BookTalks is a collaborative effort of Barbour Library and the Center for Writing and Learning Support featuring in-person and webinar conversations with PTS faculty and community members as well as other guests whose work is theological in nature. Our host Dr. Shan Overton not only highlights the books' subject matter, but also discusses the authors' writing processes, welcoming audience questions throughout. BookTalks are enhanced by library staff-curated subject guides and library displays for those interested in finding related resources. Recorded and linked to the PTS website and social media channels, BookTalks are envisioned to be creative resources that engage all who participate in theological and spiritual reflection and knowledge.
Andrew Nagy-Benson and Andrea Lloyd
April 14, 2023
Letters from the Ecotone (Wipf and Stock, 2022) invites readers into an open-hearted dialogue between friends—a scientist and a pastor. In a series of letters written during the pandemic, Lloyd and Nagy-Benson explore the realities of climate change from the perspectives of ecology and Christian theology. The authors seek common ground, where science and religion meet, and share a vision of flourishing life on earth. At a time when the climate crisis is quickly emerging as an existential threat, this book charts a journey imbued with the insights of ecological science and the wisdom of the Christian tradition.
Andrew Nagy-Benson is the senior pastor of The Congregational Church of Middlebury (United Church of Christ) and an affiliate chaplain at Middlebury College. He is currently a student in the Doctor of Ministry program in Creative Writing and Public Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Andy lives with his family in Weybridge, Vermont. Andrea Lloyd is the pastor of the Trinitarian Congregational Parish of Castine (United Church of Christ) and a former professor of biology at Middlebury College. Andi lives in Castine, Maine.
The Rev. Christina Kukuk '05
Feb. 24, 2023
Loving What Doesn’t Last: An Adoration of the Body (Morehouse Publishing, 2021) is a book for all who inhabit a body and wonder about its place in the universe. Through lyric essays and poetry, the Rev. Christina Kukuk '05 finds the spiritual in the most material bodily experiences: a 21-year-old victim of the opioid crisis, the mother who plants an orchard in his memory, a girl’s tumble through food scarcity, an adolescent awakening to infatuation at summer camp, and a woman waiting hours for her lover’s recovery on a hospital’s transplant floor. Earthy and divine, funny at times, Loving What Doesn’t Last invites readers into an adoration of the body—birth, food, love, pain, death, and water become skin-wrapped windows into the holy.
Kukuk is a graduate of Pittsburgh Seminary and has been an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ for more than 17 years, serving congregations in Cleveland and rural Southern Oregon, amongst other places. A writer and pastor currently living in Oregon, Kukuk attended journalism school at Kent State University and worked as a business reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal in Ohio. Since then, her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications, including Belt Magazine, Bearings Online, GEEZ Magazine, The Christian Century, and Spirituality & Health.
The Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott
Dec, 9, 2022
Moderator Dr. Shan Overton, director of the PTS Writing Center, and co-host the Rev. Karen Rohrer, PTS's director of the Center for Adaptive and Innovative Ministry, were in conversation with pastor, author, and editor/publisher the Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott about her new book Necessary Risks: Challenges Privileged People Need to Face (Fortress Press, 2022).
Necessary Risks is a book for people of privilege who are increasingly aware of racial injustice but unsure of what to do about it and afraid to venture into challenging dialogues and spaces. Ott encourages readers to value risk-taking as the path toward a more equitable and just world. She builds on memoir-like stories to explore 10 risks with which she has wrestled in her work with diverse populations as the chaplain of a liberal arts college and as a volunteer in a men's state prison. These necessary risks are also informed by Ott's study of authors, theologians, and scholars of color, such as Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, Ada María Isasi-Díaz, and Eddie Glaude Jr. Demonstrating that in the face of injustice, white silence and inaction are not neutral, Necessary Risks leads readers to feel less fearful and more capable in diverse settings and ultimately to contribute to personal and communal learning and growth, change and transformation.â
The Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott has been an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister for more than 20 years. After receiving her master of divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary she served the church in a variety of pastoral positions. In 2008 she completed her doctor of ministry degree from McCormick Theological Seminary. She began serving Monmouth College as Chaplain in 2011 and was promoted to dean of the chapel in 2019. In 2021, Ott accepted a new call as editor / publisher of The Presbyterian Outlook, the only independent publisher of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Dr. Kimberly D. Russaw
Nov. 11, 2022
Revisiting Rahab: Another Look at the Woman of Jericho (Wesley Foundry Books, 2021) focuses on a woman who is remembered primarily as the prostitute who helped the Israelites claim the land of promise. Relegated to the crevices of the story and the reader's imagination and branded as a sex-worker and foreigner, Rahab nevertheless defies the authority of the Jericho king and negotiates with representatives of the Israelite army, thereby saving her family and more. According to the book’s author, newly appointed PTS professor Dr. Kimberly Russaw, Rahab is not a one-dimensional character; instead, she is a complex woman who upends the patriarchal ecosystem. By reframing Rahab, Dr. Russaw offers the biblical character as an exemplar of the inconvenient characters who persist at the margins even today. Dr. Russaw argues that the writers of Judges make the point that God is a promise keeper even to those beyond the Israelite camp.
