College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences > Centers & Institutes > Center for World Catholicism & Intercultural Theology > World Catholicism Week > 2024 Speakers

2024 Speakers

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Below are our speakers' photos and bios, as well as short descriptions of their specific conference topics (these are being added as we receive them from the speakers).

Opening Speaker​

William T. Cavanaugh

Director, Center for World Catholicism & Intercultural Theology (CWCIT)
Professor, Catholic Studies
DePaul University
(Chicago, IL)

As an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame, William T. Cavanaugh changed his major from chemical engineering when, as he says, he got "hooked on theology." After graduating with a BA in theology, he went on to obtain a master's from Cambridge University in England and then spent two years working for the Church in a poor area of Santiago, Chile, under the military dictatorship. Upon returning to the U.S., he pursued a PhD from Duke University, after which he taught 15 years at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota before joining the faculty at DePaul University in 2010 as a full professor in the Department of Catholic Studies and a research professor in its Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology (CWCIT). In 2013, he became the CWCIT's director. 

His major areas of research involve the Church's encounter with social, political, and economic realities, and he is especially interested in the social implications of traditional Catholic beliefs and practices, such as the Eucharist. He has also dealt with themes of the Church's social and political presence in situations of violence and economic injustice. The author of nine books and editor/co-editor of seven more, he has been published in 17 langauges. Among his most significant books are Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Wiley, 1998); The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford UP, 2009); and Field Hospital: The Church's Engagement with a Wounded World (Eerdmans, 2016). His newest book, The Uses of Idolatry, was published in January 2024 by Oxford University Press; it "offers a sustained and interdisciplinary argument that... the target of worship has changed...[and] examines modern idolatries and the ways in which humans become dominated by our own creations." 

​Roundtable Speakers


Emilce Cuda

Pontifical Commission for Latin America
(Buenos Aires; Rome)

The first laywoman to serve in a Vatican position, Emilce Cuda is secretary for the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, appointed by Pope Francis in 2021. She was also appointed as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life. In addition, she serves as an advisor to CELAM (the Latin American Bishops' Conference) and as a professor at Loyola University of Chicago. She holds a PhD in theology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and specializes in social moral theology. 

Her previous positions include serving as a professor-researcher at the following universities: Arturo Jauretche National University in Buenos Aires (2011-22); University of Buenos Aires (2017-21); Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (2010-18); and the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX (2020-22). She has also been a visiting professor or research fellow at Boston College (2016), Northwestern University (2011), and DePaul University's Center for World Catholicism & Intercultural Theology (2019). 

Dr. Cuda has been awarded two honorary doctorates—one in the liberal arts from Loyola University of Chicago (2023) and one in the humanities from the National Unviersity of Rosario, Argentina (2022). She has participated in numerous conferences, workshops, and seminars across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa as well as the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC)'s research team, "The Future of Work: Labor after Laudato Si'." Additionally, she belongs to the global network of Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC). Her most recent book, published in both Spanish and Italian, is Para Leer a Francisco: Teología, Ética y Política (Ediciones Manantial, 2017; Bollati Boringhieri, 2018). 

Conference Presentation—"Ideology vs. Theology: Pope Francis' Call to Cultivate Hope"

One sign that idolatry is not dead is the frequency with which Pope Francis denounces ideologies and promotes a “theology on the move” to re-enchant the world which, disenchanted, adores mortal gods. He does not speak of needs but rather of dreams. His language is symbolic rather than diabolical. He does not talk about what, but about how. His social teaching puts mercy—not merit—at its center. Why? The current socio-environmental ecological crisis is the result of a productive, financial economic system that kills. This system discards more than half the world's population; this prevents the community organization that’s necessary for the best politics, and society becomes chaotic. In chaos, the last thing that is lost is hope. Whoever is able to cultivate hope orders chaos and becomes the new deus mortalis who decides life and death, constructing a story that makes his/her worldview something sacred. That is ideology. The ideologically-organized community worships, religiously, an idolatrous cult. There begins the task of the theologian to be an apostle in a disenchanted world and cultivate hope. That apostle in our world today is Francis. 

