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Interview | Doria Charlson, PhD: The GTU’s First ICP Graduate
Doriah Charlson, PhD, is a Bay Area native who recently completed her doctoral work at Brown University in Theatre Arts & Performance Studies. Doria is the first graduate of the Interreligious Chaplaincy Program (ICP) at the GTU. In this interview, she speaks about the motivation for her academic work, what drew her to the GTU, why interreligious spirituality matters, and how the ICP is shaping her work.
GTU: Your background is at the intersections of multiple specialties, including dance studies, critical race theory, political economics, and more. How did you become involved in this important and acute work of the crises of labor and performance?
Doria Charlson: I was a dancer before I began graduate school and had spent 20 years thinking about performance, dance, and embodied praxes. When I got to graduate school, it seemed only natural to use dance as a framework to think through other big questions. Specifically, I started to think about how dance (i.e., movement) related to broader movements of people, in general. This line of inquiry grounded central questions in my academic research: what if we consider migration as a choreographic? If we do think of migration as a kind of choreography, who is the “choreographer?” In other words, what are the systemic and institutional impulses that shape migration as an aesthetic?
I started, then, to consider how and why people migrated in the twentieth century, and I found that folks often were “on the move” as a result of various crises; namely, crises of labor and crises of capitalism.
My dissertation focuses on various crises of labor and of capitalism and hinges on how performance (dance) was mobilized both in service of reproducing capitalism and, in some cases, as a means to try and disrupt these toxic systems.
GTU: Why is interreligious spirituality and spiritual care important to this work?
DC: When studying the macro-crises that comprise my dissertation (i.e., climate change, mass migration, huge global economic unrest), I started to wonder how individuals found ways to cope and manage their own lives/families through these crises. One way that individuals confront and work through crisis is through art, including performance art, which could be secular or deeply religious. Other strategies include community building, ritual, religion, spirituality, etc. Given that I am a person of faith, I decided to pursue a line of inquiry into how spiritual care, as a field, functions in this particular moment of overlapping and cascading crises: a pandemic, the climate crisis, political unrest, and so on.
GTU: Being from the Bay Area, did you have any background with the GTU before starting as an Interreligious Chapliancy Program (ICP) Fellow? What led you to the ICP at the GTU?
DC: I first learned about the GTU when I was an undergraduate student. One of my favorite professors earned her PhD from the GTU and spoke very highly of her experience there. When I was considering spiritual care/chaplaincy/Jewish Studies programs, I remembered my professor, which led me to the ICP program.
GTU: Congratulations on being the first ICP graduate! What does this accomplishment mean to you?
DC: Thank you! I am honored to be the first ICP graduate. For me, the ICP marks an important commitment to serving broader communities of patients and diversifying the field of chaplaincy.
GTU: How are you hoping your learnings in this program will contribute to the work you are doing already and hope to do in the future? In what ways, places, and people will this work make a difference?
DC: My studies in the ICP have already proved to be critical to my formation, both spiritually and professionally. I have completed a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) with the San Francisco Night Ministry, an organization that provides spiritual care to marginalized communities in San Francisco, especially among unhoused folks. I recently began a CPE residency program at UCSF last month. The ICP prepared me well to step into these roles as a spiritual care provider-in-training and I am thrilled to see where this work takes me next.
My studies in the ICP have already proved to be critical to my formation, both spiritually and professionally.