Seeking Life Among the Debris: Foreword

Seeking Life Among the Debris: The Public Role of Religious Scholars
A Core Doctoral Faculty Forum, in the Aftermath of September 11th

Clare B. Fischer
Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Professor of Religion and Culture
Starr King School of the Ministry

Robert Wuthnow, in a recent Newsletter of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (Fall 2001), posed a series of questions about the response of religious leaders to the tragic event of September 11th. He concluded: “As scholars who study religion we have a special responsibility to ponder these questions and to ponder them deeply.” The Dean and Core Doctoral Faculty of the Graduate Theological Union responded to this call well before Wuthnow’s appeal to the community of religious scholars, questioning both the immediate experience of such devastation and the implications for our vocation as teachers and pastoral leaders.

Two events brought the GTU community together. The first, sponsored by the Dean’s Office only ten days after the violence of September 11th, provided an opportunity to hear from eight faculty members speaking on the implications for “Preaching and Pastoral Care in a Time of Terror.” The second event brought together Core Doctoral Faculty of the GTU. On that occasion, four colleagues explored how their respective vocational activities had been altered by the tragedy of September 11th. Faculty responded to these short talks, indicating the various ways they, too, understood religious responsibility in the public realm.

The faculty presentations that are published in the following pages proved to be compelling expressions of four challenging statements about vocation after the shock of September 11th. William O’Neill from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley probed the character of a public theology in his presentation, indicating that such a theology is less a matter of prescriptive response than learning to “see aright.” He offered three lessons derived from the metaphor of crucifixion, instructing us in the reality of “innocent suffering,” the love of our enemies and the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. The awful persistence and ubiquity of war, terror and violence shaped the remarks of Cheryl Kirk-Duggan of the Center for Women and Religion, emphasizing the importance of language. She noted five ways in which her work has been changed, including a sense of greater urgency and responsibility in the process and content of her teaching.

Theologian and President of the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary Tim Lull echoed the words of Kirk-Duggan in response to the inquiry of his title: “Theology Interrupted?” Emphasizing that “business as usual” was not possible after the tragic events in September and subsequent military policy, he examined his current efforts as church leader and academic scholar, asking is the work “worth the trouble.” Indicating that the scale of one’s contribution may seem small in the face of such tragedy, Lull concluded that faith and the recognition of continuing efforts as well as connecting such efforts to the contribution of the community of scholars provided assurance in the importance of the work. “If we are in this together,” he added, “it makes it easier for me to learn to be content at the end of the day.”

Starr King School for the Ministry’s Rosemary Chinnici drew upon her professional work as a disaster specialist as well as her theological reflections on suffering and public responsibility. Chinnici outlined the stages of disaster response and spoke of the applicability of this approach to the public expression of horror and the quest for safety. Appealing to her colleagues at this unprecedented meeting of the Core Doctoral Faculty of the GTU, she warned against self-deception and hasty assumptions of security. “To not go on as we have before,” she concluded, reflecting on the theologian Metz’s view of “dangerous memory,” puts us in spiritual peril.

All of the papers are presented for the readers’ information and in the hopes of an ongoing discussion of the implications of terrorism for our vocation.

Eldon G. Ernst

The Place of a Public Theologian
William R. O'Neill, S.J.

An Instigating Signifier: The Impact of September 11th on my Scholarship
Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan

Theology Interrupted? My Work after September 11, 2001
Timothy F. Lull

The Role of the Theologian in Times of Terror
Rosemary Chinnici, S.L.

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