Graduate Excursion Courses in Theology

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Study abroad... for graduate students?

Excursions and even international study in theology can be a profound experience for graduate students. Each semester, LMU's graduate program in theology offers optional one- or two-week excursion courses that apply theology to situations in the real world - from New Mexico to New Zealand. Through travel and study, excursion courses invite us out of our comfort zones, and internationally, even invited out of our countries, to experience Christian theology through other eyes and lives. They also offer an intimate encounter with social justice “on location” – either on the border of the USA and Mexico, or among the indigenous Maori of New Zealand. LMU is pioneering the concept of relocating theology out of the classroom and into the world, by taking graduate theology courses on the road. Offerings vary by semester. Recent excursion courses include: "Migration and the Border: Context, Theology, and Pastoral Responses," "Prophecy and Society in Maori New Zealand," "Christianity and Native-America," a train-based course through the Southwest United States, and “Lamentations and the Blues,” taught in Memphis, TN, which includes a blues tour into Mississippi.

Prophecy and Society in Maori New Zealand

Professor: Daniel Smith-Christopher

Why New Zealand? Perhaps it isn’t enough simply to state that New Zealand is one of the most fascinating places on earth. A breathtaking and beautiful land, a fascinating diverse society, and most important, a vibrant and living indigenous people, deeply committed to their tradition and culture. The Maori of New Zealand, like indigenous peoples throughout the South Pacific, embraced Christianity already in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and many maintain a strong and committed Christian faith (divided among many different Christian traditions). But what does it mean to embrace one’s indigenous identity, and yet also embrace Christian faith? New Zealand is a living and striking example of how a people have made decisions about precisely these choices. Some Maori have adopted Christian traditions from outside New Zealand, but made it their own (e.g. the Anglican tradition) while other Maori have embraced an expression of Christianity that is entirely Maori in origin (the Ringatu Faith, the Ratana Church) founded by the famous Maori Prophets of the 19th century. As such, Maori Christians have a great deal to teach other Christians about valuing tradition, land, culture, and at the same time teaching others about the values of innovation, incorporation, and wise discernment in a modern world. LMU has built up a relationship with Anglican Maori in the Gisborne area for many years, and our friendships have resulted in an innovative and unusual learning opportunity for LMU students.

Migration and the Border: Context, Theology and Pastoral Responses

Professor: Brett Hoover

As in any course, we spent a lot of time looking at theory and data, including sociological data to help us get a sense of what is actually happening and why, beyond the political noise. We studied biblical narratives—the Bible is full of immigrants, including Jesus himself as a child in Egypt—and various Christian theological responses to migration, both from theologians and church teaching. The high point of the course, however, was when we went to see for ourselves in a five-day trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego/Tijuana. We saw the enormous, double-layered border fence (extending right into the ocean), encountered border patrol officers on duty, noticed all the cameras and sensors. We visited a cemetery where dozens of people who had died crossing in the desert were buried, a great number of them still unidentified.  We went to the Mexican side, saw where everyday life comes right up to the border, and people paint their sadness and anger right onto the graffiti on the fence. But most importantly, we listened to lots of people—teachers and social workers at Catholic Charities who help immigrants every day, day laborers who too often get cheated out of their wages, deportees grieving the separation from their families still in the U.S., young men and a whole family escaping cartel violence, refugees from Haiti and West Africa who crossed a dozen or more countries to ask for asylum in the U.S. These voices of vast pain but also of great hope overwhelmed us. Their stories made the theory we had studied come alive and made most of us want to do something to help. My guess is that we will also spend weeks and months struggling as people of faith to be faithful to the witness of the people we encountered and to confront the fears, disorientation, injustice, and sheer complexity involved in addressing contemporary immigration.