Nationally Known Religious Leader to Visit Allegheny

The Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, retired global leader for the Metropolitan Community Churches and a renowned leader in the LGBT Christian community, will visit the Allegheny College campus in March for a 10-day residency.

Rev. Wilson, a 1972 graduate of Allegheny, will be the keynote speaker for a workshop titled “Ministry With Trans Persons” from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 10, in the Tippie Alumni Center. The workshop will focus on the subject of transgender persons becoming more visible in society and in churches and how to better provide ministry for – and with — them. The workshop is open to the public, but registration is required.

On Thursday, March 8, at 12:15 p.m., Rev. Wilson will speak on “Faith and Climate Change” in Carr Hall Room 238. On Sunday, March 11, Rev. Wilson will be the guest preacher at an 11 a.m. interdenominational service in Ford Memorial Chapel. Her sermon title is “When Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough: Let the Children Lead!” Both the talk and the service are free and open to the public.

The Rev. Wilson also will be co-teaching with the Rev. Dr. Jane Ellen Nickell a short course titled “Queer Folks and the Church” during her visit. “With Chaplain Jane Ellen Nickell, I will be presenting a perspective on the continuing challenge of actually welcoming queer people into our faith communities, and the rich diversity and history of the queer faith movement — not only here, but around the world,” Rev. Wilson said.

Rev. Wilson served as global leader in the Metropolitan Community Churches position from 2005 until her retirement in 2016. She was the second person, and the first woman, to serve in that role since MMC’s founding in 1968.

In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Rev. Wilson to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and in 2012 she was the only openly gay clergy to participate in the Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. In 2014, Rev. Wilson was named as one of the spokespeople for Blessed Tomorrow, a team of 21 top ecumenical and interfaith leaders in the United States to spearhead an effort to mobilize religious communities to address environmental concerns.

In May 2014, Rev. Wilson was one of four honorees to be recognized by Intersections International for her humanitarian work in the area of social justice. In honor of International Women’s Day in 2014, the Huffington Post selected Rev. Wilson as one of the 50 “powerful religious leaders … making change in the world.”

Rev. Wilson has published numerous articles and the books, including “Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures;” “Outing the Church: 40 Years in the Queer Christian Movement;” “Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus and the Bible;” and “I Love to Tell the Story, 100+ Stories of Justice, Inclusion and Hope.”

For more information or to register for the March 10 workshop, call (814) 332-2800 or email

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Krone Presents Papers at American Academy of Religion Meeting

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Director of Jewish Life Adrienne Krone recently presented two papers on her research at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion, which was held in Boston, Mass., November 17–21. She presented a paper about a beekeeping program at a Jewish organization in Canada called Shoresh entitled “Humans and the Humble Bees” and a paper about Jewish agricultural settlements in nineteenth-century North Dakota called “The Lure of a Land Based Utopia.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Olson’s Latest Book Published

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religious Studies Carl Olson’s latest two-volume book, “Sacred Texts Interpreted: Religious Documents Explained,” has been published by ABC-CLIO. The two volumes are collections of primary source texts from religions around the globe accompanied by Olson’s commentaries and introductions to the literature.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny Sophomore Attends Democracy Forum in Greece

It’s one thing to have classroom discussions about the challenges facing democracy.

It’s quite another to have those same discussions in the country where democracy was born.

Allegheny College sophomore Jesse Tomkiewicz was one of 23 students representing 11 different countries who participated in the Athens Democracy Forum in Athens, Greece, in September. The goal of the annual forum, hosted by The New York Times, is to bring students together from around the globe at the American College of Greece to discuss the challenges facing democracy that year. Students work together in teams to write a white paper on the chosen challenges, this year, climate change and inequality.

The different backgrounds, experiences, viewpoints and ideologies of the participants — and how those differences shaped the discussions — was eye-opening, said Tomkiewicz, a political science and philosophy double major from rural Freeport, Pennsylvania.

“It was an incredibly diverse group,” he said. “That was probably the most valuable part of the experience, talking to people from all over the world.”

Being with like-minded students interested in talking about and shaping the future of democracy — in Athens, of all places — was exhilarating, he said.

“This is about going to a place where I’m with a dream team,” of fellow participants, Tomkiewicz said. “These individuals are not just really bright; these are some of the best students I’ve been around. It was truly intellectually challenging.

“I benefitted more than anyone at the conference because I (had) never left the U.S. Here I focus on the judicial process and political theory. I had no experience in international politics. … I learned more in those nine days (in Athens) than I would have taking a semester’s worth of classes.”

The trip was one of many firsts, including Tomkiewicz’s first plane ride out of the country. He swam in the Aegean Sea, attended a speech by former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, and stood at the top of the Acropolis.

“It was enchanting being on top of the Acropolis, knowing that people like Socrates had physically been there,” he said. “I’m from a country where our history is a few centuries. We’re talking about a place that goes thousands of years back. Being in a place with that kind of history, that was really something.”

