Theology & Religious Studies Departement Hosts Advocate of Catholic Inclusive Excellence

Theology & Religious Studies department hosted Dr. M. Shawn Copeland, Professor of Systematic Theology. Dr. Copeland’s grounding in the Catholic tradition informs her exemplary commitment to theology that advocates for the dignity and liberation of black women and men, LGBTQ individuals, all women, refugees, and victims of violence.

From October 2-4, the Theology & Religious Studies department hosted Dr. M. Shawn Copeland, Professor of Systematic Theology at Boston College. In addition to being one of the country’s leading Catholic theologians, Dr. Copeland is an expert in African and African-derived religious and cultural experience, and African-American intellectual history. She is former convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium and a former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

During her time on campus, Dr. Copeland participated in a TRS department colloquium, in which she shared the priorities of her own work with undergraduates. She spoke at length about her participation in Boston College’s service-learning program, one of the first of such programs in the United States. This facilitated a rich dialogue among the TRS faculty about Community Engagement at SMC and other strategies for engaging students in issues of social justice in the classroom. Faculty and staff outside the department had the opportunity to share lunch with professor Copeland, over which we shared a rich discussion about the nation’s current political climate, the role of religion and faith in the struggle for justice, and white supremacy.  

Dr. Copeland also participated in a number of student gatherings during her stay. One group of students met to discuss her book Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being, along with their own research interests. A group of TRS majors and minors also met with Dr. Copeland to discuss the vocation of the theologian in today’s world. They also discussed their ongoing research projects with her.  

The visit culminated in a public lecture by Dr. Copeland, titled “Three Biblical Narratives for the Present American Moment.” In the lecture—which gathered more than 300 students, faculty, staff, and community members from the surrounding area—Copeland identified the prophetic traditions of Judaism and Christianity as a resource for addressing the systematic exclusion, erasure, and abuse of many marginalized groups in our country, including black women and men, the LGBTQ community, and Muslims. We were pleased with a lively period of questions following her lecture.

Dr. Copeland’s visit provided faculty, staff, and students with an opportunity to converse with a Catholic theologian who models what we aspire to in our Inclusive Excellence initiative. Copeland’s personal and intellectual grounding in the Catholic tradition informs her exemplary commitment to theology that advocates for the dignity and liberation of black women and men, LGBTQ individuals, all women, refugees, and victims of violence. Her visit occasioned conversations, both in and beyond TRS, about our individual and communal commitments to social justice. These conversations included moments of owning our growing edges and our failures with regard to Inclusive Excellence. Within the department, Copeland provided us with new ideas for how to engage issues of Inclusive Excellence within our discipline.

Copeland generously engaged with Saint Mary’s students, and we were grateful for the ways she engaged with them about many issues relating to Inclusive Excellence. In conversations with our majors and minors, Copeland challenged many of them to engage non-Eurocentric sources and account from the ethical implications of their ideas. We hoped that her visit would afford an opportunity for our students of color to hear from her about her experiences as a professor and scholar, and in turn have frank conversations with her about their experiences and aspirations.