Vanderbilt hosts HRC scholarship class

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The last week of July is fairly quiet on college campuses, but the Human Rights Campaign got some conversations going at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

Sharon Groves, deputy director of the HRC's Religion and Faith Program.The national civil-rights organization has created its Scholarship & Mentorship Program for Religion and Theological Study, with the inaugural class’ summer institute held at Vanderbilt. As a part of the HRC Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program, the new program represents an investment in the next generation of religious scholars working on GLBT issues, and hopes to change the national conversation about GLBT people and religion, said Sharon Groves, deputy director of the religion and faith program.

“HRC decided to do this because our sense was that we needed to be doing work on changing hearts and minds at the source, and really being to look at what’s happening at our seminaries around the country,” Groves said. “We want to be able to fuel the next generation of scholars to not only be inclusive of GLBT people, but also lead the way to see how GLBT equality is part of a theological and faith-based understanding of the gospel. This program will bring some muscle to a different kind of religious expression.”

The scholarship provides a stipend of $15,000 for a doctoral student with an expressed interest in furthering GLBT religious and theological study. In addition to financial assistance, the scholarship provides one-on-one mentoring opportunity with a respected scholar, according to the HRC. As a part of that, the summer institute is a five-day program for 14 participants studying GLBT issues at the master’s and doctoral level. Students worked with prominent scholars of religion, public theologians, and media experts to explore how their scholarship can fuel a new dialogue on GLBT equality and religion in their schools, seminaries, congregations and communities,” Groves said.

“This isn’t really for people going off to preach to congregations, but laying the groundwork for the kind of education people will be getting before they go off to preach,” she explained. “What we are doing with these students, and this institute, is to get these students to think about themselves as public theologians, and how they can be a force to make a difference in the larger culture.”

In addition to HRC’s longstanding relationship with the Carpenter Foundation, which has made several gifts to Vanderbilt and hosted the event, the university was chosen for the summer institute also because of its physical location and strong history of GBLT support within the divinity school.

“Vanderbilt is a very progressive school, but it’s also accountable to a community around it that really struggles with GLBT issues,” Groves said. “This isn’t something that we would want to hold in the [San Francisco] area. The people who live around Vanderbilt are what we call the ‘movable middle,’ people who are struggling with GLBT issues, and so this location was in many ways symbolic of what we’re trying to do.”

For more information on the scholarship program, as well as to find out about this year’s participants, visit www.hrc.org/seminary.