Sharon Welch is adjunct faculty member at Meadville Lombard Theological School, after having served as Provost and Professor of Religion for ten years. She has held positions as Professor and Chair of Religious Studies, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Adjunct Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri. She was assistant and associate professor of Theology and Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School. She received her Ph.D. in theology from Vanderbilt University in 1982, and was named Distinguished Alumna of the year in 2019. Welch serves as a board member of the American Humanist Association, the Interreligious Institute of Chicago Theological Seminary and Chicago League of Women Voters.
Welch is the author of After the Protests Are Heard: Enacting Civic Engagement and Social Transformation (NYU Press, 2019), Communities of Resistance and Solidarity: A Feminist Theology of Liberation (Orbis Books, 1984, Wipf and Stock, 2017), Real Peace, Real Security: The Challenges of Global Citizenship (Fortress, 2008), After Empire: The Art and Ethos of Enduring Peace (Fortress, 2004), and A Feminist Ethic of Risk (Fortress, 1989, and Revised Edition, 2000). She is a contributor to The Oxford Handbook on Humanism (editor Anthony B. Pinn).
This is an extraordinary time in the life of the world. Educational institutions face immense challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, and are increasingly aware of the costs of systemic racism and of the interaction of racism with other forms of social injustice. At this moment, I believe my scholarly work and practical experience in civic engagement and social transformation are a good fit for the challenges that we in the AAR are facing with commitment, creativity and integrity.
The mission of the AAR to “cultivate and support a diverse community engaged in the academic study of religion” is intricately related to a core goal of the academy, reckoning with the role that ‘religion often plays in causing or resolving social strife.’ In our attempts to understand the role of religion and of humanist thought in reckoning with the past and current costs of systemic injustice and in working to create, nurture and expand liberative and diverse communities, the AAR has consistently served as an association of educators and scholars that has challenged us to see our limitations and to do more for expansive and systemic social justice.
I am a social ethicist, and the AAR has been central to my development as an activist, educator, and administrator. At every institution in which I have studied and worked, I have been fortunate to have been part of multiracial teams of faculty, students, staff and administrators that have drawn on the resources of the AAR to shape self-critical and generative practices within our institutions and for the larger society.
At Harvard Divinity School I worked with multiracial teams involved in the creation and expansion of Feminist, Womanist, Black and Liberation theology. At the University of Missouri, I was part of multiracial teams that defined and expanded the scope of multicultural education across the university, and worked with the Religion and the Professions initiative that brought to the schools of business, law and medicine greater understanding of religious diversity in the communities that they served. At MLTS we worked to create an educational model and an institutional culture that exemplified not just cross-cultural competency, but the artistry of multiracial and cross-cultural partnership and leadership.
I am committed to another goal of the AAR, working with academic organizations to address the fundamental injustice of the increasing reliance on contingent faculty, and to “foster equity and labor justice” for contingent faculty. My experience as a leader in three forms of institutions – a private university, a public university, and a free-standing theological school – provide me with a unique range of experiences, networks, and strategies to participate in this work.
At this time of increasing authoritarianism and assaults on critical thinking and respect for other traditions and peoples, the work to which the AAR is committed is vital. We can build on the substantive work that the AAR has done for decades as we self-critically participate in educational and institutional practices of reckoning, reparations and the creation of an inclusive and just public sphere.