My Mentor, My Teacher, Judith Berling

by Sophia Park


from Currents Fall 2015

If you spend much time around the GTU, you’ll become accustomed to seeing Dr. Judith Berling sitting on one of the benches in front of the library, reading a student’s paper with pen in hand. Her comments on students’ papers are often critical and sharp, but at the same time, they are full of affection and understanding.  I believe every doctoral student who has encountered Dr. Berling has appreciated her scholarship, her pedagogy, and her engaging personality. Many students got to know Dr. Berling in her classes on Pedagogy or Interdisciplinary seminars, and others encountered her in dissertation committees. As a mentor, professor, and supporter, Dr. Berling created a living tradition at GTU, which celebrates openness to new learning and collaborative engagement with others.       

Hundreds of stories about Dr. Berling could be told, but I want to share my experiences of her as my long-time mentor. When I started writing my dissertation, I asked her to be on my committee. Upon her simple “yes,” I began to learn about her living pedagogy. She was, first and foremost, at my side through all the ups and downs of the process. Despite her huge workload, she was always available, and her direction was highly effective. Whenever I saw her reading student papers and writing comments, I could feel her warm mentorship. After I completed my dissertation, Dr. Berling continued to be my mentor. As a fledgling new scholar, I had so many things to learn to survive in academia, and Dr. Berling was there for me. Even now, whenever I am frustrated with my teaching, I visit her. Often, Dr. Berling tells me how precious it is for her to have opportunities to connect with people from all over the world, beyond religious and cultural borders. At those moments, I experience how seriously she engages with her students and I am able to regain my passion for teaching, from a desire to merely imitate her.

In my experience with Dr. Berling, I have learned the power of her optimism and the trust she places in her students. No matter what subjects were brought to her Interdisciplinary Seminar, they were accepted with a great “yes.” Based on trust, all kinds of creative academic endeavors unfolded. Her living and loving pedagogy taught me much of what I know about teaching, and I seek to bring that same spirit to the liberal arts college where I teach, with its incredibly diverse population. I believe Dr. Berling’s mentorship, based on her caring personality, has been the teaching spirit of GTU.

When I heard that Dr. Berling would be retiring from full scholarship at the GTU, it was difficult to accept. My colleague Emily Wu and I immediately began to think of how we could create a memorable space for her great scholarship and teaching of interreligious pedagogy and Chinese studies. In our imagination, we dreamed that all students who have encountered Dr. Berling would gather together, deepen her theory, and explore the application to the future of teaching spirituality, theology, and religion in a more diverse and multicultural society. The seminar honoring Dr. Berling came out of this dream. From the bottom of my heart, I want to celebrate her selfless teaching service and honor her caring mentorship. I would like to bow deeply and say, “Thank you, my teacher and mentor.”


Sophia Park SNJM (PhD, ’08), is an Assistant Professor in the Religious Studies Department at Holy Names University.