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Booth to deliver fall Mellby Lecture on public usefulness of theology

boothdavid350x450St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Religion David Booth will deliver the fall Mellby Lecture, titled On the Public Usefulness of Theology: Making Sense of North Carolina’s “Bathroom Wars.”

The lecture will be held November 17 at 7 p.m. in Viking Theater. It will be streamed and archived online.

Booth will cover two main topics in the lecture. The first will analyze theology as a way of reasoning about religion that is valuable for particular religious communities, as well as for the general public. “Theology allows us to understand the underlying circumstances of our lives, and to envision a future where everyone has a chance at the blessing of life,” Booth argues.

The second topic focuses on demonstrating the efficacy of theology in public life through the ongoing controversy of bathroom access for transgender people. Booth plans to provide a political and theological analysis on the North Carolina state legislature’s decision to pass House Bill 2 in March 2016. The bill essentially requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate, thus stigmatizing and marginalizing trans-people as a result.

“I will argue that a richer and more satisfying religious worldview would welcome and celebrate trans-people as the promise of a more jubilant, flourishing humanity,” Booth says.

Booth has been teaching in the fields of theology, feminist theory, and religion and culture. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Chicago before joining the St. Olaf faculty in 1985. His scholarship explores historical and contemporary instances when religious communities have stigmatized marginal subgroups. In recent teaching, Booth has been addressing intersections of theology and environmental studies.

The annual Mellby Lectures are named in remembrance of St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby and were established in 1983 to give professors the opportunity to share their research with the public. Mellby, known as “the father of social sciences” at St. Olaf, started the first courses in economics, sociology, political science, and art history at the college. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion, and philosophy, and is credited with creating the college’s honor system.