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Sep  2011 14
Religion & Faith Institute for LGBT Community

In 2010 the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) launched an annual institute as a part of their Religion and Faith program to gather budding religious scholars and theologians interested in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) studies for a week of conversation and mentorship.  (I first heard about the institute from a former PTS student who attended the 2010 Institute and is now in doctoral studies at Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Chicago.)  Through an application process that included submitting a writing sample, statement of purpose and three recommendation letters myself and 15 other master’s or doctoral students from around the country were selected to participate in the 2011 Institute, held during the first week in August on the Vanderbilt campus in Nashville.  We gathered with mentors and a list of notable speakers to work through what it means to build coalition as we join the discourses on theology, ethics, politics, activism, etc.  It was an awesome experience. We hailed from places as diverse as our research interests.  There were students from the across the country (and even one from Europe) and from many different schools (Harvard, Yale, Loyola, Drew, and Brite Divinity, Vanderbilt, UNC-Chapel Hill, Temple, Chicago Theological, Claremont, Lancaster Theological, and Catholic Univ., Louvain).  We also spent time with various scholars.

As wonderful as it was to meet new faces with a similar passion for scholarship and activism, it was the many and deep conversations that are most memorable.  Conversations ranged from the implicit exclusionary nature of the acronym LGBT, what we mean when we use the term “queer” and the baggage that comes along with it, the intersections of identity and the nuance of how we experience privilege, and even how sex becomes a model for the public experience of each other and the divine.  The conversations were at times confrontational (though never heated with malice) and at times highly emotional (once again I was the token basket case).  What these conversations did was remind me that there are people in the academy that care as deeply about social justice and breaking down systems of oppression as I do.  I always believed that in my head, but now I am sure of it in my heart.  And that may have been the biggest take away from my week with those 15 amazing students; that we are unwilling to sacrifice the passions of our hearts in order to conform to the sometimes overly analytical models of the academic world.  We can be academically rigorous while holding on to the passion for change that prompted us to higher education to begin with.  We can be great scholars and not sacrifice our desire for activism.  Most of all we can push the limits of theology and what it means to “know” god and we can do that knowing that we are not alone in our journey.  The influence and effect of that week on me and my scholarship will not soon fade.

You can visit the Institutes website here: www.hrc.org/seminaryscholarship

Browse more posts by: Jared Vazquez, Phillips Student
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