Dr. Kimberly D. Russaw was appointed associate professor of Old Testament at PTS in 2022. She is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, serving as the chair of the African American Biblical Hermeneutics program unit. She is also an editorial board member of the Journal of Biblical Literature and is a member the American Academy of Religion, the Society for the Study of Black Religion, and the National Black MBA Association. Her publications include Daughters in the Hebrew Bible (Lexington Books, 2018) and “Undaunted: Reading Miriam for the Sisters They Tried to Erase” in Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation 30th Anniversary Expanded Edition (Fortress Press, 2021). Dr. Russaw has lectured or presented at events for PBS, Bible and Religions of the Ancient Near East, The Association of Theological Schools, and the Society of Biblical Literature, in addition to events at universities and seminaries. She received her Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel from Vanderbilt University. Dr. Russaw is an ordained itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
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Dr. Ed Simon
Oct. 14, 2022
Binding the Ghost (Fortress Press, 2022) is both manifesto and example of a new variety of reading that centers a theological perspective in considering what literature actually does. Neither dogmatic nor apologetic, sectarian or denominational, this mode of reading acknowledges the inherently charged strangeness of writing and fiction, whereby authors have the ability to seemingly create entire universes from words alone.
Dr. Ed Simon considers the theological depth, resonance, and mystery of the acts of reading and writing. His lyrical, incisive essays cover subjects such as the incarnational poetics of reading a physical book as opposed to reading online, the historical relationship between monotheism and the development of the alphabet, how the novel and Protestantism developed interiority within people, the occult significance of punctuation, and the functional similarities between poetry and prayer. Binding the Ghost presents a humane sacralization of reading and writing that takes into account the wonder, enchantment, and mystery of the very idea of poetry and fiction.
Dr. Simon holds a Ph.D. in English from Lehigh University. He is a staff writer for The Millions, and his work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review Daily, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Poetry, The Washington Post, The Rumpus, Salon, Lit Hub, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Religion Dispatches, Newsweek, Killing the Buddha, The Revealer, The Public Domain Review, JSTOR Daily, Tablet, History News Network, Atlas Obscura, Aeon, The New Republic, and The New York Times, among several others. He is also the author of several books, including America and Other Fictions: On Radical Faith and Post-Religion; Furnace of This World, or, 36 Observations about Goodness; and Printed in Utopia: The Renaissance's Radicalism, and is the co-editor of The God Beat: What Journalism Says about Faith and Why It Matters. He is the new editor in chief of Belt Magazine and will be teaching in the PTS Doctor of Ministry in Creative Writing and Public Theology program in fall 2023.
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Dr. Roger Owens
Sept. 16, 2022
During the Fall 2022 Launch of BookTalks, we celebrated faculty member the Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens' most recent book, Everyday Contemplative: The Way of Prayerful Living (Upper Room Books, 2022). In Everyday Contemplative, Dr. Owens asks a central question: What does it mean to live a contemplative life? He then explores various dimensions of this kind of living for the remainder of the book. Our time together included a robust conversation about how Dr. Owens, professor of Christian spirituality and ministry at PTS and an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, came to write this particular book during the pandemic. Along the way, we learned from him about the seven aspects of ordinary contemplative life that he describes in the book.
Dr. Gareth Higgins
June 23, 2022
In an epigraph at the beginning of his new book, How Not To Be Afraid: Seven Ways to Live When Everything Seems Terrifying (Broadleaf Books, 2021), Gareth Higgins quotes Rosa Parks, who said, "I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear." Given the overlapping crises of our current context, when fear and anxiety are at a high water mark, Parks's wisdom provides a helpful launching point for Higgins's project to transform his own fear and to help others transform theirs as well.
Gareth Higgins was born in Belfast during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology and lectures widely about storytelling, violence reduction, the power of dreams, and connection with the earth. A frequent collaborator with Kathleen Norris and Brian McLaren, Higgins led a peacebuilding community in Northern Ireland and is a co-founder of the Wild Goose Festival, the New Story Festival, and the Movies & Meaning Festival. He is the editor of The Porch Magazine and is currently teaching in the Doctor of Ministry Program in Creative Writing and Public Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
The Rev. Dr. B. Hunter Farrell and the Rev. S. Balajiedlang Khyllep, World Mission Initiative, PTS
May 13, 2022
Leaders of the Seminary's World Mission Initiative, B. Hunter Farrell and S. Balajiedlang Khyllep, discussed their new book Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision for Companionship, Cultural Humility, and Co-development (IVP Academic, 2022). Written in response to the deepening crisis in mission as practiced by North American congregations, Farrell and Khyllep critique the current consumer-oriented, colonial-minded approach to congregational mission, and they propose ways that church leaders can ground more faithful and effective missions through Christ-centered companionship, cultural humility, and co-development. Pastor David Shields writes in a review that "This book is prophetic. It ruthlessly confronts our current cultural baggage around missions all the while calling us back to Jesus and showing better ways to engage." Our conversation, which included audience in a Q&A, engaged Farrell and Khyllep's prophetic call for congregations to direct their resources in life-giving ways as they seek the mission of God.
