Tag Archives: Graduate Theological Union

MA Thesis Presentation

Katy on Zoom, 19 Feb 2021

On 7 March 2021, I presented about my GTU Master’s Thesis “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners” to about forty people in my home parish, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California) via Zoom (and broadcast to the church courtyard). I linked my slides here to make it easier to follow along. Here is the link to the video recording.

I have not yet posted the whole thesis – I think the GTU Library will be doing that eventually. I am still in the process of getting the final thesis signatures and the library is one of the last that needs to approve it.

St Andrews, 7 Mar 2021

8 March 2021 – updated text, added video link, and photo

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Busy Grad Student

Katy Dickinson Master's Thesis, Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners, 23 Jan 2021
Katy Dickinson Master’s Thesis, Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners, 23 Jan 2021

My Graduate Theological Union Master’s – Theology thesis is called “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners.” I finished writing it at the end of January, successfully defended it at the start of February and am now working through minor edits with my GTU committee. (Hooray!) In parallel, I am continuing to take classes for GTU’s Interreligious Chaplaincy Certificate program. I am honored to have been accepted into a CPE (clinical pastoral education) program at Stanford Health Care later this year.

I finished a two-part January Intersession class in “Introduction to Pastoral Care and Theology,” and am now taking three GTU classes, “Diversity in Counseling,” “Pediatric Chaplaincy,” and “A Good Death.” Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all classes are online. Professors have to make up for the lack of in-person class time and meet the nine-hours-per-week / per class requirement. In addition to assigned reading and papers, my graduate classes meet by Zoom once or twice a week, plus posting 250 to 500 word reflections to Moodle (learning management system). Each class has a different schedule, so I created a table to remember when I need to post and when replies are due to other students’ posts. Every time I log into Moodle, it tells me how many more reflection posts I need to read. I end up posting to Moodle twelve to fourteen times a week. I will be happy when we can get back inside a real classroom.

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Wissa Wassef Tapestry from Egypt

Katy Dickinson with Reda Ahmed’s tapestry

To celebrate my finishing writing my Master’s thesis, John surprised me with a large tapestry from the Wissa Wassef Art Center, Giza, Egypt. Normally for a big family celebration, we would go out to dinner or maybe on a trip, but during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, that is not possible.

The title of my Graduate Theological Union MA thesis is “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners” and I will defend it before my committee next month. I finished the last of my required classes in December 2020 and if all goes well, I will graduate in May 2021 with the GTU – MA and a Certificate in Spirituality and Social Change from Pacific School of Religion. I will continue my studies at GTU in the Interreligious Chaplaincy Certificate program.

In 2010, our family visited the Wissa Wassef Art Center outside of Cairo (in Harrania Village, near Giza) where we bought a small tapestry and two books. I am glad to have a second of these lovely works of fabric art!

Our first Wissa Wassef tapestry is a small master work called “Around the Pond,” woven in cotton by Mohamed Achour in 2010. It presents fish and birds with palms and flowering plants around a small body of water.

Our new Wissa Wassef tapestry is undated but is probably much older than the first, even though John just bought it from a store in France. It was woven by Reda Ahmed in wool and cotton. Looking at our 2010 pictures, I realized we saw Reda Ahmed weaving during our Wissa Wassef visit. We hung the tapestry last night and it may take months for the textile to settle into its new home above the stairs. The weaving presents a large blue tree with red flowers, with a smaller tree and bushes as well as birds, weasels, and a lizard. I am thankful for this lovely and generous gift. The lively images and cheerful colors make me happy!

Note: Nothing pictured is for sale. Please do not ask.

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Polemics to Pluralism

Last semester at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), I took a class called “Introduction to Islamic Theology” with Dr. Ahmed Khater. My final paper for the class was “Polemics to Pluralism.” Our main reading text was Commentary on the Creed of At-Tahawi by Ibn Abi al-Izz. We also read selections from Sharh Al-Aqeedat-il-Wasitiyah: Text on the Fundamental Beliefs of Islam and Rejection of False Concepts of its Opponents by Ibn Taimiyah, Kitaab at-Tawhid by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, The Fundamentals of Tawheed by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, publications in the “Proofs of Prophethood Series” by the Yaqueen Institute for Islamic Research, parts of The Final Day by Umar Sulaiman Al-Ashqar, as well as videos and other published works. For my book review, I sought a different point of view, choosing Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism by Union Theological Seminary‘s Associate Professor of Islam and Interreligious Engagement, Jerusha Tanner Rhodes. Many of these works were referenced in my final paper, which begins…

Polemics to Pluralism

In this paper, as an extension of our weekly class discussions this semester on similarities and differences in theology between Islam and other faiths, I engage with selected historical and contemporary Muslim scholars with regard to how they communicate, by means of theological polemics at one end of the range, through pluralism and interfaith dialogue at the other. I focus on communication by Islamic scholars in their interactions with two other Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Judaism. I find that some contemporary Muslim scholars value and promote concepts of religious pluralism in the Quran, which may be a sign that Islam is moving away from the polemical rhetoric of its most famous historical scholars.

Please read the remainder of the paper at “Polemics to Pluralism.”

