The journey which led PhD student Erin Brigham from her general interest in Religious Studies at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to her current dissertation topic was shaped by questions and detours along the pathway. Like many who travel in theological discourse, she began pursuing answers to the big questions theology attempts to answer — those of meaning and purpose. She landed at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley as a Systematic and Philosophical Theology MA student, and then she fell in love with the works of Elizabeth A. Johnson. Johnson’s premise that the symbol of God functions in community led Brigham to recognize that Christians have a social responsibility for how we talk about God.
Brigham shifted her attention to Ecclesiology and Ecumenism with a foundation in Catholic Social Thought upon entering the PhD program at GTU. She focused on communities in dialogue with the world and other faith communities and how that dialogue defined the communities. This time Jürgen Habermas illuminated new questions. His work offered a path for bridging critical theory and public thought. Brigham’s refined topic addresses approaches to ecumenical dialogue. Her work investigates how ecumenism is defined with Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action, and it provides a method for analyzing these approaches.
Her experiences are not unusual. Rarely is scholarly research and development linear and cleanly defined. She offers this advice for anyone pursuing graduate studies. Have a good sense of your interests — they will guide your coursework and research but also be open to other influences. Brigham invites you to also be open to detours. Her experience echoes the premise of finding connections within and beyond your own work. Discovering that many fields can contribute to one’s work enriches the process and deepens the scholarship. Brigham is a fan of building community with other students, Not only do they provide vital friendships, she says, they help keep you on track with your studies, and can offer constructive criticism.