Six of Candler’s newest graduates have been accepted into prestigious PhD programs for the fall of 2018. Tala AlRaheb 18T (Emory University), John Barnes II 17T 18T (Fordham University), Lahronda Little 18T (Emory), Adam McDuffie 18T (Emory), LaShaunda Reese 18T (Loyola University Chicago), and Byron Wratee 18T (Boston College) credit Candler’s extensive course offerings, world-class faculty mentors, supportive community, and connection to top-ranked research institution Emory University with providing strong, holistic groundwork for them to pursue doctoral studies.

“The curriculum at Candler prepared me for further study by introducing me to a range of methodologies, allowing me to examine different topics in innovative ways,” Adam McDuffie says. His research through the Graduate Division of Religion (GDR) at Emory’s Laney Graduate School will explore the concept of civil religion, with a focus on the U.S. military as a religious structure within American civil religion. “As I look toward a career teaching in an academic environment which increasingly places a heightened premium on interdisciplinary work, Candler and its MDiv program provided me with a terrific foundation.”

MTS graduate Tala AlRaheb echoes the importance of academic variety at Candler, particularly the flexibility of the MTS curriculum. “I wasn’t tied down to certain requirements. This allowed me to truly explore the area of research that interests me.” In Emory’s GDR, AlRaheb will study the intersections of Palestinian culture, religion, and law in connection with the experiences of Palestinian Christian women. At Candler, she says “I was able to take a variety of courses ranging from the New Testament and women to Islamic/Shari’a law.”

LaShaunda Reese came to Candler with her MA in Christian ethics already in hand, and will now join Loyola University Chicago’s PhD program of Integrative Studies of Ethics and Theology, with a focus in womanist ethics. As an MTS student, she says she looked to Candler “for contextual relevance. As a black female, it can be extremely difficult to find significance in European literature and theology. Courses engaging the black church and black religion bridged the gap for me between historical literature and contemporary social context. I will use my foundation of black church and black religion gained at Candler to further my studies at Loyola.” 

For Lahronda Little, a second career seminarian, context also mattered. The opportunity to pursue certificate programs within Candler’s MDiv program—Little earned certificates in both Religion and Health and Women, Theology and Ministry—helped her clarify her PhD research path. “It was at the intersection of health and religion that I began to question my long-held understanding of salvation, which at its root means ‘healing’ and ‘wholeness.’” In the GDR’s Person, Community, and Religious Life program, Little will examine concepts of privatized and holistic salvation. Read a blog post from Little about her unexpected journey to a PhD.

John Barnes, who has earned both MDiv and ThM degrees from Candler and will begin doctoral studies at Fordham University in systematic theology, says, “Candler’s openness provided the space and opportunity to discern the particularity of my vocational identity. Not only did the curriculum challenge me academically, it also provided the support and community to make this type of work sustainable.” The school’s weekly worship services have been foundational for Barnes, who served as a vocalist and pianist through the Office of Worship. “My active engagement in worship helped to ground my academic work within the context of spiritual practice that both informed my intellectual pursuits and strengthened my faith.”

Candler’s commitment to financial aid was integral to Barnes’ seminary experience, and to his pursuit of further study. “Not only have I received overwhelming financial support in the form of direct scholarships, fellowships, and multiple on-campus employment opportunities, I was also able to travel to the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting with Candler’s support.” It was at the AAR meeting where Barnes first heard about the program at Fordham.  

MDiv graduate Byron Wratee, who will attend Boston College’s Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences to study systematic theology, notes that there was a distinct bond among the students of color going through the PhD application process together. “We encouraged each other, traveled to AAR together, and proofread application materials. When money was tight, we loaned each other money to pay application and test fees. It truly was a team effort within the Black Student Caucus.” 

Being part of top-25 ranked Emory University enables students to not only take a wider offering of courses, sometimes outside of Candler, but to enhance the caliber of their work. “Candler’s location within a major research university forced me to articulate my theological inquiries in a way that met the intellectual demands of the academy,” Barnes says. “My work was challenged, critiqued, and always pushed to embody the standard of academic excellence that Emory’s reputation requires.”

During his three years in Candler’s MDiv program, Adam McDuffie took PhD seminars in the religion and history departments, worked as a teaching assistant in the department of religion at Emory College, studied at the law school, and conducted research at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion. Tala AlRaheb also had a wide-ranging academic experience. “Through the connection between Candler and other schools at Emory, I was able to take courses on Islamic feminism, feminism in America, and human rights law. This enabled me to bridge my interest in Christianity, Islam, and feminism, and provided me with the opportunity to build a strong foundation prior to applying to PhD programs.”

Each student found no shortage of faculty mentors as they moved through the PhD application process. “While Candler and Emory are known for world-renowned faculty, the true gift is the accessibility of these theological and intellectual giants,” John Barnes says. “Numerous faculty members made themselves available to encourage and help me identify possible opportunities in the academy. Not only were they concerned about my scholarship, but they were also deeply invested in my personal and spiritual growth.”

Adam McDuffie praises faculty members for offering advice on the application process, their willingness to proofread writing sample drafts and pen recommendation letters—not to mention their emotional support and “ability to keep me calm during the waiting period.” Byron Wratee says that serving as a faculty research assistant helped to “demystify the life of an academic.” In addition to her faculty mentors, Lahronda Little turned to current Emory PhD students, another benefit of being part of a larger institution. “One of the smartest things I think I did was have ongoing conversations with people who were in various stages of study in the Graduate Division of Religion. These students kindly shared the most helpful hints and encouraged me when I felt frustrated.” Read more about how faculty mentors guided students through the PhD process.

It won’t be long before these future PhDs will be in mentoring roles themselves, guides for a new generation of aspiring doctoral students. As they move into the next chapter of their academic and spiritual journey, it’s clear that the connections and experiences they have gained at Candler will serve as a solid foundation, wherever their studies take them. As John Barnes puts it, “I will always be grateful to Candler for facilitating the development of these relationships that will be integral to my growth as a teacher and a scholar.”  

“Candler has provided me with a well-rounded theological education,” Byron Wratee says. “Here, I have been encouraged to develop and embrace my voice.”

Top photo, clockwise from bottom left: Byron Wratee, Lahronda Little, LaShaunda Reese, John Barnes, Tala AlRaheb, and Adam McDuffie celebrate at Commencement 2018. Photos by Cindy Brown 09T and Lisa Stone, Candler Communications.