Graduate Excursion Courses in Theology

Grad New Zealand 2019 beach group

Study abroad... for graduate students?

Excursions to other U.S. destinations and international study in theology can be a profound experience for graduate students. Each year, LMU's graduate theological studies programs offer optional one-two week excursion courses that give students a chance to 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 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 U.S. 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. Recent excursion courses have included: "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 "The Bible and the Blues" - taught in Memphis, TN with a blues tour into Mississippi.

To learn more about excursion opportunities in upcoming semesters, visit PROWL or contact the graduate director, Brett Hoover. To read more about individual trips and locations, see below.

*Note: As of the 2020–2021 academic year, excursion courses have been put on hold. The safety of our students, faculty, and all those involved is our top priority, and these courses will be revisited again when it is safe and proper to do so. Please check back for future updates. 

Prophecy and Society in Maori New Zealand

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Te-Aotahi, the Whare Tipuna (carved ancestral meetinghouse) at Awatere Marae, just south of Te Araroa on the North Island of 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 importantly, 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 unique learning opportunity for LMU students.

Migration and the Border: Context, Theology, and Pastoral Responses

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Border Field State Park (Imperial Beach, California) - the southernmost point of California and the official boundary between the U.S. and Mexico.

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 things for ourselves on a five-day trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego/Tijuana. We saw the enormous, double-layered border fence extending right out into the ocean, encountered border patrol officers on duty, and 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 and saw where everyday life comes right up to the border and where people paint their sadness and anger in graffiti onto the fence. Most importantly, we listened to lots of people—teachers and social workers from 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, and refugees from Haiti and West Africa who crossed a dozen or more countries to ask for asylum in the U.S. These voices, expressing vast pain but also great hope, overwhelmed us. Their stories made the theory we had studied come alive and filled us with the need 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 those we encountered, and to confront the fear, disorientation, injustice, and sheer complexity involved in addressing contemporary immigration." -- Student Testimonial

The Bible and the Blues: The Book of Lamentations and the Legacy of Blues Music

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The Rum Boogie Cafe, a restaurant and blues club on Beale Street, a historic area of downtown Memphis, Tennessee.

Professor: Daniel Smith-Christopher

Although the Book of Lamentations is the central Biblical focus of this short course, it is actually an experiment in comparative Biblical analysis. Lamentations arguably comes from the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and has become a “canonical” expression of sadness for Jewish and Christian tradition. One of the central arguments of Claus Westermann is that it is NOT very central to Christian Theology, however, and he wants to know why not.

Lamentations can be viewed as the “Hebrew Blues.” To understand more about the Lament and Mourning traditions of the Hebrew Bible, we compare this genre to one of the most powerful musical gifts of the African American experience to the world – the tradition of “The Blues,” and more specifically, “The Delta Blues.” To do this, we go to Memphis, Tennessee!

Just as it is impossible to understand the book of Lamentations without understanding something of the suffering and events of the Babylonian Conquest and Exile, so it is also impossible to fully appreciate the Blues without understanding its’ roots in the African-American experience. Thus, in this course, we work steadily toward a comparison that begins to do justice to Hebrew Blues, and African American Laments – and Hebrew Laments, and African American Blues!

Christianity and Native America

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St. Michael's Mission (Window Rock, Arizona) - the first permanent Catholic mission to the Navajo, established in 1898.

Professor: Daniel Smith-Christopher

Christianity has been at the root of incredible suffering of indigenous peoples in the Americas, but it is also the source of great inspiration and resistance to oppression for many native Christians as well. In this summer session course, which includes an actual train journey from Los Angeles to Albuquerque and back (making important stops along the way), we explore centuries of contact between European and Native American peoples and cultures in the Southwest, especially the interaction between religious traditions. When train travel “opened up” the Southwest in the 1800s, the Santa Fe Railroad was a vehicle of contact, and it becomes one again for students in this short, three week course.

The first two weeks of class take place at LMU, where students examine historical interactions - the good and the bad - of these two disparate cultural and religious traditions, such as the abuse of native cultures by missionaries and the creative native expressions of Christian faith. The last week starts at Los Angeles’ Union Station, where students and professor board three private vintage rail cars that are towed by Amtrak through special arrangements to Arizona, New Mexico, and back. The class journeys to St. Jude Catholic Church in Tuba City, AZ, and St. Michael Indian School in St. Michaels, AZ, where Jeffrey Kress ’81 works as a teacher and campus minister. It also visits the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, in Ganado, AZ, the first major European trading post in the Southwest, and Acoma Pueblo (“Sky City”), settled around the year 1100 and built on a New Mexico mesa.

“Christianity and Native America” is a course that weaves together theology, history, and cultural interaction. It takes students to places that are both historically important and lived in today by people whose lives and communities continue to be shaped by the complex interaction of religious traditions.