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Al-Atiyat, Walter to deliver this year’s Mellby Lectures

St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Ibtesam Al-Atiyat and Professor of Religion and Department Chair Gregory Walter will deliver the annual Mellby Lectures on November 9.

The lectures will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Viking Theater, and will be open to the public. They will also be streamed and archived online. Please note that all visitors to campus must wear a mask at all times.

Professor of Religion and Department Chair Gregory Walter
Professor of Religion and Department Chair Gregory Walter

Walter’s lecture, titled  “The Vulnerability of Theology,” will acquaint listeners with several theological questions that he’s found himself unable to resolve or let go.

“The first concerns secularization: Christian theology seems permanently tied to the Christian church and its traditions. I have long wondered what theology can do disconnected from religion and religions. The second brings us to critique: we need theological critique when things have gone wrong. No longer do we have the pressing question of whether we should take up a practice, critique happens in the thick of things, in life damaged,” he says. “The need for justification and critique points to the vulnerability of theology, a vulnerability which is the vulnerability of God.”

Walter earned his undergraduate degree from St. Olaf, where he majored in mathematics. He went on to earn an M.Div. degree at Luther Seminary in St. Paul and a Ph.D at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.

Walter’s work has engaged in conversations on theological rationality, hermeneutics, divine love, and interreligious theology, which have been published in various theological journals and as chapters in edited volumes and scholarly yearbooks. He has also contributed to the scholarship on the work of several figures: Martin Luther, Johann Georg Hamann, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Karl Holl, Hans-Joachim Iwand, and Paul Tillich. In 2013 he published Being Promised: Theology, Gift, and Practice (2013).

Walter is currently working on two projects. The first is a long-term project reconstructing theology as a form of inquiry in conversation with pragmatism and critical social theory. The second further develops the discussion of place from Being Promised in considering the topology of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Ibtesam Al-Atiyat in front of Holland Hall
Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Ibtesam Al-Atiyat

Al-Atiyat’s lecture, titled  “The Neo-Liberal Turn in Higher Education,” will examine examples of a shift toward neoliberalism at colleges in Jordan and the U.S.

“Neoliberalism is not only manifested in the administrative structure of universities, it is epistemological and affects the teaching and reception of the syllabus,” Al-Atiyat says. “By turns, the critical power of thought is reduced to a menu of dogma and the dogmatic itself is placed beyond the reach of thought as it’s a priori.”

​​Al-Atiyat earned her B.A in sociology from the University of Jordan and attended the Freie Universitaet (FU) in Berlin for her doctorate. Upon earning her Ph.D., she joined the Jordanian National Commission for Women as a senior program officer and speechwriter for Princess Basma Bint Talal.

Al-Atiyat’s professional experience in the U.S includes a Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and a fellowship at the Kettering Foundation Deliberative Democracy Institute, where she helped found the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy.

Since 2016 Al-Atiyat has been active in founding two universities in Jordan: A technical university specializing in STEM, and another in Integrative Liberal Arts. After founding Al-Hussein Technical University, she assumed the position of the dean of Social and Basic Sciences as part of her sabbatical year in 2017.

Al-Atiyat is the author of the book The Women’s Movement in Jordan, and the editor of the book Gender Justice and the Uprisings in the Arab World.

About the Mellby Lectures
The annual Mellby Lectures remember St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby. Established in 1983, they allow professors to share their research with the public. Mellby, the “the father of social sciences” at St. Olaf, started the college’s first courses in economics, sociology, political science, and art history. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion, and philosophy, and developed the college’s honor system.