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Emory conference marks 15 years of initiative in religious practices, practical theology

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Author, speaker and activist Brian McLaren is one of four panelists in a public interfaith discussion at Candler School of Theology on Friday, March 23. Photo by Hannah Davis, Wild Artistry Photography.

Four major voices from America’s wide-ranging religious landscape will explore practices of vibrant faith communities in a public interfaith panel discussion at Emory’s Candler School of Theology on Friday, March 23, from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. in the university’s Cannon Chapel.

Panelists include Abdullah Antepli, chief representative of Muslim Affairs at Duke University; author, speaker and scholar Diana Butler Bass; and author, speaker and activist Brian McLaren. Robert M. Franklin Jr., Candler’s Laney Professor of Moral Leadership, will moderate the panel.

The event is open to the public, with no registration required. The discussion also will be available to view via live stream. Watch the live stream here.

The public panel is part of a three-day conference celebrating 15 years of Emory’s Initiative in Religious Practices and Practical Theology. The “Practical Matters Conference,” scheduled March 22-24, is by invitation only and deals with the question:  “Who will prepare the next generation of ministers?”

Supported by a multi-year, multi-million-dollar grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the initiative is a partnership between Emory’s Candler School of Theology and the Graduate Division of Religion in Emory’s Laney Graduate School. 

The initiative focuses on educating a new generation of teachers and researchers —those who will prepare future ministers — in the field of practical theology, strengthening their ability to understand and engage with religious practices, no matter what subject they teach across the range of theological disciplines. 

According to the initiative’s website, the term “practical theology” focuses on religious practices or patterns of action over time by religious communities. Seminaries and theological schools teach areas of religious practices, such as worship and liturgy, preaching, religious education, mission and pastoral care, in addition to the expected courses in scripture, theology, history and sociology of religion.

The initiative helps ensure that those who teach across the theology curriculum become thoughtful scholars who understand the importance of religious practices for living communities of faith.

“The purpose of this collaboration is to help religion PhD graduates at Emory be better able to teach the next generation of leaders of religious communities and faith-based organizations,” says L. Edward Phillips, associate professor of worship and liturgical theology at Candler and coordinator of the initiative.

“These scholars will be the ones educating students in seminaries and theological schools across the country,” he says, “and we want to be sure they are well-versed in teaching practical theology with integrity.”

The program appears to be working. Since launching, the initiative has recruited up to seven Emory doctoral students each year — 92 in all — who have taken on an additional set of requirements in order to study the practices of faith communities in tandem with their primary PhD studies.

The Practical Matters Conference

Phillips says the conference engages the work of the initiative’s “very productive” students, alumni and post-doctoral fellows, including those now on faculty at Emory, along with major voices from America’s wide-ranging religious landscape. 

In addition to the March 23 panelists, Candler faculty members Jennifer Ayres, associate professor of religious education, and Gregory Ellison II, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling, are presenters at the opening conference session. Ted A. Smith, associate professor of preaching and ethics, is facilitating a workshop on teaching practices.

Other speakers include Graduate Division of Relition alumni Amy Levad of the University of St. Thomas; Katherine Turpin of Iliff School of Theology; and Brendan Ozawa-de Silva of Emory. Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion, is a keynote speaker during the conference. 

Two other members of the Candler faculty are facilitating conference sessions that explore how scholars of religious practices and practical theology can engage the wider world. Elizabeth Corrie, director of the Youth Theological Initiative (YTI) and associate professor in the practice of youth education and peacebuilding, is speaking about the work of YTI. Elizabeth Bounds, associate professor of Christian ethics, directs and is presenting on the Certificate of Theological Studies program for incarcerated women at Lee Arrendale State Prison. The Initiative in Religious Practices and Practical Theology has collaborated with both programs.

The Practical Matters Conference is sponsored by the Initiative in Religious Practices and Practical Theology at Emory University, Candler School of Theology and Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion, with generous support from the Lilly Endowment Inc.

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