28 May–Aaron Hollander

The Theology Workshop is pleased to be co-sponsoring, with the Late Antiquity & Byzantium Workshop, a presentation by Aaron Hollander, PhD student in Theology. The paper is entitled “Paradox and Wonder: The Catastrophic Holiness of Saint Symeon the Fool, and will be submitted as the orals statement for Aaron’s qualifying examination in the Autumn.

Tuesday, May 28th * 4:30 – 6:00 pm * Cochrane-Woods Arts Center, Room 152

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21 May–Jean-Luc Marion & Paul Mendes-Flohr

The Theology Workshop warmly invites you to participate in the capstone event of our spring quarter sequence, “Imagining Evil.” Professor Jean-Luc Marion and Professor Paul Mendes-Flohr, distinguished members of the Divinity School faculty, will join us to lead a dialogue on “the logic of evil” in modernity.

Tuesday, May 21st

4:30-6:00 pm (with reception to follow)

Swift Hall Common Room (first floor)

Marion: Evil begins with experiences of injury and injustice, then leads either to revenge or to resentment. So it is more about my own identity than the other. Its logic leads eventually to ideological or physical suicide.

Mendes-Flohr: Jean-Luc Marion’s meditation on “the logic of evil” seems to call into question the prophetic injunction to transcend our personal suffering and identify compassionately with that of the disinherited members of society, and to “Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). But what empowers the prophetic ethos? Certainly it is not a mere altruistic consciousness, or a version of the Kantian ethical imperative. Our readiness to heed the prophetic calling, as Marion suggests, is often crippled by personal woe, ressentiment, and the anguish engendered by the witness to the enormity of the evil that surrounds us—captured by reference to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Biafra, and 9/11. Perhaps one may take counsel from the biblical and rabbinic authors who acknowledge that the prophetic ethos alone is insufficient, for it is to be animated by the divine pathos.

This event is free and open to the public. No advance preparation is expected of participants. Persons with a disability who would request assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at athollander@uchicago.edu.

14 May–Ekaterina Lomperis

Please join the Theology Workshop for the next in our series of discussions on “Imagining Evil,” on Tuesday, May 14th, 12:00-1:30 pm, in Swift 200. Ekaterina Lomperis, PhD student in Theology, will present her upcoming conference paper, entitled “Faithful Medics, Faithful Patients:  Non-Idolatrous Health Care in Martin Luther’s Theological Writings.” Tim Hiller, PhD candidate in Theology, will respond. Lunch will be served.


Is there a religiously appropriate way for a Christian medical caretaker to conceive of her work of helping others heal?  Does her offering preventative care or human-designed medical intervention to help sick Christians signify the lack of trust on part of both the doctor and the patient in God’s benevolence and healing power?  What are the ultimate ends towards which Christian medical care should be practiced?  The paper examines theological responses to these concerns as found in the works of Martin Luther. Informed by his perpetual worry about idolatry in Christian living and humans’ susceptibility to the deceits of the Devil, Luther’s theology of medical care addresses the proper regard of sickness by both patients and caretakers, affirmative view of medical care, and Christian doctors’ due understanding of their work as a self-sacrificial rather than gainful service.  Yet Luther’s ultimate concern was with the doctor and the patient’s internal dispositions towards the enterprise of healing rather than with external actions of curing.  For Luther, maintaining an attitude of hope in God alone, and withstanding the temptation of alternatively putting one’s trust in the effectiveness of medical science, while offering and receiving medical care, is a matter of greater importance than the material outcome of medical intervention.  Otherwise, both the healer and the healed risk falling into the trap of dangerous idolatries of self-reliance and the foolish lust for wellbeing.  My paper will demonstrate that such spiritual dangers, in a world deadly stricken by sin, are, for Luther, graver threats than the harm of physical sickness.

No preparation is expected of workshop participants. Persons with a disability who would request assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at athollander@uchicago.edu.

