Feminist theologian and Emory professor Kwok Pui Lan, Ph.D, spent two days in Millville in October.
BY KRISTIN DUISBERG
On Oct. 19 and 20, St. Paul’s School hosted Kwok Pui-lan, Ph.D., dean’s professor of systematic theology at Candler Theological Seminary at Emory University in Atlanta as the School’s first Dickey visitor of the 2023-24 academic year. During class visits, Chapel and several meals, Kwok joined students and faculty for deep discussion on issues ranging from the symbolism behind religious architecture in China to her experiences traveling to South Africa during Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s chairmanship of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Best known for her scholarship in the realms of Asian feminist theology and postcolonial theology, Kwok teaches contemporary spirituality and interfaith understanding and has written or published 23 books in English and Chinese. During her Chapel talk on Oct. 20, she reflected on the Hebrew Bible as a historical book, and one that is unique in that it is written from the perspective of the losers.
“We always say that history has been written from the perspective of the winners because they wrote the history and passed it on,” she said. “The Bible is not like that. It was … a book for the losers, for those who were defeated by their enemies, forged after Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem amidst total chaos and calamity.” It was during that time of defeat and destruction, Kwok explained, that Jewish writers fashioned a new way of thinking about who they were and developed a notion of political community; at the heart of the Hebrew Bible lies the question, “what does it mean to be a people?” The New Testament, Kwok continued, expands on that question to ask, “What does it mean to be a people reconciled with God?”
Kwok’s talk also touched on current events, observing that over the last several weeks she has reflected on the same question that many others have: that of why God would allow suffering and turmoil. “It is in moments like this that one particular tradition in the Bible is so important to me: it is lament. When we look at the Bible, there are praises of God, but there also are laments directed to God,” she said. “And what I have learned from my Hebrew Jewish colleagues is that it is okay to ask the question [of why].”
The students appreciated [Dr. Kwok’s] ability as a teacher and storyteller to make complex histories come alive through narrative.”