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Undergraduate Theology Journal Hosts Inaugural Spring Conference

Boston College’s undergraduate theology journal Mystērion held its inaugural spring conference at the BC School of Theology on March 19.

The conference, titled “Religious and Legal Perspectives on Migration: A Symposium on Christianity and the Law of Migration,” featured two panels in which various students presented their theology papers on migration.

Dennis Wieboldt, editor-in-chief of Mystērion and MCAS ’22, introduced Kristin E. Heyer, director of graduate studies of BC’s department of theology, and her recently published volume Christianity and the Law of Migration.

“This volume is a timely contribution to our understanding of the ethical frameworks with which we can approach issues of migration,” Wieboldt said. “We hoped to encourage submissions from a variety of fields and perspectives in the hopes of generating fruitful dialogue about the ideas and questions raised in Heyer’s volume.”

The first of two panels began with a paper from Olivia L. Halle, a sophomore at Saint Anselm College, entitled “The Catholic Church and Migration: A Systematic Perspective.”

Halle said that according to the Catholic Church, it is the responsibility of all Catholics to fight for the rights of migrants.

“As stated … in the Catechism, when local authorities violate human dignity, Christians have the right to protect the dignity of every human person, regardless of their citizenship status or country of origin,” Halle said.

Following Halle, Jack Engelmann, MCAS ’22, read his paper titled “Anawim Economics: A Migrant-Centered Hermeneutic.”

Engelmann said the concept of the Anawim, which refers to “those who remain faithful to God even in times of great difficulty,” could also pertain to current migrant populations, particularly those at the southern border of the United States.

“While the challenges of a globalized and interconnected world are by no means downplayed within the Christian tradition, to look at the reality of migration through the lens of the Anawim and then take direct action is a requirement that the Christian tradition calls its people to fulfill,” Engelmann said.

Bowdoin College student Rene Sebastian Cisneros kicked off Panel Two by presenting his paper titled “Guelaguetza as a Religious Site of Identity: Construction and Defense for the Oaxacan Immigrant Community.”

Cisneros spoke about the relationship between theological conversations and the “anatomy” of marginalized immigrant communities from his perspective as a Mexican American.

“There remains a distance between researchers and the practices and actions of those who live through the immigrant experience,” Cisneros said.

Cisneros said his parents taught him their immigrant experiences, while academia has offered him an alternate perspective on their larger political context.

“It is in the mixture of context between the scholarly and at times rigid position of academic work and the flourishing dynamic of social trajectories that I saw in my ancestral home that we might better understand the relationship between secularism and modernity,” Cisneros said.

Following Cisneros, Caroline Brewster, MCAS ’24, read her paper entitled “Right-Wing Populism and Migrant Exclusion: A Christian Theological Critique.”

Brewster said right-winged immigration policy in the United States is marked by anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“For a political movement that often describes itself as Christian and prides itself on appeals to Judeo-Christian American values, the right’s anti-immigration policy and rhetoric marks a substantial divergence from both American and biblical values, especially offered by Christ in the New Testament,” Brewster said.

Heyer said these discussions are important to challenging operative agendas.

“I think putting Christian theology and practice into dialogue with law and policy can unmask and then challenge operative agendas,” Heyer said.

Wieboldt wrapped up the conference by awarding the Macria Award for Excellence in Theology to Engelmann, who will have his paper published in a forthcoming issue of Mystērion.

“I think today, one of the things that the conference instilled in me was the question of the role of religion in American public life and public life more generally,” Wieboldt said.

Featured Image by Molly Burns / Heights Staff

April 6, 2022