Noel named 2012 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer

Rev. Dr. James Noel of San Francisco Theological Seminary will be honored as the Graduate Theological Union Distinguished Faculty Lecturer on Nov. 8 in Berkeley, Calif.

The GTU, one of the largest partnerships of seminaries and graduate schools in the United States, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2012. Each November, the GTU faculty honors a distinguished professor who embodies the scholarly standards, teaching excellence and commitment to ecumenism that define the GTU. Nominations are considered by the Council of Deans, which selects the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer.

Noel is the H. Eugene Farlough, Jr. Chair of African American Christianity and Professor of American Religion at SFTS. His lecture is entitled “Black Religion in the Atlantic World during the Age of Revolution: Excavating the ‘Sublime.’”

"I am very surprised, humbled and excited about receiving this honor," Noel said. "My lecture will relate several things that are never brought together in most discourses about modernity: revolution, the aesthetic category of 'the sublime' and black religion. I will be using some of William Turner’s paintings along with Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful to engage in the type of excavation I am proposing."

The lecture will be held at the Pacific School of Religion Chapel of the Great Commission, 1798 Scenic Avenue, Berkeley, from 7-9 p.m. Dr. Naomi Seidman, Koret Professor of Jewish Culture and Director of the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies (GTU), will be the respondent. A reception will be held in the Badé Museum afterward.

Noel is a widely popular professor at SFTS and the GTU and also graduated from both institutions. He earned his Master of Divinity from SFTS in 1975 and completed his Doctor of Philosophy from the GTU in 2000.

In addition to his responsibilities as a professor at SFTS and the GTU, Noel is director of the GTU’s Black Church/Africana Religious Studies Program. He also serves as interim pastor at New Liberation Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, is an accomplished painter and 7th dan Tae Kwon Do Master.

His published works include Black Religion & the Imagination of Matter in the Atlantic World (Palgrave 2009) and The Passion of the Lord: African American Reflections. Noel's play, The Black Experience in Poetry and Song, has been performed nationally and internationally.

"What I notice is that black people and their religions rarely constitute items of theoretical reflection in academic discourses on modernity and post-modernity," Noel explained. "The nature of the West is never illuminated by what blacks undergo by the West — its cultural identity is self-generated. Blackness remains marginal even when such categories as alterity, hybridity and otherness are invoked. This lecture will offer me the opportunity to extend what I began reflection on in Black Religion & the Imagination of Matter in the Atlantic World and clarify the research I will be doing on my sabbatical this Fall semester by sharing my thinking with my distinguished GTU colleagues."

Noel challenges boundaries whenever they threaten to obscure or resist truth, and students experience this in the classroom. His interdisciplinary method of scholarship aids students in investigating the ways in which culture creates and transforms individual experiences, everyday life, social relations and power.

Learn more about past Distinguished Lecturers or listen to previous lectures

"The Moan and the Shout" - James Noel on the African American Religious Experience