I first came across WIT in 2010 at the recommendation of a professor during my MTS. The site caught my attention right away. It was in the earlier days of my academic theological study and the idea that we were allowed to do things like critique Augustine or bring gender- and racially-aware analysis to theological concepts seemed quite astounding. Populated by predominantly Catholic authors in those early days, WIT gave me, a reader with a thoroughly non-Catholic background, a way to learn more about contemporary Catholicism and its nuances. I also first learned about one of my favourite women in church history, Hildegard von Bingen, from one of WIT’s contributors. All this to say: I was captivated. The posts on WIT helped unsettle the straight white male default setting early on in my theological education—to the point that when that same WIT-recommending professor had the heading “Contextual Theology” over two of our class sessions in our “Thinking Theologically” class the following Fall, I put my hand up to ask him why all theology wasn’t considered contextual…
As a PhD student had often thought I would like to build a blog to share some reflections on my work and how it relates to current events and cultural questions, but I was intimidated and uncomfortable at the prospect of doing this on my own. I was and am much more strongly drawn to the idea of a collaborative blogging community. Theological reflection, I believe, is best done in a community and alongside others—not on our own in an isolated corner of the Internet. I wanted to be a part of WIT when a call for contributors went out in 2016 because I appreciated the voices that are already contributing, I wanted the chance to write more regularly, and to be more closely connected to a strong, diversely ecumenical community.
Though in quite different educational settings than Elissa, I, too, noticed a significant gender disparity in my PhD cohort (3 women in an incoming class of about 35). While I have had many excellent colleagues and friends during my time at Toronto School of Theology, I had no immediate peers studying the history of Christianity in my cohort (most were studying systematics or homiletics) and found few fellow extroverts or feminist-affirming allies in my classes. It seemed that the default setting in my faculty was an introverted male philosopher who loved abstract concepts and didn’t want to talk about concrete realities (like history) or non-serious things (like what they liked outside of academic philosophy). It felt like everything had to be quiet and serious all the time.
I have experienced the wider WIT community (both its contributors and readers) to be a good antidote to the things that left me feeling uneasy part way through my PhD. Being a part of WIT gives me a place engage with both a wider variety of people than I do within my own program and more people on the same track as I am. Writing for WIT gives me an outlet to engage with ideas that I care about but that I can’t include in my dissertation. Those of you who have been through major research projects know that they can be all-consuming. I found in both of my graduate programs that I reached a point of information saturation and I just didn’t want to take in anything else. My naturally curious, fact-loving streak disappeared for a while. I read less, I stopped listening to podcasts, and retreated into a pure utilitarian, only-what-I-need-to-know-to-pass-this-exam posture towards knowledge. While this was in some ways adaptive for the seasons I was in, I didn’t like that grad school had stamped out a part of me that I actually liked about myself.
Reading and writing for WIT has been a great space to prompt me back to into curiosity. Here I have been able to share about things that I care about and demonstrate that a person can be a serious academic while also liking non-academic things. I have a space to work out ideas about what my role is within my discipline, to wrestle through the realities of the privilege I have, and also to think about things that I like outside of theology (like beer, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones) in a theological way. There’s a bit more room to move, and a bit more room to be me, in the midst of an almost-all-consuming dissertation writing process.
In sum, I write for WIT because it is good for me; it lets me work some muscles that grad school helped me build but doesn’t always give me the space to use. And I write for WIT because the fact that others did benefited me and I wanted to be a part of it.