Asian Theological Summer Institute at LTSP enjoys growth and banner year
Professor Peter Cho Phan, Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, sees The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia’s (LTSP) annual Asian Theological Summer Institute (ATSI) as a means “to help grow” a generation of new Asian and Asian American theologians and scholars. He also believes the Institute offers a chance to “build up new ideas and a broader understanding” about how Asians and Asian Americans are interpreting theology today. “We can talk about what we teach with regard to theology and what is significant about theological education for our culture. It is a wonderful opportunity.”
Graduate student Hannah Roh said, “There is so much to say about the mentorship that takes place all week here for students like myself. ATSI offers us a continuing network and supportive mentoring from professors of Asian descent that is simply lacking in many other places where there may not be even one Asian descent faculty member. Here we have several such professors. I find we are both encouraged and challenged during a week like this.”
ATSI, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and occurring each of the past nine years in late May on the seminary’s campus, was largely the brainchild of LTSP former dean and Luther Reed Professor of Systematic Theology the Rev. Dr. J. Paul Rajashekar.
He felt there was a need for an initiative that could both identify and encourage Asian and Asian American scholars focused on theological education at the PhD and ThD level. “It is a doctoral seminar for Asian and Asian American scholars to test their doctoral dissertation/project proposals in the company of guest professors and scholars who serve as mentors,” Rajashekar said.
The Institute has an Asian thematic focus for students who otherwise “may not have the help and support of Asian descent faculty in their place of study,” Rajashekar explained.
“There is a growing excitement outside the program,” explained Dr. W. Anne Joh, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Joh, who has been a guest professor almost every year since the Institute’s inception, added, “The applications to the program have been increasing. Its reputation has grown and the caliber of students we receive has gone up each year. It is amazing to watch the transformation through which the students go during their week with scholars who are both their peers and guest faculty.”
Joh said that over the past year she has learned of 12 former graduate students in the program who have found teaching positions. “Years ago we didn’t have mentors to turn to through a program like this. Now we have a growing community and network of Asian and Asian American scholars built through ATSI. If you are an Asian or Asian American theological scholar interested in expanding your horizons, attending this Institute can only have a positive effect on your understanding of yourself. It will enrich your theological understanding and help you want to do the kind of work that engages you in today’s world. And you’ll gain a network of friendships with colleagues that will deepen. I feel I belong here.”
“I didn’t know what to expect when I came here,” recalled Stephanie Wong, a graduate student. “I got to think through the weaknesses in my dissertation project by sharing questions I would not be able to share at my university.” She explained she is now more comfortable about drafting a teaching proposal from an Asian perspective. She said she appreciates the community of colleagues she has come to know through ATSI, with their multiple perspectives that have “offered me a lifeline.” She explained she hopes to become a professor one day, specializing on Chinese Catholicism at a Catholic Jesuit university. “I am deeply grateful to the professors for their time. They helped me think through ways to strategically position myself for my future goals. The student/faculty ratio has been incredible, a truly generous gift.”
Tat-siong Benny Liew, Class of 1956 Professor in New Testament Studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, applauded the vision of Rajashekar and others to create such a program. “Asian Americans are a fast growing segment of the U.S. population,” he said. “But the developing of faculty members of Asian descent is not keeping pace. We need to expand our tradition, and this initiative helps with that.” He said he is finding it exciting to see “former Institute students becoming colleagues. They stay in touch when they land a position.”
Liew explained a value of the program is that 15 to 20 doctoral students spend quality time both with each other and core faculty of up to six guest professors. “They can go through a dissertation proposal with us, network with their peers, and develop long-lasting and trusted friendships where they can continue to learn from each other.”
Phan said simply, “Where else can you go to have your dissertation proposal heard by four or five Asian descent faculty members?” He believes the Institute is the only model of its kind where a dissertation idea can be exposed to criticism and suggestions and where lines may be opened up for research ideas. “Our scholars can develop their knowledge during the week, sharpen their skills, and get to know other Asian descent colleagues.”
The Institute has welcomed about 150 scholars over its nine years. The ecumenical body of registrants has included Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical backgrounds. The majority have been of Korean descent with most other attendees having Chinese and Vietnamese backgrounds.
One of this year’s scholars, David Than Moe of Myanmar, heard about the Institute while studying at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Moe explained he has a developing interest in the Theology of the Cross from both Christian and Buddhist perspectives. “I find the view of suffering and love central to both traditions,” he said. “I found attending the Institute to be so helpful in the development of my theological thinking. I have learned a lot from both the professors and the students. I want to come again.”
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ATSI Classroom session
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