Fourteen GDR Students Awarded Doctoral Degrees

Back row: Melissa Hartley; Shanell Smith; Yong-Sup Song; Isaac Kim
Front row: Lia Gerken; Jason Haddox; Asher Walden; Jae Ho Lee; Chunghwan Kim; Martin Yalcin

On Friday, May 11, 2012, ten students in the Graduate Division of Religion (GDR) at Drew University joined faculty from Drew Theological School, family members, and friends in Craig Chapel for a doctoral hooding ceremony that conferred on them the university’s highest degree: the Ph.D. Entering to musical accompaniment provided by Assistant Professor of Church Music Mark A. Miller, they sat down as students. But as their names were called by their doctoral advisers, they rose as colleagues.

In all, fourteen students from the GDR received the Ph.D. this year, with graduates coming from each of the Theo School’s areas: Biblical Studies and Early Christianity, Historical Studies, Liturgical Studies, Religion and Society, and Theological and Philosophical Studies.

The hooding ceremony began with greetings and remarks by President Robert Weisbuch and Dean of the Theological School Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan. Following these, GDR Chair and Professor of Early Church History Virginia Burrus addressed the candidates, reminding them that the faculty and guests in the chapel represented only a fraction of those that had contributed to their success. Dr. Burrus’s reminder felt especially apt in the wake of the GDR’s recent loss of beloved colleague and mentor Dr. Ada María Isasi Díaz (see @@).

The ceremony also gave faculty members an opportunity to speak about the achievements of their doctoral advisees. Anne Yardley, retired Academic Dean of the Theological School, described Lia Gerken’s dissertation, “Singing the Eucharist—Reflecting and Forming Theology: Communion Hymns of the LCMS and ELCA Service Books,” as exploring the role that the hymns of the LCMS and ELCA play in teaching congregants about the “theological similarities and differences between the two churches.”

Joining the newly minted Dr. Gerken from Liturgical Studies were Jason Haddox and Melissa Hartley, both of whom were hooded by Dr. Jill Comings. Comings noted that Jason Haddox’s dissertation, “The Restoration of the Adult Catechumenate in the Episcopal Church in the Twentieth Century,” fills a needed gap in the Episcopal Church’s historical memory of its revision of the liturgy through its “important archival work” and interviews with the few surviving “firsthand witnesses.” Comings then praised Hartley’s dissertation, “The 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the Practice of Open Table in the Episcopal Church,” for its evenhanded treatment of the arguments on both sides of the debate surrounding the “increasingly popular – and canonically unlawful – practice of  intentionally and openly offering communion to unbaptized persons.”

Shanell Smith received commendations from Dr. Stephen Moore for her dissertation “Empire, Gender, and Ambiveilance: Towards a Postcolonial Womanist Interpretation of the Woman Babylon in the Book of Revelation.” Moore praised Smith’s “postcolonial womanist hermeneutic” for the way it “extends and complicates” a common reading of John as being “on the side of the oppressed.” For her dissertation, Smith was awarded the Rabbi Dr. Sheldon J. Weltman Prize at the annual Dean’s reception in May.

Three students each from Religion and Society and Theological and Philosophical Studies also received accolades from their advisers. In her praise of Chunghwan Kim’s dissertation, “Beyond Charity and Evangelism: A Christian Ethical Inquiry into the South Korean Protestant Churches’ Socioeconomic and Political Responses to Poverty in South Korea,” Dr. Traci West said that it “delves into the question of how to differentiate a paternalistic charity response from a powerful expression of neighborly-love.” West also commended Yong-Sup Song for offering a powerful “ethical analysis of the role of police violence and the mainstream mass media” in the LA riots of 1992 in his dissertation, “A Christian Ethics of Empathy for Communities of Faith in the Midst of Racial Conflict.” Song, the recipient of the 2012 Edward L. Long Peacemaking Fellowship, shared the results of his dissertation research during a lecture at Drew on April 24th (see @@). Jae Ho Lee’s dissertation, “A Self-Psychological Approach to the Resolution of Social Conflict in South Korean Society,” earned praise from Dr. Angella Son, who called it a “pioneering work…[that] integrates western and Korean scholarship” and finds resources within Confucianism that may help overcome other aspects of Confucian philosophy that have contributed to “the underdevelopment of Korean people.”

Isaac Kim, Asher Walden, and Martin Yalcin from Theological and Philosophical studies also received the congratulations of their advisers from Theological and Philosophical Studies. Dr. Catherine Keller commended Kim for his originality in bringing “Jürgen Moltmann’s suffering God into dialogue” with the Derridean theological thinking of John Caputo in his dissertation, “The Powerless Power of God: The Theology of the Cross, Jürgen Moltmann, Jacques Derrida, and John Caputo.” Asher Walden’s dissertation, “Deep Epistemology: Schopenhauer, Chu Hsi, and Moral Metaphysics,” drew praise from his adviser, Dr. Robert Corrington, and earned him the Helen LePage and William Hale Chamberlain Prize, awarded annually to a dissertation “singularly distinguished by creative thought and excellent prose style.” Corrington also applauded Martin Yalcin’s dissertation, “Justus Buchler’s Ordinal Naturalism and Sacred Engagement in the Thought of Karl Jaspers and George Santayana,” citing particularly Yalcin’s skillful engagement with the work of the sadly neglected Spanish philosopher George Santayana.

Not present at Friday’s doctoral hooding ceremony but also receiving their doctorates from the GDR were Hana Kim (“Sojourners Magazine, 1971–2005: Peace and Justice, A Voice of American Progressive Evangelicals”), Joseph Kramp (“Identity Formation and the Transformation of Symbolic Loss: A Psychobiography of Ralph Waldo Emerson”), Ester Widiasih (“The Ritualization of Remembering the Dead Among the Christian Javanese: A Study of Liturgical Contextualization in a Reformed Church in Indonesia”), and Jacob Young (“Ethnography of Healing: Religion and Reconstruction of Autobiography Among Second Generation Korean American Christians”).

The faculty of the Graduate Division of Religion congratulates the members of this year’s graduating class on their fine achievements and wishes them all success as they enter this new stage of their careers.—Eric Johnson-DeBaufre, GDR Administrator