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Inspiring Muslims in America

Notable Technical Women cards 2019
Notable Tech Women Card Deck 2019

This semester at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), I took the class “Islam and its Interreligious Context” taught by Dr. Mahjabeen Dhala. One of our final reflection papers was to answer this question, “Present a key historical or contemporary Muslim personality in America. Explain the reasons for your selection. How does this personality inspire you?”

The American Muslim personality I chose is Lila Ibrahim. She came to my attention after she was made President of Coursera in 2013, after she was Chief of Staff at Kleiner Perkins in 2010. Coursera is an American MOOC (massive open online course) provider, founded by Stanford University in 2012. She is currently the Chief Operating Officer for DeepMind. In 2019, Ibrahim was featured on several UK Business Insider’s lists of influential and impactful leaders. Purdue University is her alma mater and she is on their Board of Advisors. Ibrahim is the Co-founder and Chair of Team4Tech, a technical mentoring non-profit for developing countries. She has created computer labs in the orphanage in Lebanon where her father was raised. Ibrahim has a remarkable depth of experience in education, especially online, and as a mentor. I admit that I do not know about Lila Ibrahim’s personal faith but I am writing about her as an inspiring American of Lebanese descent.

In 2014, my daughter Jessica and I started working on a project with Dr. Susan Roger, Duke University Professor of Computer Science. Susan and I had known each other for many years and each of us had developed lists of remarkable technical women. Jessica had the idea to make playing cards and posters from our research to inspire girls and young women. We wanted to include a very broad range of women, socially, demographically, geographically, and by professional area. Susan and I each sorted through decades of our professional contacts to find the 54 honorees, and then we contacted each woman for a picture and to fill in biographical details, or used what we found on Wikipedia. Because she had won an Anita Borg Institute Women of Vision Award, Lila Ibrahim was one of the women we selected. Since 2014, Notable Women in Tech has distributed thousands of our card decks and posters around the world. Lila Ibrahim is the five of hearts. You can see the 4th Edition list of honorees on my blog.

Lila Ibrahim inspires me not just because she is a remarkably successful professional woman in the highly-patriarchal technical industry but because she has routinely sought out and succeeded in creating educational projects while acting as a mentor for young entrepreneurs. For many senior executives, it is enough to succeed, but Lila Ibrahim has intentionally and consistently carried others along in the wake of her accomplishments. She always pays it forward.

Inspiring American Muslims about whom other students wrote were:
Mahershala Ali (Academy Award winning actor)
Muhammad Ali (Boxer, activist and philanthropist)
Reza Aslan (Author and scholar of Religious Studies)
Soumaya Khalifa (Executive Director, Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta)
Hind Makki (founder and curator of Side Entrance, an award-winning website)
Ilhan Omar (U.S. Representative for Minnesota)
Malcolm X (Muslim minister and human rights activist)

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Interfaith Work

Jewish and Muslim interfaith studies books, Dec 2020

This semester at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), I took a pair of half-semester classes, “Judaism and its Interreligious Context” (taught by Dr. Yehezkel Landau) and “Islam and its Interreligious Context” (taught by Dr. Mahjabeen Dhala). Both were excellent classes with inspiring professors. Together, these two classes met the GTU Master’s requirement for Interreligious Studies. I combined the term papers to create a final paper called “Getting Closer to God Through Interfaith Work.”

I have finished the major writing for my Master’s thesis, titled “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners,” and am waiting for my thesis committee’s feedback on the last few chapters. I have to defend my thesis in early February 2021, which means spending two or more hours answering questions by my review committee about the 100+ page document and my research. I officially graduate in May 2021 with my Master of Arts – Christian Theology, with a Certificate in Spirituality and Social Change. I will continue my studies in the GTU Interreligious Chaplaincy Certificate program but I am happy to be done with my Master’s classes.

Getting Closer to God Through Interfaith Work

Introduction

This paper presents reflections on interreligious dialogue from the lived experience of two notable leaders. Based on conversations with Maha Elgenaidi and Rabbi Melanie Aron, and considering related scholarly material, I examine my next steps with regard to interfaith engagement in my work and ministry. The title of this paper comes from Maha Elgenaidi but I find it rings true for me as well. Interfaith work makes me feel closer to God. I am using this paper not only to document the accomplishments and views of two remarkable women but also to emphasize the benefits of interfaith work to the community. 

Please read the remainder of the paper at “Getting Closer to God Through Interfaith Work.”

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Reading _The Plague_

In 2012, we had a mouse infestation in our home, one of the potential downsides of pet birds. I was thinking of this when our book club read The Plague by Albert Camus  (in which the bubonic plague starts with rats). Plague and pestilence books have been popular during the Coronavirus pandemic, with book recommendations lists being widely published. We read sections of Camus’ 1947 book in last semester’s “God and Suffering” class at GTU‘s Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology (DSPT). Ironically, The Plague was part of the reading list for the class before Covid-19 came upon us. It seems to me that in the months since the pandemic started, we have slowly become like the people of Camus’ town of Oran in Algeria who, “in the very heart of the epidemic… maintained a saving indifference, which one was tempted to take for composure.”

The Plague‘s narrator ends with qualified optimism,

He “…resolved to compile this chronicle, so that he should not be one of those who hold their peace but should bear witness in favor of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.

None the less, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.”

While our community has become less focused on the pandemic and has turned to other matters, I pray that we continue to honor and support the heroic doctors and health workers who are still fighting Covid-19.

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Images Copyright 2012 by Katy Dickinson.

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