The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology will host the 2023 Integrative Project Symposium on Thursday, June 22, when students from our MDiv and MATC programs will share the projects that serve as a capstone of their time in graduate school. With a compelling blend of research methodology and The Seattle School’s unique lens, the Integrative Projects are part of what makes our curriculum unique—born out of years of study, countless conversations with peers and faculty, and each student’s distinctive embodiment of text, soul, and culture.
At this annual symposium, The Seattle School’s alumni, current students, faculty, staff, and the Seattle community at large are invited to witness and celebrate the bold, thoughtful, and creative work of our graduating theology students, work that can be glimpsed in the abstracts below, listed in the order of presentation.
In the coming months, final drafts of each Integrative Project will be available in The Seattle School’s library after the candidate’s graduation. Videos will be added to this blog post as they become available.
Ginger Terrell, MATC 2023
Wounded Healers: Depression Among Spiritual Leaders
Spiritual leaders who lead from a place of woundedness tend to become compassionate witnesses of other people’s suffering while continuing to heal themselves. Many of these leaders suffer from self-reported or medically diagnosed depressive episodes which can often leave them feeling burned out and emotionally detached. Despite these overwhelming feelings, it is possible for spiritual leaders to find the energy to effectively participate in practices of faith, community, service, and self-care. Conversely, those benefiting from their leaders’ spiritual care can become a compassionate witness to the struggles of their leaders by entering transparent dialogue, reconciliation, and individual and community transformation.
Michele Rogers, MDiv 2023
And So We Feast! Meditations on Community, Food, and Hope
Hunger: every living creature experiences it; hunger is human, it indicates an absence, and a need to be met. Food: the substance that satisfies physical hunger; food is necessary, it is sometimes complicated, and it is a gift. Hunger and food meet in commensality, the literal practice of eating together at the table. Can this communal sharing of food meet both physical and spiritual needs, providing a place of connection to nurture our bodies and soothe our souls?
This integrative project addresses the goodness of food and sharing it in community. It will examine the need for a eucharistic community that meets around the table, the necessity of food and healthy food systems, the biblical concept of shalom, and the constructive theological task of creating space to mourn and hope. Although woundedness and weariness are part of the results of disconnection from God, others, and creation, leading to both individual and collective groaning, humans are reconnected when we see, hear, smell, and taste the shalom of God gathered around the table with food. This sacred act creates opportunities for the intertwining of food, faith, and community to hold space where we name our pains, mourn together, and look toward a future hope.
Torie Pilkington, MDiv 2023
From Separation to Connection: Life-Giving Possibilities of Alternative Spiritual Storytelling
Stories are part of the human experience. Humans tell stories for many reasons and those stories can be used to divide or unite. This paper will explore examples of how stories told and engaged in a single way can be harmful because they have the capacity to separate people from God, one another, themselves, and the Earth. Though non-exhaustive, this paper will tell common stories of a Christian viewpoint, examining their underlying motivations and detailing how these stories can be used to divide. Then, this paper will imagine alternative methods of storytelling that embrace connection and mystery, inviting the reader to engage with their own motivations. If people are to regain the connections to God, self, others, and earth, they must tell alternative spiritual stories that embrace the mystery of all that is. People can reconnect by shifting away from storytelling as currency or power play and embracing storytelling as an innately human experience meant to connect us to ourselves and everything around us.
Sonja Lund, MDiv 2023
Remembering We Are Dust: Challenging and Renewing American Protestant Theologies of Death
Death has always been with us, but in modern American society it can feel remote, its arrival coming like an intrusion into life rather than an inherent part of it. We struggle to accept our mortality and fear that which reminds us of it, leading to preoccupation with material success and marginalization of the visibly vulnerable. Meanwhile, white American Protestantism simultaneously holds that death is a great evil brought about by sin, and that death has been successfully conquered by Christ and thus should not be feared. Both of these beliefs make addressing the death of a loved one more challenging than it already is: one does not know whether to fight it with all their strength or whether they should embrace it and refuse to grieve.
This project first examines these problems in depth. I explore both Christian and secular history to understand how these present beliefs came about, and then describe the wide-ranging impacts of death denial on the world around us, from personal struggles with anxiety to ableism to the furthering of climate change. Through Scripture, Christian tradition, and psychological theory I then describe an alternative approach that is available to the American Protestant community. I argue that instead of treating death as something to fear, we can accept it as not only natural but a source of wisdom for how to live. Indeed, our spiritual wellbeing, justice for our neighbors, and the health of the planet may depend on the restoration of our relationship with death.