David Lantigua

Associate Professor of Theology
University of Notre Dame
(Notre Dame, IN)

David Lantiqua is associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, where he is also the William W. and Anna Jean Chuhwa co-director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. He is the author of Infidels and Empires in a New World Order: Early Modern Spanish Contributions to International Legal Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and co-editor with Lawrence Clayton of Bartolomé de las Casas and the Defense of Amerindian Rights: A Brief History with Documents (University of Alabama Press, 2020). He is also co-author with Darrell Fasching and Dell deChant of Comparative Religious Ethics: A Narrative Approach to Global Ethics (Wiley, 2011). He has published numerous book chapters and articles in the Journal of Law and Religion, Modern Theology, and the Journal of Religious Ethics

Previously, Prof. Lantigua taught at The Catholic University of America and has been a graduate fellow of the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study as well as a past recipient of the Louisville Institute Sabbatical Research Grant. His research explores Spanish late scholastic moral and legal thought and the colonial history of international relations. Additionally, his work considers Catholic social teaching and human rights, Latin American theology and Indigenous cultures, and comparative religious ethics. He is currently writing a monograph on the Latin American theological, cultural, and critical dimensions of Pope Francis's social teachings and its implications for global Catholicism in the 21st century.  

Conference Presentation—"Being Possessed by Mammon: Idolatry, True Worship, and New World Catholicism”

Although idolatry was a primary justification for the early Spanish conquests of Indigenous peoples of the Americas, theologians and missionaries critiqued the idolatry of Europeans to curb injustices stemming from the extractive pursuit of wealth and precious metals. From this theological standpoint, representative voices like Bartolomé de las Casas, OP, challenged economic and imperial tyranny by defending Indigenous self-determination and an apostolic ethic of true worship aligned with social justice against the diabolical possession of greed. The legacy of this Latin American theological tradition continues today for the global Church in the social mission of Pope Francis whose critique of neocolonialism targets the Money-god (dios Dinero) at the root of modern secularism. 

Andrew Redden (University of Liverpool)

Senior Lecturer in Latin American History
Department of History
University of Liverpool
(Liverpool, UK)

Andrew Redden currently works as a senior lecturer in Latin American history at the University of Liverpool, England. His  first book, Diabolism in Colonial Peru, 1560-1750 (Routledge, Taylor & Francis, 2008), came out of his PhD investigation into the interaction between demons and the population of colonial Peru. It centered on the diverse ways in which the perceived presence of demons was experienced and utilized by members of the various cultures that coexisted and intermingled in the viceroyalty. This led to a wider project researching the presence of angels and demons in the early modern Hispanic world, with a particular focus on the viceroyalties of New Spain (modern Mexico), Peru (including modern Bolivia and Chile), and New Granada (modern Colombia and Venezuela), but also including Spain and southern Italy. Based on archival materials, theological treatises, and religious art, this research assessed the various ways in which these spiritual beings affected human lives. He published a co-edited anthology of essays together with Fernando Cervantes in 2013: Angels, Demons, and the New World (Cambridge UP, 2013).

Andrew's work on angels and demons also fed into a wider interest in missions and missionary methodology. This work has resulted in a number of publications, including an open-access, bilingual, critical edition of Antonio de la Calancha's 1638 account of the martyrdom of the Augustinian friar Diego Ortiz, in Vilcabamba, Peru (1571): The Collapse of Time: The Martyrdom of Diego Ortiz (1571) by Antonio de la Calancha [1638] (DeGruyter Open Poland, 2016). He has also worked on slavery and African witchcraft in colonial New Granada, and conscience on early modern Hispanic frontiers. These studies incorporate a much broader interest in global missions and, more generally, the transmission of religious ideas and practice in the early modern period throughout the Hispanic world, as well as the conflicts and sometimes surprising accommodations that resulted.

In 2013, a chance encounter with the founder of Music for Hope at an activist event in Manchester gave Andrew's research a new direction. He was inspired by the project which taught music to young people and children in El Salvador as part of a community-based cultural counter-violence strategy. He volunteered and visited the teachers and participants in El Salvador that year. Since then, he has continued working with the organization, visiting as and when he can, and helped in its conversion from an NGO to a registered charity in 2016. He is now a trustee of the charity and is currently working on a documentary history of the project, looking to understand how it has developed and what impact it has had and continues to have on the lives of the participants. As part of that work, he has filmed short documentaries and facilitated storytelling and song-writing workshops with the young participants, returning subsequently to record and produce the songs that were written in an album: Historias cantadas siempre vivirán (Stories that are Sung, Live Forever). This work has entered a new phase with the teachers and young musicians drawing from and conserving their cultural and historical heritage as they continue to write and record new songs. 

