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Rebecca Esterson Receives 2020 GTU Excellence in Teaching Award

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GTU Communications

Rebecca Esterson Receives 2020 GTU Excellence in Teaching Award

The Graduate Theological Union is pleased to announce that Dr. Rebecca K. Esterson, assistant professor in sacred texts and traditions and Dorothea Harvey professor of Swedenborgian studies, is the recipient of the 2020 GTU Excellence in Teaching Award.

The Excellence in Teaching Award is given annually to recognize a member of the GTU’s core doctoral faculty for exemplary embodiment of interreligious sensitivity and commitment, interdisciplinary approach to religious studies, and creative and effective classroom pedagogical methods and performance.

“Dr. Esterson’s superb talent as a teacher, careful attention and deep care for her students’ learning, and strong commitment to interreligious perspective made her the perfect recipient for this year’s award,” said Dr. Uriah Y. Kim, Interim President, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the GTU. 

Dr. Esterson has served on the faculty at the GTU since 2015. She earned her PhD from the Graduate Division of Religious Studies at Boston University. She earned her Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School with a focus in world religions, and also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a visiting graduate student. After receiving her master’s degree, she worked at Harvard’s Center for the Study of World Religions for 9 years where she was able to further develop her interest in comparative studies and interfaith learning. Her teaching and research interests include: the history of biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, Jewish and Christian mysticism, Jewish-Christian relations, eighteenth century intellectual culture, Christian Hebraism, and comparative religious studies.

In the classroom, Dr. Esterson says she focuses on creating an environment where interpersonal connections can form and flourish and where the curriculum is relevant to the lived concerns and convictions of those in the classroom — a particular challenge, she notes, in the fields of history, where students can feel disconnected from the people and events they are studying.

To address this, she frequently engages with thought leaders, community members, scholars, and religious leaders directly in the classroom, bringing her students face-to-face with people in the field.

“I enjoy creating spaces where students can explore ideas from various angles without judgement, where they can try on new ways of thinking, speculate, change their mind, and even change it back again,” she said. “Encountering difference can be challenging and destabilizing, it can also be invigorating. I want my students to feel supported in their journeys as they encounter new landscapes in each other and in the material we engage together.”

The GTU Excellence in Teaching Award, formerly known as the Sarlo Excellence in Teaching Award, was instituted in 2003, and was funded until 2016 through the annual generosity of the Sarlo Family Foundation. Previous winners include Arthur Holder (2019), Jean-François Racine (2018), Barbara Green, OP (2016), Munir Jiwa (2015), William O’Neill, SJ (2014), and Mia Mochizuki (2013).  

Congratulations, Dr. Rebecca K. Esterson, winner of the 2020 GTU Excellence in Teaching Award!