Philip Hayes, MATC 2023
Racism and White American Christianity: Toward a New Theological Imagination
Racism in white American Christianity represents not only a contradiction but a theological problem. This contradiction is not new to white American Christianity and has been repeatedly called out by people of color in America from colonization to the present. At its root, racism in white American Christianity stems from the conflation of Christianity and whiteness into a single, indistinguishable entity. Whiteness refers not to a particular people group but to a way of being that seeks to bring the world to its own vision of maturity and to further its own power. The joining of Christianity and whiteness has cultivated in white American Christianity a theological imagination of whiteness that guides its Christian engagement according to the goals of whiteness. This naturally predisposes white American Christianity toward racism, as it necessitates that its adherents move into whiteness as part of their Christian practice, thereby creating an assimilationist reality for people of color. If people who have been shaped by white American Christianity seek to move forward with a Christianity that does not lead into racism, a new theological imagination is needed. As a starting point, this new theological imagination must be grounded in an awareness of the importance of context and power dynamics if it is to counteract the tendency toward whiteness in white American Christianity.
Felicia Tran, MATC 2023
An Interdisciplinary Exploration Using ChatGPT for Critical Translingual Pedagogical Approaches in Theological Learning
This is a mixed methods project utilizing ChatGPT responses to select prompts, personal reflections on the writing process in text, content, and form, and the works of women and subaltern scholars as accessible building blocks for liberative theological learning. Inspired by bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, critical translingual experiences as liberative learning are examined through the essays “Grammar of Animacy” by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi) and “Bad English” by Cathy Park Hong (Korean American). The theological frame of connectedness for liberative theological learning relies on Rita Nakashima Brock’s concept of interstitial integrity (Japanese American) and Randy Woodley’s (Cherokee) observation of an ideological commonality among indigenous elders in North America that he termed the harmony way. The focus on language and learning in theological contexts through engagement with ChatGPT and the work of subaltern scholars, primarily Native American and Asian American, reflects a personal trajectory of questions regarding who and what can be considered respectable sources of academic knowledge, especially coming from hyper-invisible racialized communities. Through this project I hope to expand on liberative methods of theological learning. Woven throughout the project is the anchoring metaphor of Peter walking on water from the gospel of Matthew to illustrate the suspension of belief in an accepted reality to take the risk to follow a call toward engaging the divine.
Emily Knorr, MATC 2023
Fundamentalism as Erasure: The Implications of a Culture Committed to Certainty and an Imagination for a Different Way
Our commitment to certitude in the evangelical context and beyond blinds us to each other, erasing the fullness of others and ourselves in the process. To stay safe, certitude silos our communities, severs our ability to engage in story, and situates us in opposition to our neighbors rather than beside them. By surveying three cultural artifacts of evangelicalism spanning 1929-2014, in conversation with the work and life of Rachel Held Evans, my work studies the heritage of erasure passed down through the generations from the Scopes Trial to the present-day exvangelical movement. I intend to invite those still building a life within the Christian faith and those who have walked away to create a braver and more beautiful community than the one they left behind. Despite desiring to imagine a different way, the need for certainty often remains long after an evolution of beliefs. So how do we acknowledge our history and our biology, tend to our need for safety, and imagine a new way of belonging? Born out of my deep love for two polarized communities that seldom intersect, this integrative project seeks to unite people who otherwise may not find themselves in conversation. Part memoir, part cultural critique, and part imagination for a different kind of future, my work examines the mechanisms of certitude and the way shame is used to keep others sure, along with the price paid for a continued commitment to being right. Through three shifts in orientation; a new epistemology, a movement in posture from defense to dialogue, and an imagination for a contextual community centered around story instead of shared doctrine, I am offering that it is possible to heal our fractured relationships and offer hope to our divided world.
Beth Alford, MATC 2023
When Religion Becomes Traumatic: How Women Regain Agency, Reignite Imagination and Rewrite Their Lives After Fundamentalism
It is shocking that in the twenty-first century, women still struggle to earn the same respect, opportunities and equal treatment as men. This is particularly evident for women inside fundamentalist Christian communities where dogma, theology and fear are used to mold them into a strict model of womanhood that dictates their behavior, puts them in subordinate roles to men, and limits their opportunities This project will attend to this issue by listening to the experiences of people who were socialized as women within Christian fundamentalism and examine their stories in light of modern trauma studies. It is here that we will discover that Christianity’s long-standing problem of sexism is nothing less than violence and can be named as a type of complex PTSD known as religious trauma, which misshapes personal identity, atrophies a woman’s agency and stunts the imagination needed to create a life outside of the rigid religious context. Finally, it will offer a framework for identity reformation focused on recentering the self as the primary author of one’s life, reimagining theology that honors personhood, and rewriting their life as an act of embodied art that serves as the ultimate witness, protest and antidote for recovery.