Julia Watts BelserCandler will present the inaugural Nancy Eiesland Endowment Lecture on March 25, with Dr. Julia Watts Belser addressing Violence, Disability, and the Politics of Healing. Named for late Candler professor Nancy Eiesland, the lectures will focus on issues in religion and disability studies. Eiesland died in 2009, after serving on Candler’s faculty for 15 years.

In this first lecture, Belser, assistant professor of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University, will examine the complex relationship between violence, disability and domination. Bringing sacred texts into conversation with feminist disability studies and the lived experiences of disability justice activists, Belser will offer resources for religious voices seeking to reimagine disability, healing and liberation.

“What place do disabled people have in our imagined futures?” Belser wrote in an email about the lecture. “Ancient and contemporary communities frequently portray the ideal, utopian society as a place without disability. And Christian, Jewish, and secular eschatologies are often potent sites of disability erasure, forms of eugenic imagination that envision liberation through the denial of bodily and sensory difference.”

Belser says her lecture will contest notions of healing that depoliticize disability or devalue the integrity of disabled lives.

Candler Dean Jan Love says this lecture is important for two reasons. “First, it invites us to engage thoughtfully with an issue facing communities of faith everywhere: Do we see those with disabilities as whole and complete creations of God who bring their own gifts and talents to our communities?” 

“Second, the lecture honors the legacy of one of Candler’s most beloved professors. Nancy Eiesland’s work has been hailed as groundbreaking in the field of disability studies. We are proud of her long association with Candler School of Theology, and we look forward to Rabbi Belser’s presentation that builds on Dr. Eiesland’s pioneering research.”

Eiesland came to Candler in 1988 as a master of divinity student. Her master’s thesis evolved into the 1994 book, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Shaped by Eiesland’s childhood experience of undergoing numerous surgeries for a congenital bone defect, the book is considered to be the foundational text in disability studies. Following completion of her doctorate in Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion, Eiesland joined Candler’s faculty. In addition to her pioneering work on disability, which included consulting with the United Nations on its Convention on the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, Eiesland was known for her work in sociology and congregational studies. In 2000, she published A Particular Place, which examined urban patterns affecting churches.

This lecture is the first made possible by the Dr. Nancy Eiesland Endowment for Disability Studies, which supports scholarly activities to encourage and promote interdisciplinary scholarship in disability studies, including annual lectures or conferences at Emory University.  The Eiesland Lectures are scheduled to occur every three years.

The March 25 lecture is free and open to the public, with registration required. It will take place in the lecture hall of Pitts Theology Library, 11:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m., and includes lunch. Register by March 19 at http://form.jotformpro.com/form/50149271196961.