Asha Noor
Roberto Sirvent

Mentoring Spotlight Part 3

Announcements, Mentoring Spotlight Feature, Symposia

The Mentoring Initiative aims to bring together students and scholars engaged in different research methods but who are addressing a shared set of questions. Our hope is that the Political Theology Network Mentoring Initiative might even create a space where new research questions and methods will emerge.

Thanks to the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation, the Political Theology Network awarded a limited number of scholarships to help facilitate mentoring relationships between and within various underrepresented groups. The Political Theology Network Mentoring Initiative is designed to gather and equip the next generation of leaders in the field. The PhD students selected take an interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, or even anti-disciplinary approach to their studies. The Mentoring Initiative aims to bring together students and scholars engaged in different research methods but who are addressing a shared set of questions. Our hope is that the Political Theology Network Mentoring Initiative might even create a space where new research questions and methods will emerge. Asha Noor and Roberto Sirvent serve as co-leaders of the Initiative.

In an attempt to introduce the wider Political Theology Network to the PhD students selected, we will be featuring three of our Mentoring Initiative participants per week from the middle of October to the beginning of November. We hope you enjoy learning more about these distinguished scholars


Amaryah Armstrong

Amaryah Shaye Armstrong is a graduate student in theological studies at Vanderbilt University. She is currently completing a dissertation that bridges black feminist theory, political theology, and literary studies in considering how black women’s reproductive histories can operate as a hermeneutical key for political theological examinations of Christian supersessionism, sovereignty, and slavery.

What was the highlight of your time at the 2017 AAR meeting in Boston?

It’s always good to see old friends.

What do you wish you knew on Day 1 of your PhD program?

Get more rest.

What’s a great book you read this year?

The Chosen Place, The Timeless People by Paule Marshall

What’s a great journal article you read this year?

“Ritualized Doctrine? Rethinking Protestant Bodily Practice Through Attention to Genre in Calvin’s Institutio,” by Michelle Sanchez.

Which two authors (one within the field of religion/theology and one outside the field) would you like to see in conversation with one another?

Delores Williams and Hortense Spillers

What’s a fun place you visited this year (e.g. country, new restaurant, museum, etc.)?

Berlin, Germany and Brisbane, Australia

What music album should everyone be listening to?

Negro Swan, by Blood Orange

What’s your favorite distraction from studying?

I don’t think of other things I do as distractions from studying. I think of them as occasions for study. That said, I started a podcast (underthought.net) as another occasion for study.

What keeps you sane during your PhD program?

Making music. Powerlifting.

What keeps you hopeful?

My beautiful friends and family


Whitney Bond

Whitney Bond is currently a third-year PhD student in the field of Theology, Ethics and the Human Sciences at Chicago Theological Seminary. Her research centers on womanist approaches tobridging gaps between pastoral care and practical theology within human sexuality and spiritual spaces for Black bodies, primarily Black Church spaces and queer bodies. A native of East Saint Louis, Illinois, she is a May 2016 graduate of The Candler School of Theology at Emory University and received her Master of Divinity with a certificate in Black Church Studies. She is also a proud alumna of Spelman College where she received her B.A. degree in Drama with a Concentration in Dance. In the past, Whitney has presented at the American Academy of Religion, served as moderator for both AAR and the Love Thyself convening. She is a member of the American Academy of Religion, The National Alumnae Association of Spelman College, the Society of Christian Ethics and a board member for the Children of Combahee. Additionally, she is SafeSpace trained and creator of the apparel line, Unbossed and Unbought.

What was the highlight of your time at the 2017 AAR meeting in Boston?

Being able to connect with and meet peers within my age demographic is always a plus! Often times, we are in various academic spaces as the only young person and they wish you to monopolize our gifts and research. As a result of the inaugural gathering, I have established relationships that will be essential to my growth as a scholar and overall human being.

What do you wish you knew on Day 1 of your PhD program?

Comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t get caught up in the progress of someone else’s journey or feel as if you are a subpar scholar simply because certain opportunities don’t come your way. When it’s time for your work to stake a claim, nothing will be able to stop it!

What’s a great book you read this year?

As I’m preparing for comprehensive exams, I’ve read a few great reads—Black Bodies and The Black Church by Kelly Brown Douglas, Controversies in Body Theology edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood, and The Dinah Project by Monica Coleman.

What’s a great journal article you read this year?

“No Rose-Colored Glasses: Womanist Practical Theology and Response to Sexual Violence,” by Phillis Isabella Sheppard.

Which two authors (one within the field of religion/theology and one outside the field) would you like to see in conversation with one another?

Janet Mock and Kelly Brown Douglas.

What’s a fun place you visited this year (e.g. country, new restaurant, museum, etc.)?

New Orleans, LA!

What music album should everyone be listening to?

Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae, Lemonade by Beyonce, The Kids are Alright by Chloe x Halle, and anything by Tank and The Bangas.

What’s your favorite distraction from studying?

Playing online BINGO and Design Home. Also, hanging out with friends while enjoying really good food and wine.