8 May–Denys Turner

Please join the Theology Workshop for the second event in a series co-hosted with the Alternative Epistemologies initiative, as we welcome Denys Turner, Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology and Professor of Religion at Yale University, to explore the necessity and fertility of “failure” in intellectual endeavors.



(+ social hour 6-7pm) 

Swift Lecture Hall, 3rd floor

Denys Turner
“How to Fail”

Denys Turner, Professor of Historical Theology at Yale University, will give a semi-autobiographical account of his personal and intellectual journey from social and political thought as a graduate student at Oxford where he wrote a doctoral dissertation on issues of moral psychology, particularly on the so-called problem of ‘moral weakness’ (Aristotle’s akrasia), and early professorships in philosophy, to becoming a professor, author and expert on medieval theology and mysticism.

He has called his paper “How to Fail” — an important skill, since we all do it! — and will discuss how the personal and the intellectual weave together and how the academic life often displaces the contemplative life, and in so doing, forgets itself. Turner will suggest that it is the ability to fail that gives life to our words and keeps us from producing what Hopkins calls the “competent tedium” of those who don’t know how to fail.

His recent books: Julian of Norwich, Theologian, and Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait. Other works include: The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism and Eros and Allegory: Medieval Exegesis of the Songs of Songs. 


Alternative Epistemologies is a student-led initiative at the University of Chicago Divinity School inspired by the idea we are impoverished as human beings and scholars by our tendency to forget or devalue ways of knowing other than the cerebral. We hope to provide a public space for conversations about “other ways of knowing,” as well as about how discursive knowing and articulating might be enriched, expanded, deepened and illuminated by other ways of knowing.




18 April–Matthew Vanderpoel

Please join the Theology Workshop for our first regular presentation of our spring quarter theme, “Imagining Evil.” Matt Vanderpoel, PhD Student in History of Christianity, will present on Augustinian exegesis and medieval demonology. Kyle Rader, PhD Candidate in Theology, will respond.

Thursday, April 18th
12:00 – 1:30 pm
Swift 208


Augustine, over the course of his Genesis commentaries, explicitly develops the devil as the antitype for proper exegesis. Thus, as his exegetical strategies and prescriptions change in the Literal Commentary, the devil becomes radically effaced. This interpretation is transmitted throughout the Middle Ages, but it is substantively explored by Hugh of St. Victor and the Lombard in the 12th century. As they continue the process of reading the devil out of Genesis, nonetheless, they mitigate the distance between the diabolic and the human. This will be tentatively interrogated as a possible source for and influence on the resurgence of demonology in the 13th and 14th centuries.

A light lunch will be served. No preparation is expected of workshop attendees. Persons with a disability who would request assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at athollander@uchicago.edu.


Spring 2013: Imagining Evil

This quarter, the Theology Workshop is inviting conversation on the ways that “evil” is conceived, characterized or personified, ascribed to selves and others, resisted, and deconstructed both by first-order religious practices or discourses and by the analytical disciplines attending to them. The category of evil (here, inclusive of relatable terms from various cultures) is among the most elementary centers of gravity for theological inquiry and response. Accounts of the generation of the cosmos and of human nature and societies often reckon with the felt presence of evil entities and perverse forms of understanding. How religious practices and discourses construe evil—attending to its causes, repositories, ritual or artistic significance, and corrosive powers, as well as the means for subduing it—has very real social, political, and religious consequences.
Over the course of the quarter, then, we aim to inspire a conversation that examines the category of evil as an arena in which religious imagination, ethical motivation, and communal dynamics are constantly colliding and conditioning one another. We invite submissions of work in progress, which explore or expand the theme of “Imagining Evil.” These might include, but are in no way limited to, discussion of issues such as:
•                Names for evil(s); defining the terms and envisioning the stakes;
•                The lexicon, logic, metaphor, and rhetoric for describing evil in a religious literature;  imagining a world or taking a religious position “beyond good and evil”;
•                The representation of evil beings, places, or practices in non-textual media (painting, film, music, dance, shrines, etc.); evil and aesthetics;
•                Ritual reckoning with evil (e.g. sacrifice, penance, exorcism, warding, blessing);
•                The relation between conceptions of evil and understandings of death, suffering, ignorance, or tragedy;
•                Problems with theodicy; constructive offerings in theodicy;
•                The being or nonbeing of evil; evil as personal/personified or impersonal; the damnation, transformation, reformation, or redemption of participants in evil;
•                Ascription of evil to others, or depiction of evil with the characteristics of others; religious violence and justifications for violence; the invocation of evil in political discourse and institutions;
•                Fascination with or possession by evil; the attractiveness or seductiveness of evil
•                Horror as a religious category; mythological or ethical monsters
•                Evil as an academic concern; when is it a useful or non-useful category, and for which disciplines?

