Initiated in June of 2015, Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry’s Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs is devoted to exploring the contributions religious wisdom makes in understanding and responding to major global issues. The Center brings together religious scholars from around the nation and world to research a pressing social problem, in dialogue with local religious leaders and other stakeholders, with the aim of unleashing smarter faith-based social action. It seeks to help faith-based leaders and activists become more thoughtful in their social action; scholars to become more relevant in their research and attentive to practical application of their thought; and students to learn from this interchange and become smart and effective “public” theologians capable of presenting the wisdom of religious traditions to the broader community. Every two years, the Center will focus on a specific social issue, such as, institutional racism, immigration or the unsustainable use of environmental resources. The Center is first focusing on the issue of homelessness.
The inaugural director, Manuel Mejido, Ph.D., joined Seattle University in September of 2016. A former United Nations official who has spanned the globe working in social development initiatives, Dr. Mejido has also taught and held research positions at the university-level in Switzerland, Chile and the U.S. His deep experience in many cultural contexts of combining scholarship, advocacy and policy analysis for the creation of a more just society embodies the multifaceted and global vision of the Center.
Under Dr. Mejido’s leadership, the Center has begun to roll out its unique vision of bridging the academic study of social issues with on-the-ground action and advocacy to tackle the causes of human suffering and social injustice. Because it is rooted in a school of theology and ministry, the Center will also become a chief resource for the education of future generations of religious leaders, cultivating the tools and language that spiritual or religious individuals can use as they strive to contribute to the common good. The Center’s knowledge base and activities will inform curricular development for all six of the School of Theology and Ministry’s advanced degree programs.
This past October, the Center released a call for scholars, inviting theologians and social scientists from a variety of faith traditions and disciplines to apply for the opportunity to come together to examine the religious, spiritual and ethical dimensions of homelessness. Over 120 submissions were received from scholars spanning 19 states and 25 countries, representing at least five major world religious traditions and more than a dozen Christian denominations. The applications also included scholars from a wide variety of disciplines – from theology, ethics and international development to sociology, nursing and law.
The selection committee invited 15 scholars to Seattle University for a three-day symposium on homelessness on April 25, 26, and 27, 2017, with opportunities to engage with School of Theology and Ministry students, faculty, and staff, as well as select local faith leaders, policymakers, and service providers. These 15 scholars hail from many different parts of the country and world, represent a wide variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds and bring a unique combination of interdisciplinary scholarship, community engagement and interfaith collaboration. They represent a distinctive brand of scholarship that is meaningfully grounded in the needs and concerns of their communities.
In mid-January, the Center announced a call for regional participants to join the Puget Sound Interfaith Network for Public Theology, an innovative cohort of religious leaders committed to articulating interfaith positions around pressing social issues. This pilot group of local religious leaders from different faith traditions will engage Center scholars and their research with the following goals: 1) explore a new method of public theology that integrates theological reflection with local faith-based activism; 2) provide a feedback loop for scholars that will allow them to perform research and analysis that is aligned with the local realities, challenges and best practices of religious communities and faith-based organizations; 3) provide an important resource for policy analysis and advocacy initiatives; and, 4) enhance the skill set of religious leaders to serve as public intellectuals.
This pilot network will be launched on April 27th, at a forum for local faith leaders, community partners and our 15 Center scholars, called “Confronting Homelessness: Toward More Effective Faith-Based Action,” which will close the Center’s inaugural symposium on homelessness. In addition to these activities, the Center has formed an Advisory Board, bringing together a core group of key leaders that represent a cross section of faith traditions and communities from the greater Seattle area.
School of Theology and Ministry donors interested in learning more about the work of the Center are invited to contact Maria Groen, Sr. Director of Development, 206-296-6955, firstname.lastname@example.org.