Conference Presentation—Seeing Idolatry: Devotion, Divergence, and Dogma in the Latin American Colonial and Postcolonial Experience

In October 2019, a Pan-Amazonian synod was held in Rome, and the ceremony of dedication to St. Francis took place in the Vatican gardens. With Pope Francis and cardinals present and seated, delegates (who included a Franciscan friar) sang and danced around a circular cloth embroidered with images representative of the Amazon and spread out on the ground. On top of the cloth were placed various objects and--considered most controversial--a carving of naked male with an erect phallus and two carved wooden figurines of a pregnant, naked, earth-mother that a delegate referred to as "Nuestra Señora de la Amazonia" (Our Lady of the Amazon) but to whom Pope Francis and Vatican representatives later referred to as "Pachamama." After dancing, the delegates bowed down before the objects. The "Pachamamas" were ceremonially processed into St. Peter’s Basilica, then installed in a side altar of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Traspontina, and all of these ceremonies (the dedication and installation) were filmed and distributed on the internet. After watching these ceremonies, two Austrian Catholics flew to Rome, removed the statues from the Basilica and threw them into the Tiber River. The polemic that both the ceremony and subsequent act of iconoclasm generated was vitriolic. The bishop emeritus of Marajó, José Luis Azcona Hermoso, for example, condemned the association of "Pachamama" with the Virgin Mary as "a lie" and "scandalous demonic sacrilege," and Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, hailed the Austrian iconoclasts as "new Maccabees" and the Pachamama statues as "the new Golden Calf." Pope Francis, meanwhile, apologized for any offense caused by the Austrian men’s actions. 

The association of the Virgin Mary with Pachamama is not new, however, nor are the discourses that extol the virtues of syncretic practices leading indigenous Americans towards salvation, or which condemn them as diabolical usurpations of the truth causing the damnation of all those who practice them. During the colonial period (16th-18th centuries), rites considered harmless or even beneficial cultural practices by some clergy were condemned by others as sinister, demonic idolatry. At the same time, the very process of evangelization gave rise to new meanings, concepts, and even entities. Devotions to Mary were no exception. This paper will consider aspects of these colonial devotions and the challenges they posed before returning to the polemic of the Pan-Amazonian Synod which will be reconsidered in the light of this analysis, raising questions about the discourse of idolatry and the implications of dogmatic claims of universal truth linked to very specific understandings of doctrine. 


Paul Gifford

Emeritus Professor of World Christianity
SOAS University of London
(London, UK)

Born in New Zealand, Paul Gifford has been researching different varieties of African Christianity for nearly 40 years, including two years researching for the All African Conference of Churches (AACC), the umbrella body of the mainline Protestant churches in Africa. Currently living in Dakar, Senegal, he holds an MLitt from the University of Oxford and is emeritus professor of African Christianity at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). He joined the faculty there in 1992, having previously taught at the University of Zimbabwe and the University of Leeds.

He has published extensively in academic journals such as African Affairs, Journal of Modern African Studies, Irish Theological Quarterly, Heythrop Journal, and Review of Politics and has also written for such media outlets as The Tablet, National Catholic Reporter, The Christian Century, and The Guardian. The editor of the Brill series, Studies of Religions in Africa, from 2002-2009, Dr. Gifford is also the author of numerous book chapters and books, which include the following:

Conference Presentation—"Disenchantment and its Significance" 

Enchanted cultures tend to see causes of this-worldly things or occurrences in an otherworldly realm. Over the last few centuries, Western cultures have become increasingly disenchanted, operating on an increasingly scientific or this-worldly rationality. This cognitive shift certainly doesn’t make our societies “rational”—irrationalities are all around us—but it has meant that any otherworldly realm has become steadily more marginalized. This has considerable implications for Christianity, traditionally centered on the supernatural.   

Eugene McCarraher

Professor of Humanities & History 
Villanova University
(Villanova, PA)

Eugene McCarraher is professor of humanities and history at Villanova University. He has also taught at Rutgers, the University of Delaware, and Princeton. In addition to publishing scholarly articles, he has also written many essays and book reviews for The Baffler, The Chicago Tribune, Commonweal, Dissent, The Nation, In These Times, the Hedgehog Review, and Raritan. He has been a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities and of the American Council of Learned Societies.

