General Seminary Faculty Receive Conant Grants

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The Episcopal Church has announced the recipients of the 2016-2017 Conant Grant awards. Among the recipients were four professors from The General Theological Seminary, Michael Battle, Todd Brewer, Clair McPherson, and Barbara Crafton. These awards, amounting to more than $20,000, will provide support for educational research and initiatives at General, from funding the publishing of a book to developing a new course that incorporates study abroad. Conant Grants support research, writing, and course development undertaken by faculty members at the recognized Episcopal seminaries in the United States and are designed to facilitate the improvement of seminary-based theological education. The funds are derived from a trust fund established by William S. and Mary M. Conant in 1953.

The four approved proposals from General Seminary faculty:

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The Rev. Michael Battle

Professor of Church and Society and Director of the Desmond Tutu Center

This grant enables my research, writing and course development for the Tutu Center at The General Theological Seminary. In terms of research, I aim to finish my research on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s spiritual life and practices during the coming summer. This research covers the period of time from his days as Archbishop to today.

As for my writing, I plan to complete the first draft of a spiritual biography of Archbishop Tutu, to be published by Westminster John Knox, in December 2016.

Lastly, I plan to have a beta online course, based on my spiritual biography of Tutu, ready to test for feedback during my spring break, in March 2017. Archbishop Tutu’s genius, I argue in my research, books and teaching, is not simply to restore black people to a place of flourishing—such a reading of Tutu forfeits his profound contribution—rather, his witness points to a distinctively spiritual model for how all human beings participate in God’s restoration of creation.

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The Rev Todd Brewer

Assistant Professor of New Testament

This project is part of a larger monograph-length study investigating early Christian Gospel texts and their understandings of the relation between Jesus’ identity and Jewish figures such as the Temple, Adam, Abraham, and David. Extensive comparison will be made between canonical and non-canonical gospels and their common handling of these Jewish figures and their relation to Jesus’ identity. Creating such a wide intertextual network across the canonical boundary will enable a nuanced study of Jesus’ Jewish identity as understood within the interactive diversity of early Christianity, highlighting the distinct profile of the canonical Jesus amid the many representations of his identity offered by Christianity in the first two centuries.

The immediate goals of this project would be to study and take pictures of the original texts of the Nag Hammadi gospels in the Coptic Museum of Cairo, particularly the Gospel of Philip. The Nag Hammadi texts were discovered in the middle of the 20th century and they have greatly complicated and enhanced our understanding of the early church. While some of its writings were widely known by the likes of Eusebius and Cyril of Jerusalem, the actual texts of these gospels had been lost entirely. Permission from the Coptic Church has been granted to view these texts.

For the present project, my study of Philip will focus on its allegorical use of Temple imagery throughout the gospel, but particularly lines 69.14–70.4. Unfortunately, the text of the Gospel of Philip is quite fragmentary at several key places and requires first-hand study to properly translate and understand its contents. A critical edition of this text was published shortly after its discovery, but reconstructions of the text are still highly debated.

 

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The Rev. Clair McPherson

Professor of Ascetical Theology

My project is a pilgrimage/tour/course of the spiritual centers of Early Medieval Western Europe. It will include such sites as: Aachen, where Charlemagne's empire was centered; Fulda, where the great theologian Rabanus Maurus lived; Amiens, which has the tallest and most authentic of Gothic Cathedrals; Chartres, which is home to the best representatives of those "summas in stone;" Paris, locus of Christian/Western history and art from the early Church to the present, and home to her own great Cathedral and the unique San Chapelle; Lyons, home of Irenaeus, greatest second-century teacher; Autun, Vezelay, and St. Sernin, southern cities that house three great Romanesque Cathedrals; Cuxa, site of the lovely early monastery (and source of the best cloister and the Cloisters); and Nice, Mediterranean city with the finest Roman monuments.

Every site will be illuminated by lectures, discussions, and translations by McPherson of poems, prayers, and treatises written there.

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The Rev. Barbara Crafton

Adjunct Professor for the Center for Christian Spirituality

My project is a book about vocation. Since receiving the Conant Grant, I have expanded it to include all vocation, lay and ordained. Its working title has been The Dream of the Priest, but, after discussions with the publisher and my own pondering, I have chosen a more inclusive title for publication, Called.

The book will include four parts:

The Dream: An exploration of aspirants’ idealized expectation of what the vocation will be like before they know much about it.

The Desert:This section explores the causes of such aborted vocations and offers concrete recommendations for preventing them, mostly centered around spiritual practice and collegial relationships, and for dealing with them when they do occur.

The Dance: This section of the book explores what concrete steps make it possible for a vocation to become a rich communal dance, in which a whole community can move with grace and joy.

The Holy Death: The death of a servant of God is a final gift to those who remain, after we can give no other gifts. For those who have and will attend many deaths, a way to meditate upon the meaning of one’s own is essential.