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.
“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.”
A Rich Array of Classes
Queer Bible Hermeneutics, taught by Susanne Scholz, professor of Old Testament, examines “historical, political, cultural and religious-theological discourses about gender and sexuality” in the Hebrew Bible, with emphasis on “sociocultural practices related to LGBTQ communities.”
Feminist, Womanist and Mujerista Theologies, taught by Karen Baker-Fletcher, professor of systematic theology, explores contemporary theology from women’s perspectives. (“Mujerista,” a term coined by the Cuban-born scholar Ada Maria Isasi-Díaz, refers to a theological approach grounded in the experiences and struggles of Latina feminists.)
The Theology and Ethics of 19th-Century Holiness Women is taught by Baker-Fletcher and Rebekah Miles, professor of ethics and practical theology and director of the Graduate Program in Religious Studies. The course is “an exploration of the knowledge and experience of God” in the writings of 19th-century women called to ministry, emphasizing their understanding of social justice issues.
The Poor in John Wesley’s Ethics, taught by Hugo Magallanes, associate professor of Christianity and culture, looks at Wesley’s response to the needs of the poor and other marginalized groups of his time.
Sports and Spirituality, an elective seminar taught by Mark W. Stamm, professor of Christian worship (and a passionate baseball fan), offers a theological perspective on cheating and corruption in professional and collegiate sports, racism and the obstacles that female and gay athletes face. At the same time, it celebrates the joys of playing or watching sports.
Early Christian Spirituality and the Bible, taught by James Kang Hoon Lee, assistant professor of the history of early Christianity, explores the role of mysticism in the early church, when Christian spirituality was in its formative stages.
Race Relations and the Church, taught by Harold J. Recinos, professor of church and society, addresses the experiences of black, white, Hispanic, Asian-American and Native American Christians as they interact through the church.
Ministry in the Black Church, taught by Thomas Spann, professor of supervised ministry and director of the Intern Program, looks at ways the African worldview shaped the development of American black churches, at the modern-day challenges that those churches face and at ministerial responses to pressing social issues, such as broad access to health care.
Diverse Research Pursuits
In addition to Perkins’ classroom offerings, the research pursuits of faculty reflect a diverse inclusiveness:
Abraham Smith, professor of New Testament, has studied African-American biblical hermeneutics.
Karen Baker-Fletcher writes extensively on “womanist theology,” a conceptual framework that examines religious traditions, practices and Scriptures from a perspective that emphasizes the empowerment and liberation of women of color who seek to overcome violence, oppression and prejudice based on race, class, gender or sexuality.
Robert A. Hunt, director of global theological education and of the Center for Evangelism, is a scholar of world religions, inter-religious dialogue, contemporary Muslim movements, world Christianity
and Christian identity in a pluralistic world.
Tamara Lewis, assistant professor of the history of Christianity, has researched ways Protestant doctrine was used in 16th- and 17th-century England to shape “racial ideologies” that sought to justify such practices as slavery and colonialism.
Hugo Magallanes, director of the Houston-Galveston Extension Program and associate professor of Christianity and cultures, has studied John Wesley’s views on the poor, the church’s moral responsibilities (on, among other issues, immigration) and multicultural ministries.
Harold J. Recinos counts among his areas of research expertise Latino theology and Latin American immigrants and refugees. (He’s also a published poet whose verse, one reviewer wrote, “moves readers to develop a compassionate awareness for the hopes, struggles and suffering of the most vulnerable members of society.”)
Susanne Scholz has written about feminist hermeneutics, violence against women in sacred texts and the Hebrew Bible in film.
Theodore Walker Jr., associate professor of ethics and society, has written and lectured on liberation theology, black theology, the theological ethics of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the writings of Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X.