He is the author of Christian Critics: Religion and the Impasse in Modern American Social Thought (Cornell University Press, 2000) and The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2019). He is currently working on a (short, he swears) book about automation, tentatively entitled Automated Vistas: A Brief Critique of Automation, as well as a collection of essays on theology, culture, and politics. 

Conference Presentation—Sunshine of the Idols: Or, How American Christianity Perfected the Art of Capitalist Misenchantment 

From the Puritans to contemporary evangelicals, American Christianity has embodied an attempt to serve two masters, compose the differences between God and Mammon, and broker a lucrative partnership between the Gospel and capitalism. This talk will both present a brief historical survey of this capitalist misenchantment (American Christians have never been disenchanted in the way described by Weber or Marx) and dwell on the possibility, however slim, of dispelling this seemingly intractable covenant. 

Rev. Patrick Gilger, SJ

Assistant Professor of Sociology
Loyola University Chicago  
(Chicago, IL) 

Fr. Patrick Gilger, SJ, is assistant professor of sociology at Loyola University Chicago and contributing editor for culture at America Media. His research lies at the intersection of the sociology of religion, political theory, and the study of the secular. His current book project, tentatively titled "The Subject of Public Religion," argues that, contrary to Enlightenment expectations, a certain kind of religious subject is uniquely equipped to combat the ongoing fragilation of the public sphere and the worldwide pattern of de-democratization that has accompanied it. He makes this argument through a fine-grained study of the "thick practices" through which certain religious subjects are equipped with unique "powers of publicity"—habituated ways of constructing or stabilizing an agonic public sphere—that do not seek to dominate a diverse public but broaden its boundaries and buttress its foundations. 

Fr. Gilger holds an MA and PhD from the New School for Social Research (New York City), as well as an MA in theology (Loyola University Chicago) and an MDiv in theology (Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University). An award-winning author and frequent public speaker, he is the founding editor-in-chief of The Jesuit Postwhich received 1st place in 2018 from the Catholic Press Association for popular presentation of the Catholic Faith. His writing has appeared in publications such as Vox, Church Life Journal, La Civiltá Cattolica, America, and Public Seminar. 

Conference Presentation—"Disambiguating Disenchantment, or Secularity and the Social Sciences"

Despite its frequent use in disciplines ranging from literature to religious studies to sociology, “disenchantment" remains a much misunderstood term. In this talk, I will, first, attempt to bring some clarity to these muddled discussions by distinguishing between three rival understandings of what enchantment is: magic, encounter with the uncanny, and fullness. I will argue that it is only by coming to terms with these varied understandings of the (supposedly) natural state of affairs that disenchantment disrupts that we can understand why scholars using the same term continue to talk past one another. This disambiguation will allow me, in the second part of the presentation, to offer a defense of Charles Taylor’s idiosyncratic use of the term in his genealogical explanation of the immanent frame. Third and finally, I will show how this defense of Taylor makes space for social scientists to understand not only enchantment and dis-enchantment but also mis-enchantment and re-enchantment as rivalrous thick practices that emerge from, and attempt to realize, competing modus vivendi.


Bungishabaku Katho

Professor of Old Testament Studies
Shalom University of Bunia
(Bunia, DR Congo) 

Bungishabaku Katho has a PhD in Biblical studies from the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu Natal) in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He currently serves as professor of Old Testament studies at Shalom University of Bunia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where he also serves as director of Postgraduate Studies for the School of Theology. Additionally, he is a senior researcher at CRMD Bunia, the Centre de Recherche Multidisciplinaire pour le Développement de Bunia (Bunia's Multidiscipliinary Research Center for Development). 

Dr. Katho has written and presented extensively on the Old Testament's Book of Jeremiah, including Reading Jeremiah in Africa: Biblical Essays in Sociopolitical Imagination (Langham Partnership, 2021) and a commentary in French in the series, Commentaires Bibliques Contemporains series (Langham Partnership, 2017). He also recently contributed to The Oxford Handbook of Jeremiah (Oxford University Press, 2021) with a chapter entitled "Jeremiah Interpretation in Subaltern Context." In addition to these academic endeavors, Dr. Katho is also the founder and executive director of the Jeremiah Center for Faith and Society, a nonprofit working to building a just and peaceful society in DRC. It pursues this vision by gathering leaders to articulate and promote a shared vision for hope which is spreading to the wider community through networking, research, and publications. 

