News Archive

Fellowship Recipients to Explore the Intersection of Faith and Public Policy

May 09 2014

Washington, D.C. – Wesley Theological Seminary’s work in public theology – or the intersection of faith and public policy – will increase in the fall semester with the addition of two fellowship recipients. Kristopher Norris will serve as the Wesley Theological Seminary Public Theology Fellow and Rick Elgendy will serve as a Louisville Institute Fellow.

“The church today stands at a unique crossroads,” said Elgendy. “It finds itself speaking to a pluralistic society that no longer depends on a Christian consensus, if it ever did. At the same time that public issues are profoundly urgent, it is perhaps as unclear as it ever has been exactly what resources Christians have to offer public conversation. All the while, our world's increasing interconnectedness means the ‘public square’ is not just the historic town commons of Massachusetts, but Tahrir Square in Cairo and Independence Square in Kiev. In this light, the task of public theology is to call the church to an active witness to the reign of God, and to translate that witness into work for the common good.”

Drawing as it does not only on its location in the capital but also on a rich heritage of missionally engaged education, Wesley is very well-situated as a major center for public theology. “Rick Elgendy will contribute significantly to the academic quality and depth of our robust program in public theology,” said Wesley’s Dean Robert Martin. “As a young scholar, Rick is so impressive because of his wide-ranging theological interests and his profound grasp of postmodern philosophy. He will help students engage ‘the powers and principalities’ with theological sophistication and practical effectiveness. We are grateful to the Louisville Institute for their generous support of our mission to proclaim and live the Gospel with persons from different traditions and socio-economic locations.”

The Louisville Institute brings together religious institutions and those who study them so that both may be challenged and enriched. This postdoctoral fellowship gives Elgendy a unique opportunity as an early career scholar. “I get a chance to participate in - and to learn from - a community of theological educators, church leaders, and informed activists as I respond to my vocation to public theology,” he said.

“Over the next two years of teaching and research, I hope to articulate a vision of the public life of the church sensitive to the character of our involvement in the world,” he said. “Because it brings together a diverse group of excellent scholars and engaged church leaders, Wesley Theological Seminary is an ideal place to forge this vision. I hope to be challenged and, in turn, to challenge others by my study and teaching of public theology in this rich context.”

Elgendy will complete his Doctor of Philosophy in theology from the Divinity School at University of Chicago this spring. His dissertation is “Power, Complicity and Resistance: Rereading 'The Powers’ With Karl Barth and Michel Foucault.” He earned his Master of Arts in Divinity in 2007 from the Divinity School at University of Chicago. He earned his Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in 2005 from Georgetown University. He served as a lecturer in religion, politics and philosophy at Lake Forest College from 2011 to 2013. He has also lectured at the University of Chicago and in its Divinity School. His peer-reviewed, published articles include “Practices of the Self and (Spiritually) Disciplined Resistance: What Michel Foucault Could Have Said about Gregory of Nyssa,” Studia Patristica; and “Reconsidering Resurrection, Incarnation and Nature in Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre,” International Journal of Systematic Theology.

As a newly appointed “Lecturer in Public Theology,” Kristopher Norris is the first recipient of the Wesley Theological Seminary Public Theology Fellowship. Currently, Norris serves as interim co-director of Wesley Theological Seminary’s National Capital Semester for Seminarians for 2014 through 2016, along with Mike McCurry. NCSS is a semester-long, intensive program of study in ethics, theology and public policy that attracts students from across the country each spring semester. McCurry and Norris are filling this role while the regular NCSS director, Wesley faculty member Dr. Shaun Casey, is on extended sabbatical and leave, assisting Secretary of State John Kerry in a role at the U.S. State Department.

“Kristopher Norris has been recognized by his colleagues and his students as a gifted teacher and superb scholar,” said Martin, “and we want to signify his importance to the NCSS program and to public theology with this fellowship and his appointment as a Lecturer in Public Theology. Already he has had a profound effect upon students’ understanding of theological engagement that can speak meaningfully in the public square, to persons of all faiths and also of no faith.”

“Wesley is uniquely situated as an ideal place to study public theology,” said Norris. “At a time when it seems the church has been co-opted by partisan ideologies on both sides, it is important to reflect on how the church can provide its own particular and faithful public witness. The church is in need of sustained attention to how it addresses social and political issues, as well as how it limits and engages with political institutions. With Wesley’s geographical location in D.C. and connections with faith-based and political institutions, students get a unique educational experience on the complicated ways that faith commitments and vocations and political questions intersect.”

Norris previously served as an adjunct professor at University of Mary Washington and Mercer University. Also, he has served as a teaching assistant and a research assistant at University of Virginia and research assistant at Emory University. He served as pastor of Hope Fellowship Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. from 2007 through 2008. He is the author of the book Pilgrim Practices: Discipleship for a Missional Church (2012) and co-author of the forthcoming book Kingdom Politics: How Politics Can Help Solve What’s Wrong with Our Churches (Dec. 2014). Also, he recently authored the peer-reviewed article, “Never Again War: Recent Shifts in the Roman Catholic Just War Tradition and the Question of ‘Functional Pacifism’,” Journal of Religious Ethics, 2014. In 2012, he received a $10,000 research grant from The Project on Lived Theology to conduct theological research with an undergraduate partner on the political practices of five national congregations, leading to a book project with Cascade Books. Also, he is a graduate fellow with The Project on Lived Theology and a Baptist pastor.

Norris is a candidate for a Doctor of Philosophy degree in religious studies from University of Virginia. He received his Master of Theology from Candler School of Theology in 2009, his Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School in 2006, and his Bachelor of Arts from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2003.

“My year at Wesley teaching Christian ethics and co-leading the NCSS seminar with Mike McCurry has introduced me to future Christian leaders committed to the church and justice and mercy in the world,” said Norris. “It has also given me an opportunity to develop my own pedagogy and research interests along these various threads of public theology. I look forward to continuing this work as a Fellow next year.”

The NCSS program takes advantage of Wesley’s location in the nation’s capital and long history of scholarly work on the intersection of faith and politics. NCSS students immerse themselves in the ethical and spiritual dimensions of faithful political engagement. Coursework includes opportunities to interact with policy writers and implementers, and gain hands-on experience in policy research, advocacy and implementation. The NCSS program is open to any student who has completed at least one year of a degree program in an accredited seminary and is recommended by his or her home seminary.

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