The Rev. Dr. Nancy Hayes Kilgore '83
April 20, 2022
PTS alumna Nancy Hayes Kilgore, an ordained minister, psychotherapist, writing coach, and novelist, discussed her most recent novel, Bitter Magicâ (Milford House, 2021), which is inspired by the true story of the witchcraft trial of Isobel Gowdie, a woman caught up in the height of the witch craze in 17th century Scotland. This BookTalk included a presentation by the author, a reading from the book, and an interview with the author.
Deanna Witkowski, Author, Jazz Pianist, and Composer
March 18, 2022
During this BookTalk event, pianist, composer, and biographer Deanna Witkowski discusses her new book, Mary Lou Williams: Music for the Soul, which offers a fresh and welcome perspective on the life and music of the legendary jazz pianist, composer, and liturgist, Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981). Witkowski also recently released a Williams tribute recording, entitled Force of Nature, on MCG Jazz, the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild label. In telling Williams' fascinating life story in the biography, Witkowski illumines Williams' mantra that "jazz is healing to the soul." This conversation focuses on the ways that Williams' life and faith intertwined in and through her music.
Dr. Jennifer Kaalund, Associate Professor of New Testament, PTS
Feb. 11, 2022
In the February 2022 BookTALK, Dr. Jennifer Kaalund, associate professor of New Testament at PTS, discussed the African American Great Migration in the early 20th century and the formation of the New Negro, an identity that was associated with the Harlem Renaissance but also part of a larger cultural moment. In addition, Dr. Kaalund placed what we learn from this historical moment into conversation with the book of Hebrews, a text in which a new identity is being negotiated for the people of God. For bibliographic resources on Dr. Kaalund's scholarship and other related materials, please visit Barbour Library's PTS Fâaculty BookTalk Series Libguide.
The Rev. Dr. Jerome Creach, Robert C. Holland Professor Old Testament, PTS
The Rev. Dr. Ediwn van Driel, Directors' Bicentennial Professor of Theology, PTS
Dec. 10, 2021
The December 2021 BookTalk featured faculty members the Rev. Drs. Jerome Creach and Edwin van Driel, who have recently published books that cross disciplinary lines within the theological fields. Their work offers us the opportunity to have a robust conversation with two well-respected scholars about the fruitful interdisciplinary work that is possible in theology and biblical studies. Watch as Drs. Creach and van Driel talk about their books, Discovering Psalms: Content, Interpretation, Reception and Rethinking Paul: Protestant Theology and Pauline Exegesis, respectively. The LibGuide for this BookTalk may be found at https://guides.pts.edu/facultyseries.
Dr. Edith Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor Emerita of New Testament, PTS
Nov. 5, 2021
Dr. Edith Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor Emerita of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, discusses her recently published first major work of fiction, the children’s book, Beyond the White Fence. Hear about her creative process, the connections between her children’s novel and the Narnia series of C. S. Lewis, and her plans for her course on Lewis in the Doctor of Ministry program in Creative Writing and Public Theology.
March 12, 2021
The United States' election in November 2020 was notable in a variety of ways, not the least of which was the election of a Catholic to serve as president—only the second in our nation's history. Joseph R. Biden's presidency has a striking relevance in this moment of our unfolding national story as we question the nature and meaning of the American project. Who are we as a nation? How do we wrestle with the tensions between our societal diversity and our seeking of the common good? What is the proper relationship between church and state? What's our understanding of the presidency itself? And what does it mean to be Catholic in a society that launched with a Protestant vision?
Historian and theologian Massimo Faggioli, whose new book Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States (Bayard, 2021), addressed these questions through the double lens of Joe Biden's place in United States history and the triangular relationship between the U.S. Catholic Church, Vatican, and presidency.
Faggioli's perspective as an interpreter of American Catholicism is unique due to his roots in Italy and is deeply informed by an intense study of the context of Catholicism within the U.S. His book has been called, "a timely, thoughtful, provocative, and necessary book for our moment" by journalist and commentator E. J. Dionne. And Julian Coman, associate editor of The Guardian notes that it is "a must-read for anyone who truly wants to understand Joe Biden."
Joanne Spence '18, Spiritual Director, Social Worker, and Yoga Teacher
March 26, 2021
In this time of upheaval and grief, many of us are experiencing emotional, physical, and even spiritual stresses and strains that may surprise us. Some observers have labeled this as a time of trauma for people in American society, noting that many are in looking for ways to heal due to their experiences during the pandemic. Into this space comes the helpful and insightful voice of PTS alumna and Board member Joanne Spence, a spiritual director, social worker, and yoga teacher whose work in addressing trauma and stress through breath and movement has been groundbreaking. Spence's wisdom, conveyed in Trauma-Informed Yoga: A Toolbox for Therapists (PESI, 2021), developed over the last 21 years through her teaching in schools, veteran's groups, churches, hospitals, prisons, the seminary, and even in her own backyard! Along the way, we discuss the ways in which Spence's theological studies at PTS have informed her approaches to both writing and teaching yoga.