Louisville Seminary Professor Johanna W. H. van Wijk-Bos has won the 2005 Metroversity Instructional Development Award for her course, To Know the Heart of the Stranger. The award, presented each fall semester, was announced to the Seminary community by Seminary Dean David Hester.
“This is a distinct honor for our colleague, as well as for our school, and I hope you will join me in extending to her our hearty congratulations,” said Hester.
Bos has taught Old Testament, Hebrew Bible, and electives in liberation theology at Louisville Seminary since 1976. She introduced To Know the Heart of the Stranger in 2004 following her participation in anti-racism training led by colleague and former LPTS professor Nancy Ramsay and funded by a grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. Through the course, Bos intended to explore the problems created by the ideologies of sexism and racism in US culture and religion.
“I had for a long time been interested in the connections between racism and sexism, and I saw the training as an opportunity to focus my interests in this particular course. [In discussions about diversity], I worry that we sometimes split the focus of our concern and become reductionists in our emphasis, while in reality a web of oppressive practices and ideologies holds the system in place. Racism and sexism are two important parts of this web. Class is also an important issue that I try to address as well as the heterosexism that accompanies traditional patriarchal gender construction,” said Bos.
"In addition to exploring a theme of central significance to the Hebrew Bible and highly relevant to our lives in a contemporary multicultural world, Johanna's course encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning and to think critically about race, ethnicity, and sexuality, in an atmosphere that encourages open and respectful discussion. These are vital contributions to Seminary education here and to theological education more broadly,” said Hester.
Master of Divinity student Mary Ann Petro took the course to fulfill a summer requirement. To Know the Heart of a Stranger was highly recommended by other students. “This course allowed us to talk openly about the elephant that sits in the center of many of our rooms. That elephant is racism, sexism, and classism and all of the accompanying symptoms of such conditions. Such discussion is crucial in any type of ministry because so many of the people in the world are hurting due to the results of all of the "isms," and yet we are so afraid not only to speak about them but also to admit that they are there,” she said.
The course focuses on the biblical social idea of “stranger and provisions,” and analyzes contemporary related issues against the backdrop of required treatment of strangers in the Bible. Other tools for the course included African-American novels as well as textbooks written from a liberationist/feminist perspective and the use of visual arts and music.
Carrie Fraser, a third-year student in the dual Master of Divinity and Marriage and Family Therapy degree programs who also took the course, found Bos’s assignments for reading novels along with the course texts and Scripture very meaningful.
“The environment created through the novels that were read formed an atmosphere where people shared and revealed their own struggles with race, class, and culture. The chemistry of the class was incredible and we had very deep discussions. We challenged each other and ourselves to move outside of our comfort zone and have a cross-cultural experience,” said Fraser.
A portion of the course involved designing a statement of personal identity, based on the student’s cross-cultural experiences and written in light of “privilege.” This is the only written requirement for the course.
“I am struck by my own involvement in learning more about the connections between sexism and racism and how the two reinforce one another to hold in place systems that are oppressive to women, to those whose sexual and gender identity differs, and to representatives from ethnic groups that are ‘other’ in white dominant culture,” said Bos. “I learn more about naming myself and placing my identity in my religious and cultural context, and I learn how deeply the grief and pain of sexism and racism often affects women and men in our Seminary.”
Award winners are selected from entries submitted from all the institutions involved in Metroversity, which includes seven local colleges and universities: Bellarmine University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, University of Louisville, Indiana University Southeast, Jefferson Community College, and Spalding University. Students attending any one of these schools have the opportunity to expand their educational horizons as a result of the cooperation among the consortium members.
Bos, the Dora Emma Pierce Professor of Bible, is known as a feminist biblical scholar and theologian who emphasizes the participation of women in the Bible and the life of faith. She has taught in multi-racial and multi-cultural settings in Montpelier, France, with students from across the French-speaking world, and in Salvador, Brazil, with black and native Brazilian women. She conducts workshops and seminars in the wider church on a frequent basis. An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), she engages herself with issues of justice for women and disadvantaged groups locally and in the global arena.
Bos writes regularly for both scholarly and popular publications. Some of her books include Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice
(Eerdmans, 2005); "Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther" a volume in The Westminster Bible Companion
(Westminster John Knox Press, 1998); Reformed and Feminist—A Challenge to the Church
(Westminster John Knox, 1991), Reimagining God—The Case for Scriptural Diversity
(Westminster John Knox, 1995), and Called Out With: Stories of Solidarity in Support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Persons
(Westminster John Knox, 1997).
Born in the Netherlands, she earned two degrees in theology at the University of Leiden. A pioneering woman in theological teaching, she was the only woman in 1976 to receive a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary in New York and the first woman to receive academic tenure at Louisville Seminary.
To Know the Heart of the Stranger is one of many courses taught at Louisville Seminary by faculty members who are committed to providing an integrated theological education relating classroom knowledge with practical experience in the field and nurturing an understanding that God’s redeeming, transforming grace should be learned and experienced in a multicultural setting.
Other course syllabi are available online at www.lpts.edu/faculty