Conference Presentation—"Idolatry, Dysfunctional Communities, and Failed States in the Book of Jeremiah: Interpreting Idolatry in Jeremiah from an African Perspective"  

Jeremiah 2:5 opens with an important rhetorical question: “What evil did your fathers find in me, that they walked away from me?” The word here translated “evil” or “fault” is evel. As a verb, it means to act wrongly or unjustly. It is evil in an ethical, moral sense, and its antonym is tsadik (good behavior, righteousness, covenantal kindness, or justice). The question implies that some moral failure in Yahweh might have forced the people of Israel to depart from him. In the immediate context of verses 1–3, which describe the relationship between Yahweh and Israel as similar to that of husband-wife, and in the context of the whole Old Testament, this passage recalls Deuteronomy 24:1, which speaks of a man divorcing his wife.  

To “walk away” (from God) comes from the verb rachaq, which means “to be or become distant, be removed or remove oneself, withdraw, make distant, walk away, go far away.” Here, it means going after Yahweh’s rivals or after other gods (idols) in order to serve them. This is contrasted with walking after Yahweh in verse 2 of this same chapter, a metaphor of the biblical marriage relationship, where it is said that Israel followed Yahweh in the desert during the time of love. The heart of Judah’s problem is thus expressed in one single verb: rachaq. 

In this paper, I argue that this walking away from Yahweh has significant spiritual, political, and socioeconomic consequences for the community and the nation. In other words, once a community or a nation abandons the source of true power and life, and seeks its autonomy away from Yahweh, it becomes dysfunctional, and if nothing is done to effectively address this dysfunction, it can lead to the death of the nation as was the case of Israel and Judah.  

I also seek to describe how Jeremiah understands idolatry in Judah as a nation and the relationship between idolatry and poverty (Jer 5), idolatry and the dysfunctional relationship in the community (Jer 9), idolatry and the abuse of political power (Jer 22;24, etc.), and finally idolatry and exile (Jer 29:20, etc.). In addition, I attempt to read the history of Judah in the light of contemporary African realities, arguing that idolatry might be the root causes of the dysfunctional governance in Africa.   

Rev. Stan Chu Ilo

Associate Professor of Catholic Studies; Research Professor, CWCIT
DePaul University
(Chicago, IL, USA)

A priest of the Awgu Diocese, Nigeria, Stan Chu Ilo is a research professor in the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University (Chicago), where he also serves as associate professor of Catholic studies, specializing in world Christianity and African studies. He is also an honorary professor of religion and theology at Durham University (Durham, UK) and a visiting research scholar at the Institute of African Studies of the University of Nigeria. In addition, Fr. Ilo is the coordinating servant of the Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network (PACTPAN) as well as the North American coordinator of the project, “Doing Theology from the Existential Peripheries,” a project of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development. He is one of the editors and a director of Concilium, International Journal of Theology, and also serves on the boards of numerous other journals including the Journal of Global Catholicism and the Journal of African Christian Biography.

Additionally, Fr. Ilo currently serves on the senior advisory board of a Templeton Religious Trust grant project on global spiritual formation for religious leaders and represents Africa in an international project supported by the Dicastery for Integral Human Development and a number of Catholic charities on developing the ethics of philanthropy and stewardship. He is the author or editor of numerous works including the following recent titles:

• Handbook of African Catholicism (Orbis, 2022)
• Ecological Ethics for Cosmic Flourishing: An African Commentary on Laudato Si' (Cascade, 2022)
• Under the Palaver Tree: Doing African Ecclesiology in the Spirit of Vatican II (Pickwick, 2023)
• Someone Beautiful to God: Finding the Light of Faith in a Wounded World (Paulist, 2020)
• A Poor and Merciful Church: The Illuminative Ecclesiology of Pope Francis (Orbis, 2018)
• Wealth, Health, and Hope in African Christian Religion: The Search for Abundant Life (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)

Conference Presentation—"Don’t Bow Down and Worship Idols: I am the Lord your God”: Biblical Theological Critique of Idolatry (Exodus 20:5)

Description to come

Victor Carmona

Associate Professor of Theology & Religious Studies
Director of the Core Curriculum
University of San Diego
(San Diego, CA) 

Victor Carmona’s undergraduate studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service introduced him to Catholic social teaching, helping him think through the fundamental questions of power and justice that immigrants’ lives raise. That encounter moved him to work with immigrants and border communities with the Mexican Conference of Catholic Bishops (CEM—Movilidad Humana), the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMIs), and nonprofits. Six years later, those experiences called him to grapple with their implications in light of the Catholic tradition through graduate studies in moral theology and Christian ethics at the University of Notre Dame, where he received his MTS and PhD in moral theology and Christian ethics.

