When Dr. Josie Hoover teaches “Embodied Theology” this fall, she brings into the classroom her own deeply held beliefs about the call to serve.
“In ministry, we bring everything to the table,” she said. “My students do exegetical work on themselves. They need to know who they are if they want to know where they’re going.”
Hoover, herself, embodies a love for Wesley. She received her M.Div. in 2008, her D.Min. in 2015, helped direct programs of Practice in Ministry and Mission, and now serves as special assistant to President David McAllister-Wilson.
It was while leading a dance ministry program at Maryland’s Westphalia United Methodist Church that she began developing the ideas that now form the core of her “Embodied Theology” course curriculum.
“In dance ministry, you work with a lot of people who are not accustomed to using their whole bodies, their entire beings,” she said. “That’s where I saw a need for embodied theology.”
She describes it as a state of being.
“Embodied theology is who you are as a creature of God,” she said. “It’s how you come into your whole self, and then think about how you extend that out to the world.”
Roughly half of each class meeting will focus on assigned readings of such seminal works as Gregg Allison’s “Toward a Theology of Human Embodiment,” and Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel’s “I Am My Body: A Theology of Embodiment.”
Moltmann-Wendel died just months before Hoover first taught the course last fall.
“She destroys notions of how women are portrayed,” Hoover said. “She was a pioneer of womanist and feminist theology. She teaches that embodiment is really the state of being who you are.”
Hoover uses that teaching to inspire diverse groups of men and women from a wide range of backgrounds. “Dance is not just an expression of something,” she said. “It’s also an extension of who you are, and it’s you being utilized for the body of Christ in a worship experience.”
She eases her students into the movement portion of each session.
“It might begin with breathing exercises to get in tune with your body,” she said. “You breathe into your muscles, into your body. You become aware of anything that might be in pain, might feel good, might not feel good. Your body is the vessel for movement.”
Scripture is central to the process. Students might be prompted to choose a scripture passage then given a few minutes to bring that passage to life in posture and movement. Their final project is a more developed piece crafted upon an exegetical paper.
That exegetical requirement evolved from Hoover’s own experience in ministry.
“Too often, you have someone who just likes a song and wants to dance to it,” she said. “But a sacred dance should have theological implications. What are your themes? What are you hoping to accomplish? Is it reconciliation, redemption, love?”
The benefits of such a class are far reaching.
“It doesn’t matter what path you take when you leave Wesley,” Hoover said. “Embodied theology teaches us that people can meet God in a wide variety of ways, not just in writing or proclaiming through the spoken word.”
She is passionate about the role of dance in the church. “Movement is woven throughout the Bible, from the beginning of the time,” she said. “It starts in Genesis 1 when God starts moving things around.”
Hoover also sees dance as an alternative voice to teachings of the past.
“It’s a response to platonic thought processes,” she said. “We’re still taught to think about light and dark, good and bad, and body versus spirit. Embodied theology attempts to shatter that binary thinking.”
It also breaks down unhealthy expectations.
“Older women, women without the body of a dancer, have been taught to think about themselves in certain ways, or to only use certain parts of their bodies,” Hoover said. “Don’t be ashamed of your body. God created it. Don’t let the world hinder you. Be.”
Editor’s note: Dr. Hoover will also teach a summer course at Wesley entitled, “Liturgical Dance as Spiritual Practice.” For more information about Dr. Hoover’s classes and the wide selection of courses taught on campus and online at Wesley this summer and fall, please visit this page.