Academic Research

Publications

"Learning How to Read: How Rabbinics Aids in the Study of Contemporary Christian Practices," is a forthcoming publication in Religious Studies and Rabbinics, (Eds. Dr. Elizabeth Shanks Alexander and Dr. Beth Berkowitz) by Routledge, February 2017.

"Lady, Give Me A Drink’: Reading Scripture, Shaping Community Development," in Mobilizing for the Common Good: The Lived Theology of John M. Perkins, University Press of Mississippi (2013).

Conference Papers

“Do Scripture-Reading Practices Matter?: A Case for Reading Lived Theology, ”Huskey Research Exhibition, University of Virginia. March 23, 2016.

“Proclaiming the Victory of God in Christ by the Power of the Holy Spirit: Entextualizing Beloved Community through the Preaching of Pentecost,” Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR) in Atlanta, GA. March 4-6, 2016.

"'One Bread, One Body': Singing Reconciliation into Reality," The Ways of Knowing: Graduate Conference on Religion at Harvard Divinity School, Panel: Religion & Crisis 2: Race, Racism, and Religious Anti-Racist Activism in Contemporary Contexts, October 2015.

“Twisted Scriptural Tokens: The Bible According to Jerry Falwell, ” Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR) conference in Atlanta, GA, March 2012.

“Beyond Anarchy: Implicit Patterns and Interdisciplinary Methodology,” presented at 10th International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities, Montreal, Canada, June 2012.

“African-American Hermeneutics as a Case Study for Community-Situated Postliberal Theology.” Confessional Commitments in Pluralistic Publics: Virginia Graduate Colloquium in Theology, Ethics & Culture, University of Virginia. April 15-16, 2011.

“Subverting the Status Quo Through Celebration: The Feast of the Fatted Calf in Luke 15,” paper presentation at the South-Central Conference on Christianity and Literature in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 2011.

Comprehensive Exams

Modern Theological and Religious Thought (Christianity)

Hebrew Bible and Rabbinics

Patristic Scriptural Interpretation

Practice (Paper): "Pitfalls and Possibilities in the Study of Scripture-Reading in Contemporary Christian Settings: A Christian Ethnographic approach to Biblicism"

Special Topics in Scripture, Interpretation and Practice (Paper): "Learning How to Read: How Rabbinics Aids in the Study of Contemporary Christian Practices"

Scriptural Languages: Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek

Modern Languages: French and Spanish

Coursework Selections

African-Americans and the Bible, taught by Valerie Cooper

Charles Peirce and Paul Ricoeur on Script, Text and Scripture, taught by Peter Ochs and Larry Bouchard

Ethics and Theology of the Rabbis, taught by Elizabeth Shanks Alexander

Ethnographic Methods in American Religions, taught by Matthew Hedstrom

Feasting, Fasting and Faith, taught by Vanessa Ochs

Independent Studies in Classical and Modern Islam, taught by Ahmed H. al-Rahim

Independent Study in Scriptural Logics: Diagramming Performances of Scripture, taught by Scott Yakimow and Peter Ochs

Pentecostalism, taught by Valerie Cooper

Religion and Culture of the Rabbis, taught by Elizabeth Shanks Alexander

Digital Media & Online Publishing, taught by Jane Friedman

Cambridge Inter-faith Summer Programme, Summer 2011

The Cambridge Inter-faith Programme Summer School gathers emerging religious leaders from around the world to study, discover, and live alongside one another in a stunning University of Cambridge location.For more information about the CIP Summer Programme at Cambridge University, click here.

"One Bread, One Body," Beloved Community in Multicultural Contexts

The Lived Theology of Pastor Miguel Balderas

Rev. Dr. Miguel Balderas - being interviewed

Conducting interviews with Rev. Dr. Miguel Balderas in Rockville, Maryland.

The findings of a recent study in the journal Sociology of Religion suggest “multiracial congregations (1) leave dominant White racial frames unchallenged, potentially influencing minority attendees to embrace such frames and/or (2) attract racial minorities who are more likely to embrace those frames in the first place.”[1]  We must ask, then, if multiracial congregations do not challenge societal structures of racial inequality, are they helping to maintain or shore up such structures even as demographics shift away from a White majority population in the United States?

This project uses the methodology I term “hermeneutical ethnography” to explore and articulate the lived theology of one Latino Elder in the United Methodist Church in Rockville, Maryland, who has extensive experience in moving congregations toward their vision to become multicultural. I use the word “multicultural” instead of the standard sociological term “multiracial” because, for Pastor Miguel, “multiracial” signals an assimilationist process (reflected in the sociological findings mentioned above), while the goal of a “multicultural” process is the cultivation of God’s form of social organization, best understood through the concept of Beloved Community. Beloved Community is a concept developed philosophically by Josiah Royce at the end of the 19th century that was then adapted and popularized by Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. It refers to an ideal community where God’s perfection is the organizing principle, and for King this signified a permanent end to segregation and the realization of complete racial reconciliation. In Pastor Miguel’s context, Beloved Community is realized when congregants are unified as disciples of Jesus Christ while their cultural identities are not erased. Instead of engaging in processes of integration or assimilation, mutual relationships between persons of diverse backgrounds and cultures are cultivated.

