Religiously Speaking Something of an Outsider

“I’m not Lutheran, so in a sense I brought diversity to the theology department… and more than that I brought new methods.”

[This story does contain some strong language.]

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Transcript for Religiously Speaking Something of an Outsider

Well I’m not Lutheran, so in a sense I brought diversity to the theology department. I was the first non-Lutheran tenured so that didn’t happen until 1994. That seems very late in the great scheme of things. And there was a great controversy about that because some of the senior colleges were not happy about that because they sensed that Lutheran identity, if anywhere, was lodged in the theology department and there must be maintenance of a critical mass, and for them that meant one hundred percent.

So that was very much a challenge. I felt, religiously speaking, like something of an outsider.

I think I did push the department a little bit some theological issues. More than that though, my intellectual interests in the social sciences and in social history pushed the department along in terms of how it appropriated the Bible, how it understood the Bible. I brought in new methods and that took awhile for the colleges to warm up to. Some really embraced it right away. Thought this was great, thought we needed this because every generation brings its own new ideas into the mix, and other folks thought we’ve been doing biblical studies fine the way that we’ve been doing it for fifty years and why this new method. So I would say that the bigger issue for me was my approach to Bible as opposed to my Presbyterian identity.

I came in with Betty DeBerg; it was a fairly hostile atmosphere for women, and she was strong, kind of no nonsense, Norwegian Lutheran that we needed because Betty did not take any guff and she gave as good as she got. But even after Betty was on for awhile there was still debate about “Well, do we need to increase our number of women?” and most people said, yes, and we brought in more female faculty over time. But in some ways there’s still sort of a tug-a-war in the department over what kind of women we need.

But this was not a conversation, I mean this was all slips very quickly into just sexism. Well, for instance DeBerg would sort of be characterized as vociferous, you know as a bitch. She was not the right kind of woman. Then you get a character like McGill-Cobbler, who is much less forthright, much more demur, and much more womanly, you might say, in the traditional sense, but I don’t think we ever had a frank discussion about, if we ever could, what kind of woman we want or what kind of women do we have in the department. It’s hallway comment and that type of thing. But, no, not even in hallway conversation do we talk about the kind of men that we would want.

At one level people would say, “Well, we’re really beyond the gender issue.” I think that in fact we are not, and so that’s why when it comes to gender issues, we talk about women and not men because women are still a special case. I mean, ideally we reach a state where we’re gender blind as we are color blind, but we’re not nearly that far along.