10 April–Emilie Townes

The Theology Workshop is delighted to launch our spring quarter programming by joining forces with Alternative Epistemologies, a student-led initiative inspired by the idea that we are impoverished as human beings and scholars by our tendency to forget or devalue ways of knowing other than the cerebral. It hopes to provide a public space for conversations about “other ways of knowing,” as well as how discursive knowing and articulating might be enriched, expanded, deepened and illuminated by other ways of knowing. Their inaugural event, doubling as the kickoff to our spring quarter workshop theme of “Imagining Evil, will be:

Dr. Emilie Townes (Incoming Dean, Vanderbilt Divinity School) 

“The Womanist Dancing Mind”

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10 * 4:30-6pm (+ social hour 6-7 pm) * Swift Lecture Hall, Third FloorPreeminent womanist ethicist, former president of the AAR, and current president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion, Dr. Emilie Townes will speak on womanist epistemology, drawing from the first chapter of her book Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil, in which she sets the epistemological premises for her ethical arguments.This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disability who would request assistance, please contact Elena in advance at elloydsidle@uchicago.edu. 


**Stay tuned for details on the first regular Theology Workshop this spring, which will be a presentation by Matt Vanderpoel, PhD Student in History of Christianity, on Augustinian exegesis and medieval demonology: Thursday, April 18, 12:00-1:30 pm.**

14 March–Wendy Doniger

Please join the Theology Workshop for the capstone event of our Winter quarter theme, “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religions,” as we welcome Professor Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought, and the College.

Thursday, March 14th * 4:30 – 6:00 pm * Swift 106

“God’s Body, or, the Lingam Made Flesh”

A dispute about the symbolism of the lingam (or linga), a cylindrical votary object that represents the Hindu god Shiva, has been going on for many centuries in India:  is its meaning inexorably tied to a particular part of the physical body of the god, or is it abstract, purely spiritual? This presentation will trace the history of this dispute.  Present-day Hindu sensibilities about the lingam will be illuminated by a consideration of the historical role of two non-Hindu cultures in India–Muslim and British.  Underlying this particular debate is the more general problem of the ambiguity of the symbolism, particularly the religious symbolism, of the body and of forms that represent the body.

Aaron Hollander, PhD Student in Theology, will respond.

This event is free and open to the public. No preparation is expected of participants. Persons with a disability who would request assistance, please contact Mary Emily in advance at maryemilyduba@uchicago.edu.


25 February–Kelli Gardner

Monday, February 25th
4:30-6:00 pm
Swift 201

The Theology Workshop and the Hebrew Bible Workshop warmly invite you to a joint session that continues this quarter’s “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religion” series. Kelli Gardner, PhD Student in Hebrew Bible, will present her work: “‘Drink Water from Your Own Cistern’: Images of Female Sexuality and Autonomy in Proverbs and the Song of Songs.” Kristel Clayville, PhD Candidate in Ethics, will respond and kick off the interdisciplinary discussion.