Hermeneutical ethnography is a method that combines ethnographic methods (such as participant observation and conducting interviews of informants) utilized in anthropology and increasingly in sociology with hermeneutical tools (such as James Kugel's method of “reverse engineering” and Daniel Boyarin’s examination of “intertextuality”) traditionally used to analyze ancient scriptural commentary.[2] In Parts I-III of my dissertation I utilize this method to describe and analyze three modes of hermeneutical acts that Pastor Miguel consistently engages in: 1) preaching sermons in non-standard English; 2) subtly crafting liturgical structures in worship; and 3) modeling and empowering cross-cultural leadership. I will demonstrate that through these hermeneutical acts, Pastor Miguel is endeavoring to rewrite cultural habits using scripture through a process of “entextualization.”[3] The process of entextualizing Beloved Community has as its purpose the unification of a diverse set of people around a single faith in Jesus Christ where the richness of such diversity is engaged relationally through intimate cultural exchange found in shared meals, team leadership, and a collaborative approach to ministry.

In Pastor Miguel’s current congregation there are signs of transformation, but it is not yet multicultural. Many of the long-term members of the congregation are more comfortable with assimilationist tendencies. In his church and others like it, the tendency of most parishioners is to equate an “International Day” model of cross-cultural interaction with multiculturalism. Therefore this project also uncovers the slow, and at times seemingly fruitless, venture of re-training the ingrained cultural habits of parishioners uninterested in, or even opposed to, any structural change in their congregation. For Pastor Miguel’s part, he believes Beloved Community is possible here and now. First, he contends that the leaders of the church must represent the demographics of the church and surrounding community with power being shared through mutual exchanges within team-work based structures; second, “se come la comida de todos,” which may be translated as, one eats the food of all. But entering into Beloved Community is not compulsory, and for this congregation, my initial question remains open: can Beloved Community be cultivated where a majority of the congregants are comfortable within the dominant White culture that structures their church life? Will such slow and subtle attempts to re-knit their habits open them up to new structural reality where food and power are shared?

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Hermeneutical Ethnography

The method I term "hermeneutical ethnography" brings tools used to analyze ancient texts to bear on contemporary scriptural commentary, specifically to examine scripture's role in the generation of theology and lived experience. In my research, I employ ethnographic tools in order to represent contemporary practitioners' words and actions as a form of written, redacted scriptural commentary. I closely analyze these texts and narrative accounts by utilizing hermeneutical tools, usually reserved for ancient scriptural commentary. This form of analysis allows an examination of sources and their intertextual interplay that provides insight into how such hermeneutical interactions shape the community that is engaging in them. This type of analysis allows for the possibility that scripture has a role in generating the meaning of the practitioners' enacted hermeneutics and that the interaction between a practitioner and scripture occurs as a contextually grounded process that transcends the "authorial intent" of any particular practitioner. These assumptions render this method distinctly hermeneutical, and not phenomenological. 

In the slides above, the image of the iceberg visually demonstrates the idea that scriptural commentary is a surface, textual expression of a much larger, mostly hidden hermeneutical process that includes reading assumptions and strategies, involving multiple scriptures and other religio-cultural traditions.

Interreligious Scholarship & Leadership

Scripture, Interpretation and Practice (SIP) Program in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia

UVA's Graduate Program in Scripture, Interpretation, and Practice (SIP) prepares students for advanced research and teaching about the phenomena of scriptural study, textual interpretation, and religious practice in all three of the Abrahamic traditions, as well as in Asian and other scripturally centered traditions. The first goal of the Program is to examine the Bible, the Qur'an, and other scriptures as literatures that generate communities of religious practice: practices of study, of interpretation and reflection, of ritual, and of social life. The PhD in SIP is designed to prepare students for teaching positions in departments of Religious Studies, where they will be able to offer advanced courses in their primary tradition of study (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Asian and other traditions) and more general courses in Abrahamic and other traditions.

For more information about the SIP Program at U.Va., please click here.


Chair and Head Conference Coordinator, 2nd Annual Graduate Student Conference in SIP

The 2nd Annual Graduate Student Conference in SIP, entitled "Weaponizing Scripture?,"​ explored cases, both historical and contemporary, in which scripture serves as a resource for/against the communities that are formed by it, as well as how it is instrumentalized for formational, popular, political, and/or polemical agendas. The purpose was to uncover ways that scripture transforms the character of the debates and purposes for which it is deployed.

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Student Director of the SIP Administrative Board

May 2013-May 2014: Student Director of the SIP Administrative Board
Aug 2011-May 2015: Student Member of SIP Board

The Scripture, Interpretation and Practice (SIP) Board is the organization in charge of administrating and advancing the SIP Graduate Program within the University of Virginia’s Religious Studies department. For four years I was one of three student members of the board, tasked with the various duties involved in administering the SIP program and carrying out various graduate student events .

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