I can’t tell you how for-sure this is, since I only thought of it on Monday; however, I wanted to formally announce what I might possibly be doing post-seminary, since, as Michael and Kate know, it has been an agonizing last few weeks trying to make sense of my life. ;o) Oh, and by the way–Merry Christmas!
I was a high school senior when my family’s conservative evangelical megachurch sparked my interest in religion. As a junior dissatisfied with women’s contribution to my church, I began reading about gender roles as understood by biblical scholars and practiced in evangelical communities, birthing my interests in both biblical studies and social justice. The summer before college I read another book that would change my life: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. This history of evangelical anti-intellectualism resonated immensely with my diverse experiences in evangelical, mainline, and Catholics schools and churches, launching my quest to “figure out” my faith community and, if I chose to remain part of it, to make positive contributions to some of its weaker areas.
In college I participated in this endeavor primarily through my leadership in the chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at the University of North Carolina. As Multi-Ethnicity Team Leader, I read both practical and academic books relating to my ministry focus, taking an especially strong interest in sociological studies on multi-ethnic churches and Christians’ role–positive and negative–in ethnic relations more broadly. In this position I also served on the chapter’s Coordinating Team, the executive committee of six students working closely with two campus ministers to develop leaders, plan events, and cast vision for our various areas of ministry in a 300-person student organization. The organizational dynamics of both our chapter and InterVarsity as a national organization fascinated me, and I learned all I could about InterVarsity by developing close relationships with campus ministers at UNC and beyond, reading a book about the history of IVCF, and “studying” everything from dorm-based small groups and campus-wide events to regional conferences and national newsletters.
Originally I was interested in working for InterVarsity after college, but this dream was put on hold by the many doubts and questions I discovered in a New Testament class at UNC. Despite the ways the post-college me no longer fit the (largely true) evangelical stereotype (I was a feminist, politically liberal, and didn’t believe the Bible was inerrant), I felt I’d been formed by the evangelical world and still identified with its more moderate-to-liberal factions. I decided to take a couple years “off” from pursuing a definitive career to learn more about myself and my faith, to see if I could make evangelicalism “work.”
I chose to attend a diverse evangelical seminary in Los Angeles county, where professors shy away from pat answers to difficult questions–they don’t believe in inerrancy either–giving me the freedom to process my questions. I’ve found few answers, but in doing so, I’ve become incredibly interested in why some pockets of Christianity allow such questions and encourage intellectual curiosity, while others don’t. I’ve also been interested in how the knowledge gained from a theological education (whatever answers one “finds”) can be effectively shared within Christian communities, rather than being ignored or even hidden, as is often the case. At one point I still thought I might serve this cause in Christian ministry of some sort, but I’ve realized that’s not my passion: I’m much more excited about research and teaching.
I’m interested in pursuing a PhD in sociology because I feel like a sociologist day-in-day-out, whether I’m driving through a city or browsing a library. As reflected by my undergraduate specializations in political science and Afro-American studies, I’m fascinated by people, culture, and the systems and structures that shape our lives–both more broadly and in terms of creating in/justice. I’m increasingly interested specifically in studying sociology of religion, focusing on Christianity but also comparing trends within a variety of traditions. I want to answer questions about the two-way relationship of religion to areas like politics, education, and ethnicity, perhaps with a special emphasis on adolescence and young adulthood since these are times of religious identity formation, as well as some of the first age groups to grow up with the effects of the large demographic shifts currently taking place in the U.S.
Ultimately, I hope to join the faculty of a research university to continue my studies and encourage both critical engagement and activism in my students. I additionally would be interested in doing consulting for religious organizations to help them enhance the faith experiences of their members, especially young people, minorities of all kinds, and more educated and/or intellectual adherents, who I think all have unique needs within religious communities. I strongly believe religion can be both a positive and a negative force in society, and I am out to uncover the various roles it is playing and to understand its interactions with other forces in society.