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Top programs for religion and literature, LGBTQ issues, Bible?


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Hi everyone,


I'm whittling down potential doctoral programs to which I may apply but my interests in religion are vast and it's hard to know what area precisely I fall into. Would casting a wide net as far as study areas are concerned--and constructing different purpose statements for each individual program based on its strengths and faculty--be a terribly bad idea? Would anyone be willing to recommend programs if they know any that might fall under my interest areas? This will be quick and dirty, so apologies for lack of clarity. Will be happy to provide further info if needed.


First, I terribly miss the study of literature. My undergraduate majors were English, writing, philosophy and religion. As a queer person who, during a very spiritually formative time in his life felt estranged from the Bible, literature became almost a sacred text to me. It allowed me to wrestle with questions of faith I couldn't elsewhere. I wonder about the relationship between religion, literature and queer people. Amongst my favorite books are Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Mel White's Stranger at the Gate. It's like memoir-witing becomes for these authors a practice of scriptio divina. 


I also love Bible study, though I have no preference between New Testament and Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. I'm once again interested in queer matters here, because I think it's important for queer people to know what to do with the Bible when they often have such a complex relationship with it (to many it's intimidating and has been used as a weapon against them) and they also may struggle to find themselves in it. I find the prophets especially intriguing, because of the language about the body that they so frequently use, and I think a lot of antipathy towards LGBTQ persons has to do with the body.


I'm also interested in theologies of the body. My graduate thesis dealt with the Church and violence against queer people. I'd love an opportunity to expand on that. 


I also miss existentialism quite a bit from my philosophy major days. To work with figures like Kierkegaard, Barth and Tillich would be wonderful. I'd also love to explore absurdism. D


Do any programs stick out as a good fit for any of these concerns? I think Emory's ethics faculty might be strong when it comes to religion, literature and queer people. I also think Drew might be a good choice for theologies of the body. Willing to consider any recommendations others may have.



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To answer your primary question in brief: Your interests are very different, so yes, you would probably want to be very careful about seeking out potential POIs and deciding which programs would be strongest for which of your interests. With such a wide range, however, (theology and biblical studies alone cover...so, so much) I'd recommend paring it down a bit. From my perspective (and from reading other posts here), if you want to do Biblical Studies, just focus on that. I honestly can't imagine applying to both theology and biblical studies programs and remaining competitive. The applications are quite involved, and biblical studies programs are especially competitive. It sounds like your real interest is in theology and queer theory, so I'd stick with that.


It's not too difficult to find programs that do literature (in the broadest possible sense) and theology (I have both a BA and an MA in English, btw) but you have to take a close look at those programs to make sure the faculty are interested in the sort of literature (and theory) that you are. In my experience, theologians are not interested in literature in the same way that literary scholars are. I took a theology and literature course in seminary (after my English MA) and was supremely frustrated by the lack of theory--since that is the bread and butter of most English departments in the U.S. That's not to say that theology must engage literature in the same way as literary scholars, but I think there is something to be said for the usefulness of theory with regard to literature (and theology, for that matter), and there wasn't any acknowledgement at all that that could be a valid way of approaching a literary text theologically. Often times, theologians who study literature study figures and texts who/that are already more or less overtly religious (Milton, Flannery O'Connor, etc.) I just don't find that compelling at all.


I'm still loosely connected to the English world in academia, and it seems to me that religion (broadly speaking) has more or less become an appropriate avenue again into texts. If you were interested in doing something at the intersection of literature, religion, and queer theory, that sounds like the makings of a project proposal that some English departments would be very excited about. I don't know if I could say the same about RS/theology departments--other than Emory, I don't know of any programs doing contemporary literature and religion/theology.


With regard to your other two ideas (theologies of the body and existential theology), there is no lack of programs where you could do a project in either of those areas. My own work at Northwestern is broadly working in Schleiermacher, Barth, Brunner, and Tillich. There are a few philosophers here who do work on Kierkegaard. I'm sure that is the case at many universities that also have PhD programs in religion. There are also a number of religious studies scholars/theologians here in the RS department at NU who do work on sexual ethics, phenomenology of religion, etc. who would probably be interested in taking on a student doing queer theory and theology/religious experience. There are no students here doing work in that area. I'm fairly certain all the top programs in RS (i.e. Duke, Harvard, Yale, etc.) have someone who does work in theology and queer theory or at least theologies of the body.

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I may be biased, as I am currently attending the University of Virginia, but it could be a department you'd like to check into! Larry Bouchard is in the field of religion and literature, not Bible per se, but modern fiction,  listed as both faculty in the Theology, Ethics, and Culture program and the Scripture, Interpretation, and Practice program. (He held a class last semester called "Narrative Ethics," which, although you didn't mention ethics explicitly, strikes me as perhaps relevant to your queer studies interests - but correct me if I'm wrong!). SIP is an interesting, somewhat experimental and highly inter-disciplinary program which links close scriptural study and issues of lived theology, and to boot we have a current student in that program who is focusing on gender, sexuality, and LGBT issues in Judaism. We also have faculty in the more traditional biblical studies track with interests in literary approaches to the Bible and biblical narrative (Martien Halvorson-Taylor comes to mind, and I also recall a gender component in the classes I've taken with her).

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi, besixdouze,


I´m in a similar position to yours as I have a wide range of interests that encompass literature, art, religion, queer theory, medieval writers and women´s literature.


You might want to check out David M. Halperin at the University of Michigan: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/english/people/profile.asp?ID=254


Best of luck!

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