Queer scholarship and queer theory are becoming burgeoning sites of academic creativity, and Drew University’s Graduate Division of Religion (GDR) is at the forefront of this work. Following in the footsteps of last years’ participants, Peter Mena and Sara Rosenau, this year Drew students Jake Erickson and Natalie Williams were awarded the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Summer Institute Fellowship for scholars of religion working on LGTBQ issues of queer hermeneutics, writing, advocacy, varieties of justice, and religious pluralism. This year’s Summer Institute was held at Vanderbilt University, and it brought together 17 Fellows and a number of established faculty, including Traci West, professor of ethics at Drew. This program offers younger queer studies scholars new critical perspectives and mentoring voices in their studies. Now in its second year, it has been described as “inspiring” and “transformative.” Below are two brief reflections from Erickson and Williams on their summer experiences.
Jake Erickson (Theological and Philosophical Studies)
Our gathering this past summer is on my mind a lot, persistently, and queerly of course. It keeps firing my imagination about what could be, about what kinds of scholarly communities could exist, and about what kinds of new scholarship could exist for and from queer folks. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about what it means to write differently as a queer scholar of religion, as a queer theologian. This is the question that keeps beckoning me to follow: What might queer writing and queer theopoetry look like? And the possibilities expand…
Over the course of the week, Kent Brintnall’s mentorship, in particular, inspired me to take the fragile call to writing seriously again. Taking seriously the politics of writing and writing as a vital dimension of our politics is one of the most important and difficult tasks of a scholar in general and queer theologian in particular. Later discussions with Emilie Townes and Laurel Schneider on “the writing life,” of the practicalities and passions of writing in communities, and on telling stories that change worlds lured me onwards. Truly, one of the queerest things queer theology does, what this summer did, for me, is take the messiness of our ordinary lives seriously—seriously in ways that meditate on justice, communities, ecologies, and everyday thoughts.
I could not be more grateful for every day of this program and the friendships and unexpected possibilities it fostered.
Natalie Williams (Religion and Society)
“You are going to make mistakes.” This sentence was repeated often during the Institute, and I cling to it now as a hopeful lesson for moving forward in my work. The point is not to instill fear—but to encourage brave action. The point is to come to a place where we cannot NOT act—to say something we might not have said, to think creatively and imaginatively, and in short, to take risks.
Many inspiring, insightful, and risk-taking scholars spent time with our group. Mary Hunt, of WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual) was one whose talk I have returned to again and again in my memories of the mentoring week. Dr. Hunt spoke about the possible constraints of the academy on our thinking. She warned us not simply to follow the path that seems most attainable, but to think creatively about the ways scholars, religious leaders, and activists can work for sexual justice.
Moving forward, I am hopeful and excited about the work that will arise from each participant. I know the conversation did not end when we hugged goodbye. Rather, the conversation is just beginning as we strengthen networks of academic and institutional support across the country.