February 25, 2017—Dr. Marcia Y. Riggs, J. Erskine Love Professor of Christian Ethics, is one of six new Luce Scholars named by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. as Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology for 2017-2018. This will be the final class of Theology Fellows representing a 25 year history of excellence, and supported by grants of up to $75,000 each to engage in yearlong theological research projects and present their findings for publication. The 2017–2018 Fellows constitute the twenty-fourth class of scholars to be appointed since the inception of the program in 1993, bringing the total number of Luce Fellows to 160.
“The Columbia community could not be more excited for Dr. Riggs,” said Dr. Christine Roy Yoder, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs and Interim Dean of Faculty at Columbia Seminary in a statement. “This prestigious award is a significant recognition of her scholarship and its implications for the wider society—particularly at this highly divisive national moment. We look forward to learning from her and her work yet again.” Dr. Yoder was herself a Luce Fellow in 2014-2015 for her work on Contours of Desire in Israelite Wisdom Literature. Other Luce Scholars from Columbia Theological Seminary include William P. Brown (2007-2008), Kathleen O’Connor (2004-2005), and Walter Brueggemann (1994-1995).
Envisioning and Practicing Beloved Community in the 21st Century
Professor Riggs recognizes that partisan polarization characterizes both political and religious life in the United States today. Throughout the 20th century, images of “the melting pot” and “the mosaic” have been used to guide our sociocultural, political conceptions of moral community. Many Protestant liberal and progressive Christian communities have interpreted these images through the theological image of Beloved Community. The image of Beloved Community originated in the philosophy of Josiah Royce, was given theological interpretation by Martin Luther King, Jr., and became popularized and embodied through political and religious coalitions during the civil rights movement of the sixties. Riggs believes that there is evidence that these types of coalitions are possible in the 21st century. Yet coalitions today are constantly under attack because of a distorted moral vision that lacks an authentic image of e pluribus unum. Images from popular speech and social traditions fuel acrimonious response to activism, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, Every Town for Gun Safety, legalization of gay marriage, and legal battles over transgender bathrooms. Riggs will retrieve images of moral community from the published works of African American women religious leaders and writers as basis for constructive envisioning and ethical practices of Beloved Community to refocus the moral vision of e pluribus unum.
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