Eating is more than a physical need. Food plays a central role in daily human existence as well as the life of faith communities. Communion, one of the most sacred rituals of the Christian faith, recalls the last meal that Jesus shared with His disciples.

“Food and Faith” will be the focus of this year’s Fall Convocation, Nov. 14-15, at the Perkins Chapel and Hughes Trigg Ballroom at SMU. Registration is now open at

Guest speakers will include Aarti Sequeira, a chef, author, producer and Food Network personality; Norman Wirzba, a Duke University professor who writes about food and theology; and Jin-Ya Huang, founder of Break Bread, Break Borders (BBBB), a social enterprise empowering refugee women.

“We’re exploring the sacredness of food, the sacredness of the experience of sharing food together, and the importance that has in faith development and in communities of faith,” said Bart Patton, Director of the Office of External Programs at Perkins.

Funding for the two-day event comes in part from the Paul Elliott and Mildred Fryar Martin Lectureship in Practical Theology, the Jackson Lectureship in Bible, the Claudia and Taylor Robinson Lectureship and the W.W. Fondren Lectureship.

The event kicks off on Monday evening, Nov. 14, with a food-themed exhibit and reception at Bridwell Library, followed by an opening lecture by Aarti Sequeira at Perkins Chapel. The program on Tuesday, Nov. 15, begins with opening worship and a session with Sequeira, followed by a book signing. Jin-Ya Huang and members of Break Bread, Break Borders (BBBB), will lead session two. For lunch, participants will enjoy a cross-cultural, buffet-style feast prepared by the women of BBBB.

Attendees can select from a slate of workshops on Tuesday afternoon, including a workshop led by Norman Wirzba and another led by organizers of Project Unity’s Together We Dine program, founded by SMU Board of Trustees and Perkins Executive Board Member Ritchie Butler. The convocation concludes Tuesday afternoon with a session led by Norman Wirzba and a brief closing reflection.

Guest speakers include:

Aarti Sequeira, a chef, author, producer and Food Network personality. Her deep knowledge of spices earned her the nickname “Spice Queen.” In addition to hosting her own show, Aarti Party, she also serves as judge on hit shows like Halloween Wars, Candy Land (hosted by Kristen Chenoweth), Luda Can’t Cook (featuring Ludacris), Guy’s Grocery Games, Supermarket Stakeout and Christmas Cookie Challenge. Her nationally syndicated column for the Associated Press entitled “World’s Fare” taught readers how to use ingredients from the international aisle in simple, weeknight dishes. She also voices the animated character of Chef Shobha in Disney Jr.’s, Mira, The Royal Detective. A gifted writer, Aarti published her first cookbook, Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul in 2014.

“I’m a foodie and a fan of Food TV and the Food Network,” said Patton. “I learned about Aarti’s recipes through her TV show. I was thrilled to discover that her most recent cookbooks include devotions, because cooking and food are important to her and to her faith story.”

Norman Wirzba, Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Christian Theology and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute of Ethics at Duke University. He pursues research and teaching interests at the intersections of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies. He lectures frequently in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Wirzba’s research is centered on a recovery of the doctrine of creation and a restatement of humanity in terms of its creaturely life. As director of the multi-year, Henry Luce-Foundation-funded projected “Facing the Anthropocene,” he is working with an international team of scholars to rethink several academic disciplines in light of challenges like climate change, food insecurity, biotechnology and genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, species extinction, and the built environment.

“Norman has published several books on the theology of food, eating and sustainability,” Patton said. “He represents the current theological thinking about what we eat, how we eat and where our food comes from. Many experts can address the science of ecological equity, but Norman speaks to what that means from the Christian theological perspective – from the fields where our food is grown to our experience of sitting together at the table.”

Jin-Ya Huang is a social impact, community development, and creative innovator with a focus on the intersection of equity, design, and social justice work. She is the founder of Break Bread, Break Borders (BBBB), a social enterprise empowering refugee women economically through the storytelling of food and culture. She honed expertise in sustainable global supply chain while working in marketing for Fossil Group, JCPenney, Neiman Marcus, and Keurig Dr Pepper. She is also an acclaimed interdisciplinary artist and writer whose work has been featured in galleries and at the Bush Institute, Dallas Innovates, Amon Carter Art Museum, Texas Lyceum, Slow Food USA, Toyota of North America, Airbnb International, the Today Show and NPR Morning Edition.  TIME Magazine highlighted Huang as a Community Bridge Builder Across America.

“We had the chance to meet Jin-Ya and to taste the food prepared by the women of Break Bread, Break Borders during our Art of Resilience conference here at Perkins in 2019,” Patton said. “She and her team bring a multifaith approach to their work.” Refugee women participating in the program are partnering with various community hubs to prepare food and share their stories–including The Mix, a commercial kitchen connected with White Rock United Methodist Church in Dallas.

“If you’ve ever been part of a mission trip or traveled internationally, you know how important it is to experience food you may have never seen or tasted,” Patton said. “Food plays such an important role in sharing stories and learning about other cultures, perspectives and stories.