Duke Chappell’s new series, Theology Underground, which aims to highlight underrepresented voices in religious studies, held its first event last Tuesday.
Tirzah Villegas of Divinity School ’22 was the main speaker at the event. She is an expert in Mujerista theology, a Hispanic feminist theology that emphasizes the everyday realities of Latino women.
According to the series’ website, Theology Underground brings lived experience to the forefront of theological discourse and explores “how culture, identity and race influence the way we live our faiths and beliefs.” We are focused on investigating.
The series is a collaboration between Duke Chappell, the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, the Center for Multicultural Affairs, and the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.
Alejandra Salemi, a doctoral candidate at Duke Medical School, said she believed in the series’ goals.
“This mujerista theology, along with other theological communities of color, is not part of what we consider canon because it is usually white male,” she said.
Mujerista theology, Villegas explained, is a theology where “lived, embodied experience is paramount”. In her opinion, part of the reason traditions such as mujerista theology do not stand out in normative theological discourse is that they require action.
“If you’re talking about bodies, you have to pay a living wage to the staff who clean the building, and if they get hurt, you have to make sure they actually get enough time off,” Villegas said. said during the event.
Earlier in the event, Reverend Raquel Gill, Duke Chapel’s Minister for Cross-Cultural Exchange, echoed a similar sentiment.
“The debate over God isn’t always in the ivory tower. It’s not always with scholars. It’s with landlords. It’s farmers. I’m with you,” she said.
The name of the series, “Theology Underground,” serves two purposes. The room where the meeting takes place, Mary Lou’s Multipurpose Room, is literally in the basement. But so are the various beliefs and rituals of the community that the series aims to highlight, according to Gill.
“God also works in many cultures, in many identities, and in many communities that are sometimes not central to our normative discourse,” Gill told The Chronicle of the series’ mission.
Villegas and Gill argued during the event that more traditional theological discourse strips ordinary people of their theological authority and places it in the hands of priests and theology professors.
“I have seen students shut down in very unfriendly ways. They’re locked out and nobody’s defending them,” Villegas told Chronicle after the event.
As an alternative to institutionalized religious education, Gill believes in the power of mass education and community organizing.
“In buildings like the Mary Lou Williams Center, I think about the history of organizing students, the history of students finding and making paths,” she told The Chronicle.
Sophomore Sage Hirschfeld appreciated the opportunity to attend a spirituality event.
“The chapel is at the center of campus. And you’d think spaces for spirituality would be at the center of campus, too,” Hirschfeld told Chronicle after the event. It’s looks and schoolwork.”
The next Theology Underground event will be held on Tuesday, September 27th at 6:30 PM in Mary Lou’s Underground Multipurpose Room and open to the public. Upcoming event topics include Queer Theology and Native and Indigenous Theology.
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