Proverbs 1-9, 31, and the Song of Songs reflect an analogous understanding of proper female behavior and authority, and establish similar regulations and controls over female sexuality.  However, due to their divergent agendas and perspectives, these are presented differently.  Proverbs uses the image of the Strange Woman to demonstrate the evils of promiscuous women, while presenting one’s own wife as a satisfying and fertile lover.  By borrowing tropes depicting female sexuality from the Song of Songs, Proverbs is able to present the dual nature of the Strange Woman – seductive but dangerous – while reminding participants its audience of the utter satisfaction one can have in one’s own wife.  Thus, Proverbs artfully reinforces the social conventions regarding female sexuality by advising its male audience to drink only from one’s own cistern!

No preparation is expected of participants. Delicious refreshments will be served, all thematically linked to the sensual cornucopia of Hebrew sacred literature…

Persons with disabilities who would like assistance, please contact Aaron in advance at athollander@uchicago.edu.

14 February–Pedagogy and Embodiment

The Theology Workshop welcomes Prof. Kristine Culp, Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of the Disciples Divinity House, Prof. Jeffrey Stackert, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible, and Rev. Cynthia Lindner, Director of Ministry Studies and Clinical Faculty for Preaching and Pastoral Care, to reflect on their own experiences and best practices for creating classroom cultures and environments that intentionally honor the body as a constitutive part of human being, knowing, and learning.

All are invited to join our panelists in wrestling with such questions as: How can teachers use their own embodied presence in the classroom–and the embodied presences of their students–to deepen and inflect learning?  What kinds of pedagogical practices work to unveil and dismantle oppressions in the classroom that silence or privilege certain embodied experiences?  How can existing structures with which bodies may be at odds–physical space, institutional culture–be shifted, challenged, or named in order to create an academic space where bodies are not something to be overcome or sidelined, but to be held in integrity with all dimensions of the life of scholarly inquiry?

Thursday, February 14
4:30 – 6:00 pm
Swift 106
This workshop is programmed through the Divinity School’s Craft of Teaching initiative, and counts towards the fulfillment of Craft of Teaching certification requirements.
No preparation is expected of participants. Persons with a disability who would like assistance, please contact Aaron  in advance at athollander@uchicago.edu.

9 February–Theology Movie Night: Babette’s Feast

Ready for a relaxing break from work that you can still chalk up to academic edification? Never fear: the Theology Workshop & Club warmly invite you to a social gathering and movie night, with a film that contributes to this quarter’s investigation of “Embodiment, Sexuality, and Religion,” with plenty of delicious food and drink to accompany it.

“Babette’s Feast” & DSA Social (guests welcome!)
Saturday, February 9
6:00 PM
Brent House (5540 S. Woodlawn)

Come for the food, brews, & classic film; stay if you choose for some casual conversation on the religious significance of Eating, Drinking, Embodiment, & Whatnot in the company of your fellows who are regularly involved in all four.

Babette’s Feast:

The elderly and pious Christian sisters Martine and Philippa live in a small village on the remote western coast of 19th-century Denmark. Their father was a pastor who founded his own Christian sect. With their father now dead, and the sect drawing no new converts, the aging sisters preside over their dwindling congregation of white-haired believers. But all will change when Babette Hersant, a refugee from counter-revolutionary bloodshed in Paris, appears at their door. The sisters take Babette in, and she serves as their maid and cook for the next fourteen years. Her only link to her former life is a lottery ticket that a friend in Paris renews for her every year. One day, she wins the lottery of 10,000 francs. Instead of using the money to return to Paris and her lost lifestyle, she decides to spend it preparing a magnificent dinner for the sisters and their small congregation. More than just a feast, the meal is an outpouring of Babette’s appreciation, an act of self-sacrifice; Babette tells no one that she is spending her entire winnings on the meal.

As the various never-before-seen ingredients arrive, and preparations commence, the sisters begin to worry that the meal will become a great sin of sensual luxury, if not some form of devilry. In a hasty conference, the sisters and the congregation agree to eat the meal, but to forego speaking of any pleasure in it, and to make no mention of the food during the entire dinner. Although at first they refuse to comment on the earthly pleasures of their meal, Babette’s gifts begin to break down their distrust. Old wrongs are forgotten, lost loves are rekindled, and human carnality and spirituality are themselves reconciled at the table.