In 2017, after 5 years of teaching graduate students at Oblate School of Theology (San Antonio, TX), Carmona joined the faculty at the University of San Diego (USD), the only major U.S. Catholic university at the U.S.-Mexico border. His areas of expertise include theological ethics, Catholic Latinx theologies, Catholic social thought, immigration ethics, theologies of migration, Catholic Church and migration. His publications include chapters in Human Families: Identity, Relationships, and Responsibilities (Orbis, 2021), Value and Vulnerability: An Interfaith Dialogue on Human Dignity (University of Notre Dame Press, 2020), and Sex, Love, and Families: Catholic Perspectives (Liturgical Press, 2020).

A past president of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the U.S. (ACHTUS), Carmona also serves as a board ember of the Society of Christian Ethics and as chair of the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Advisory Board of the U.S. Province of the OMIs. He also serves as a volunteer interpreter for the pro bono Casa Cornelia Law Center as well as a member of Synodal Commission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego. 

Conference Presentation—Bordering on Temptation: Idolatry, Polarization, and the Reign of God at the U.S.-Mexico Border

The ongoing polarization roiling the United States, including among Catholics, continues being experienced at the U.S.-Mexico border in brutal, dehumanizing ways. The temptations of security, pride, and power nurture idolatrous views of the border, making it increasingly difficult to work across political and socioeconomic divides to heal the many wounds in our midst. From that context, Carmona engages William Cavanaugh’s capacious and intriguing treatment of idolatry in a sympathetic key to deliver a theological-ethical reflection that places his insights on the ability of idolatry critique to offer self-critique for believers alongside sympathy for unbelievers—thus bridging apparently mutually excluding positions—in dialogue with those of Orlando Espín alongside Roberto Goizueta’s. The reflection concludes by identifying points of convergence and divergence between these European-American and U.S.-Latino perspectives to determine to what extent idolatry critique can help discern a way forward at the border. Throughout, Carmona suggests that attentiveness to the Reign of God is foundational to ponder the depths of task at hand.


Stephanie Wong

Assistant Professor of East Asian Religions and Comparative Theology
Villanova University
(Villanova, PA)

Having served since 2022 as assistant professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, Stephanie Wong is a scholar committed to deepening our understanding of global Catholicism, especially the cultural, political, and interreligious dynamics that shape the spiritual lives of Catholics in China and the diaspora. In her teaching, she offers undergrad courses on the Catholic, Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian traditions, as well as graduate classes on methods of comparative reflection and dialogue between these communities.

Dr. Wong received her PhD in theological and religious studies at Georgetown University (2018) and her MDiv at Yale University (2013). In scholarship, she has focused internationally on the Catholic Church's interreligious relations in China, as well as on the religious experience and expressions of Chinese immigrants and other Asian American Catholics. She has published several book chapters and journal articles and currently has a book under contract with Oxford University Press, titled National Witness: Chinese Catholicism after the Age of Empires.

Beyond academics, Dr. Wong enjoys contributing to interreligious community efforts and participates in the international network, “Women Building a Culture of Encounter Interreligiously," established by the Vatican's Dicastery of Interreligious Relations. In her local region, she serves on the board for Interfaith Philadelphia, a regional nonprofit committed to building interreligious literacy and understanding. She and her spouse have two pre-K children and enjoy taking them on hikes and other adventures. 

Conference Presentation—"And You Will Be Protected (Job 11:18): A Chinese Critique of Security"

Don't we all want to be safe? Don't we all long for the assurance that our lives and communities will be protected? Isn't it natural to seek to preserve our well-being in times of stability and to grasp back for safety when it seems lost? This reflection on the Book of Job, conducted in a comparative mode drawing on both Chinese Mohist and Chinese Catholic thought, considers the allure or idol of security. This is not to write off concerns for material and social well-being out of hand. After all, both the Mohist and Catholic traditions take seriously the protective responsibilities of the individual to the political collective and vice-versa, and neither sees the work of the state and its management of resources as being categorically outside the concerns of God or Tian (Heaven).