What keeps you sane during your PhD program?

Going to hot yoga weekly, cooking, checking in with other friends pursuing the PhD and mentors, and meditating.

What keeps you hopeful?

Receiving messages out of the blue from people who have a desire to see Black church spaces shift and grow into a more inclusive space and them affirming that my work is crucial to the process.


Jon Kara Shields

Jon Kara Shields is a PhD Candidate in Christian Ethics at the University of Notre Dame. Her dissertation concerns the moral formation of congregations and draws on participant observation research in progressive Mennonite churches in the Midwest. Her main interests are moral formation and gender criticism; and she is excited to finish her dissertation and start developing a future project on a practical theology for every kind of family. In her other vocations she preaches occasionally and is the mother of two.

What was the highlight of your time at the 2017 AAR meeting in Boston?

The highlight of 2017 AAR was meeting with colleagues from my time at Cambridge and Yale, and then meeting the new cohort of Political Theology mentees. I am always excited by the chance to talk to people one-on-one about their current work and it was my first ever AAR meeting, so getting to know individuals was important to counteract the feeling of overwhelming chaos.

What do you wish you knew on Day 1 of your PhD program?

Neither coursework nor exams are structured or scheduled with you as an individual in mind, if you have knowledge gaps in areas you care about, be persistent in seeking advice and fill them out along the way. Shape your projects in ways that allow you to do work which really speaks to your vocation or gut-interests. Advocate for yourself as a holistic knower, completing your program won’t teach you the virtue of wisdom.

What’s a great book you read this year?

I just reviewed Andrew Ryan Newson’s Radical Friendship for the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics and it was wonderful to reflect on how you might frame a counterpractice to liberalism and moral/political incompetence from within the Baptist tradition (broadly construed). Newson starts with communal discernment and then moves to the friendships which are both a prerequisite and an indirect result of such work.

What’s a great journal article you read this year?

My friend Lorraine Cuddeback-Gedeon at Mount St. Mary’s University recently published “‘Nothing About Us Without Us:’ Ethnography, Conscientization, and the Epistemic Challenges of Intellectual Disability” in the fall issue of Practical Matters. I think it does some important work on the tensions between conscientization and the practical difficulties faced by non-disabled researchers in the research process with intellectually and developmentally disabled persons.

Which two authors (one within the field of religion/theology and one outside the field) would you like to see in conversation with one another?

It would probably be different every day. Today I’d like to get Bonnie Miller-McLemore (Vanderbilt, Theology) together with Autumn M. Dodge (University of Lynchburg, Education) to discuss the “politics” of children’s education and nurture in public, church/synagogue, and school. The “welfare” of children is so often weaponized in contemporary political rhetoric, but I don’t think we (here I speak mostly about white Christians) actually spend that much time thinking about how to resource justice-oriented pedagogy and place-making with children within ecclesial spaces and in thecommunity. Let’s develop research that we need to know if we are doing that well. (The work of Kate Ott might be an exception to this gap, but only in one area of ecclesial pedagogy, namely, sexuality.)

What’s a fun place you visited this year (e.g. country, new restaurant, museum, etc.)?

I was in St. Louis recently at “Guerilla Street Food” a restaurant that grew out of the food truck scene into multiple brick and mortar locations with hipster takes on Filipino street food. The food was great (try the Veggie Ukoy and the Pancit Guerilla) and I was happy to note the restaurant’s commitment to St. Louis “Keep the Raise” campaign despite the Missouri state-level legislation which overturned a St. Louis law raising the minimum wage to $10.

What music album should everyone be listening to?

I am never the right person to ask for music. I love listening to music but I don’t have the virtue of keeping track of what’s good. Two song I have really been enjoying on the radio this summer are “Bananas” by Tami Neilson from the album Sassafrass and “Once in a Lifetime” from Angélique Kidjo’s album length cover of the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light.

What’s your favorite distraction from studying?

My good friend, Rebecca Wiegel, is always cracking jokes and sending me silly gifs. There’s nothing like writing a dissertation to make you take yourself (or your “contribution to the field”) too seriously, so sometimes it’s really important to laugh and be silly so that you can keep it in perspective.

What keeps you sane during your PhD program?

My family. My partner and my kids keep me sane. I wouldn’t still be doing this if it weren’t for them. Even though sometimes family creates stress of its own, I go home every day to people who are waiting for me, who are excited to see me and do non-academic things. It’s a great gift and I am so thankful for them. Also, because I feel like we need to normalize this: I am in therapy; and I am thankful for a University that allows me to see a therapist on the graduate student health plan.

What keeps you hopeful?

The communities I study are full of people doing their part to solve problems in every direction, and they do it in all different ways, some problematic or seemingly ineffective, and mostly in really really small actions, actions for tiny changes. And then they come together and raise their voices in song to thank God for the gift of life and service, and in that moment all the energy that they are spreading out into the community in every direction is like a roadmap of grace. Sometimes when I am working I can see that, and it gives me strength, because in a world of grace I don’t have to be afraid.

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