Religion scholar awarded Lilly Grant

Religion scholar awarded Lilly Grant

Image: Elizabeth A. Dreyer Has the Holy Spirit gotten short shrift in comparison with the Father and the Son? Elizabeth A. Dreyer, Ph.D., professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, will explore that question in a new book and with the help of 12 pastoral leaders from the greater New Haven area, thanks to a $20,000 Lilly Endowment grant awarded to her by the Louisville Institute. The grant will fund a projected volume entitled, "The Holy Spirit is Not Cinderella: Narratives of the Spirit in the Western Christian Medieval Tradition."

The Louisville Institute is a Lilly Endowment program for the study of American religion based at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. The fundamental mission of the Institute is to enrich the religious life of American Christians and to encourage the revitalization of their institutions by bringing together those who lead religious institutions with those who study them, so that the work of each might stimulate and inform the other.

Dr. Dreyer, a resident of Hamden, has gathered a group of local religious leaders from several Christian faiths: Anglican, Methodist, Quaker, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and the United Church of Christ. The group will meet and discuss "Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective" by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (Baker 2002), then read Dr. Dreyer's manuscript on the topic.

Many scholars contend that the western theological tradition has been remiss in its treatment of the Holy Spirit of Christianity, neglecting it in favor of greater emphasis on God the Father and the Son, who may seem more accessible, perhaps simply because people can relate better to persons than to spirits, Dr. Dreyer said.

"Descriptors of the Spirit include 'personally amorphous,' 'faceless,' 'forgotten,' 'upstaged,' 'ethereal and vacant,' 'unclear,' and 'invisible,'" Dr. Dreyer notes in her proposal.

But Dr. Dreyer's research on the Holy Spirit has uncovered a robust tradition of references in mystical texts, prayers, sermons, Bible commentaries and other sources.

The grant will enable Dr. Dreyer to expand her research to publish a book on the topic, enhanced with insights from the group of religious leaders. The collaboration will enable the ministers to articulate their own theologies of the Holy Spirit, and ascertain how the Holy Spirit functions in their ministries and their personal spiritualities, Dr. Dreyer said.

"As a UCC pastor interested in ecumenical conversation and as someone who knows Dr. Dreyer's previous work, I am excited to be part of her new project," said Rev. Louise Higginbotham, Senior Pastor of United Church on the Green in New Haven. "Too often, the links between academic theology and the life of local communities of faith are neglected and undernourished. This initiative will bring together fine scholarship and the experience of clergy from a variety of Christians traditions, relying upon the Holy Spirit to guide our study."

The Louisville Institute has awarded grants to Dr. Dreyer twice before, once in support of her work on the book "Passionate Spirituality: Hildegard of Bingen and Hadewijch of Brabant," which will be published in March by Paulist Press.

Dr. Dreyer holds a bachelor's in French from the Dominican University in Chicago, a master's in theology from Xavier University in Chicago, and a doctorate in historical theology from Marquette University. She also studied at the Harvard Divinity School and the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies at Regis College, and the University of St. Michael's. Dr. Dreyer is the author of numerous articles on Christian Theology and the role of women in Christianity, as well as several books, including "Earth Crammed With Heaven: A Spirituality of Everyday Life" and "Passionate Women: Two Medieval Mystics."

Last year she was awarded the 2004 St. Elizabeth Seton Medal, an annual theological award for distinguished women theologians given by the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati.

"The arc of religious practice moves slowly, relative to the lengths of our lives," said Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University. "Professor Dreyer's work allows us to look deeply into our current practices, and then re-view them in light of seminal documents from the Middle Ages. This kind of work helps us understand not just how our religions might have emerged, but where we might be able to go with them, as well. Professor Dreyer's expertise in medieval religious text, and especially with associated issues related to gender, promise an exciting investigation into the role and place of the Holy Spirit relative to lives gone, here, and to come."

Posted On: 01-15-2005 10:01 AM

Volume: 37 Number: 136