Nonetheless, the human desire for personal and communal security can all too easily generate or justify serious social and spiritual ills: religious sectarianism, economic avarice, and geopolitical nationalism. What resources, then, do Chinese traditions offer for overcoming potentially idolatrous preoccupations with safety? In fact, Mohists and Catholics have also reflected at length on the will (ming) of Heaven or the Lord of Heaven which, though not necessarily outside the workings of this world, does transcend fallible human perceptions of security and risk. This presentation will show how a Chinese theology might simultaneously affirm the real value of material well-being and usefully recover tempering notions of divine providence.

David Ngong

Professor of Religion & Theology
Stillman College
(Tuscaloosa, AL)

Originally from Cameroon, David Tonghou Ngong currently serves as professor of religion and theology at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He has also taught at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and Baylor University, where he received his doctorate in religion, with a focus on systematic theology. A member of the steering committee of the American Academy of Religion (AAR)’s African Religions Unit, Dr. Ngong works on the history and theology of African Christianity and African indigenous spirituality, concentrating specifically on contemporary African political theology.

Informed by anticolonial theories and Black critical thought, his work includes four books, many chapters, and dozens of peer-reviewed articles and opinion pieces. Among his books are A New History of African Christian Thought: From Cape to Cairo (Routledge, 2017), Theology as Construction of Piety: An African Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2013), and most recently, Senghor’s Eucharist: Negritude and African Political Theology (Baylor University Press, 2023), which focuses on the eucharistic vision of a poetry collection of the first President of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor. 

Conference Presentation—"Did God Create Cameroon? Providence, Colonialism, and the Nation-State in Africa"

In this paper, I attempt a theological reading of history, a history that has too often been taken for granted as somehow ordained by God. It is the history of the nation-state in Africa. Taking the history of the creation of Cameroon as an example, I raise doubt about the narrative that sees the creation of the nation-state in Africa as having divine approval. This narrative is explicit in colonial and anticolonial thought and assumed in much of contemporary African Christian theology. Raising doubt about the divine creation of the nation-state in Africa should free Christians from an idolatrous identification with it, leading them to see themselves as people who have been baptized into Christ, and made part of an ecclesia that is simultaneously local and universal. This Christological and ecclesiological vision should enable Christians to have tensive relationships with borders.

Jung Mo Sung

Professor of Religious Studies, Postgraduate Program
Methodist University of São Paulo
(São Paulo, Brazil)

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Jung Mo Sung has been living in Brazil for nearly 60 years. He holds a PhD degree in religious studies from the Methodist University of São Paulo (1993) and a postdoctoral degree in education from the Methodist University of Piracicaba (2000). Currently, he serves as a full professor in the Religious Studies’ postgraduate program at the Methodist University of São Paulo.

Dr. Sung has experience in the fields of religious studies and theology, with an emphasis on religion and education for solidarity and theological critique of political economy. Among his research interests are religion and education; theology and economics; capitalism as religion; church and society; neoliberalism, globalization and solidarity. He has published 22 books, and among those in English are the following:

• The Subject, Capitalism, and Religion: Horizons of Hope in Complex Societies (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011)
• Beyond the Spirit of Empire: Theology and Politics in a New Key, co-authored with Joerg Rieger and Nestor Miguez (Westminster John Knox, 2009)
• Desire, Market, and Religion (SCM, 2007)

Conference Presentation—"Is Idolatry Dead? The Discernment between the Idol and the True God"

Idolatry maintains a pervasive and steadfast presence in society, largely due to the prevailing lack of awareness and understanding that the deity underpinning societal foundations is, in essence, an idol. The revered values and institutions associated with this deity are, therefore, nothing more than manifestations of idolatry. The viability of human society hinges upon possessing an ultimate foundation that orchestrates the system, alongside a captivating "spirit" that both enchants and motivates society members toward a utopian ideal. This ideal serves as the guiding force, providing direction and criteria for interpreting actions and life events. In this context, all gods are considered genuine by adherents who embrace and live within their respective faiths. 

The essence of God's revelation is not to affirm the existence of God or proclaim the exclusivity of one particular religion. Rather, it seeks to convey that gods demanding sacrifices of human lives in the name of sacred values or institutions are, in reality, mere idols (such as the "idolatry of money"). According to the biblical tradition, the true God is one who does not require sacrifices but rather calls for mercy and life for all.