considered more “traditional” lines of study, if Perkins students are to develop a full appreciation of John Wesley’s (and United Methodism’s) “championing of universal human dignity.”

“We live in a world that’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural,” she said. “If our students are going to be effective church leaders, they must be able to relate to the cries of pain, as well as the joys, of all people in our global society.”

A quick glimpse of recent Perkins course catalogs provides ready evidence of the school’s dedication to intellectual and theological diversity. (Note: Not all courses are taught every semester. Consult the 2018-19 roster of classes for offerings in the coming academic year.)

Parker said she’s never heard a complaint about the eclectic and, some would say, occasionally edgy subject matter. Nor would she expect to.

“We’re a community of scholars,” she said. “That’s the essence of what a university is. At Perkins, we value continuous dialogue, both within our scholarly community and in the larger community in which we all live.”

“We honor academic freedom. We encourage a rich array of scholarship, and we offer a rich array of classes, a rich array of ideas, for our students to explore. But we don’t force-feed anyone.”

“That’s the best way to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness.”

James Kang Hoon Lee