Tomkiewicz is already heavily involved in campus and local politics — he’s the vice president of Allegheny’s College Democrats and a field director for the Crawford County Democratic Party — but left the conference wanting to do more to further democracy, particularly for voters in rural places like his hometown.

“There has to be grassroots, bottom-up efforts” to address the challenges facing rural voters, Tomkiewicz said.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Olson’s Essays Published

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religious Studies Carl Olson’s invited essay titled “Ways of Healing and the Roles of Harmony, Purity, and Violent Rhetoric in Japanese Shinto and Shamanism,” has been published in Better Health through Spiritual Practices edited by Dean D. VonDras (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2017, pp. 97-118). A second invited essay of Olson’s titled “The Problematic Nature of the Third Chapter of the Yoga Sutras and its Discussion of Powers” has been published by the Journal of Yoga and Physiotherapy 3/1, 2017, pp. 1-8. A third invited essay entitled “Demons, Devotees and Symbolism of Violence in Hindu Mythology” has been accepted for publication in Modern Hinduism in Text and Context edited by Lavanya Vemsani and published by Bloomsbury Publishing.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Olson Publishes Essay in ‘On Meaning and Mantras’

Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies Carl Olson’s essay “The Shadow of Kali Over the Goddess Kamaksi and Her City” has been published in “On Meaning and Mantras: Essays in Honor of Frits Staal” edited by George Thompson and Richard Payne and published in Berkeley, Calif., by the Institute of Buddhist Studies and BDK America. This volume is a memorial book dedicated to the memory of Frits Staal, a longtime professor of Sanskrit at the University of California, Berkeley. The volume contains contributions from many famous Indologists from around the globe.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Olson essay published in journal, another forthcoming in book

Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies Carl Olson‘s essay, “Place, Play, Escape, and Identity: A Reconsideration of the Thought of Yi-fu Tuan in Light of the Work of Ramanuja and Zhuangzi” has been published in the International Communication of Chinese Culture.

His essay “Violence, the Demonic, and Indian Asceticism” also has been accepted for publication in a forthcoming book, “Modern Hinduism in History and Practice,” edited by Lavanya Vemsani and to be published by Bloomsbury Publishing.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny Chaplain Shares Her Methodist Roots

Jane Ellen Nickell

A desk seldom separates the Rev. Jane Ellen Nickell from visitors in her office.

Rather than sequester herself behind furniture, the Allegheny College chaplain much prefers to sit adjacent to her guests, the room encased with bookshelves and filled with gentle, dim light.

Nickell’s office is as warm and inviting as her presence is on Allegheny’s campus. The ordained United Methodist minister oversees the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, leads Sunday worship services, advises student groups and teaches religious studies courses.

Nickell accepted her position at Allegheny 11 years ago. Her history is widespread geographically – she grew up in West Virginia, moved from Pennsylvania to Illinois and to Tennessee, back to West Virginia, then to New Jersey before settling in Meadville. She has also traveled so far as to Israel, Mexico and Romania.

Graduating first as an English major from West Virginia Wesleyan College, she began a career at the University of Illinois’ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. She took courses in the university’s musicology program while working but still retained her Methodist roots. Eventually she decided to transition into the ministry, but didn’t see it as a drastic change. She said both vocations were about “bringing people into experiences that touch their spirits and their souls.”

After completing seminary at Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2000 and working at a church for three years, she attended Drew University in 2003 to complete her doctorate in religion. She came in 2006 to Allegheny, which she appreciated for its fostering of interfaith work, and open discussions on challenging topics between people of all faith backgrounds.

During her years at Allegheny, Nickell has embraced the increase in diversity on campus—in race and ethnicity, gender identities, and religious preference. She says that it’s important to have a worship area, like the College’s Ford Memorial Chapel, that is welcoming to all members of the community.

The chapel has become one of her favorite places on campus. “Obviously that’s where I do a lot of my work,” she says, “I find it a really warm and inviting space. But I was also involved in the renovation of the building seven years ago, and doing that was able to learn a lot about the history.” She is equally fond of the Prayer and Meditation Retreat, the red house next to Arter Hall, where Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist students have created a welcoming space.

Nickell’s scholarly work also has focused on the significance of diversity. She has been published in various books and journals, such as “Worship Arts,” “Ecospirit” and “The Prophetic Voice and Making Peace.” Many of her writings focus on gender and sexuality as they pertain to religion. Her dissertation – “We Shall Not Be Moved: Methodists Debate Race, Gender, and Homosexuality” – is her attempt to “understand why people in the same church or same family read the Bible very differently.”

Nickell’s book by that title is now on this year’s United Methodist Women’s reading list, and she has also given various talks on the subject.

Nickell says she sees herself not as a frontrunner for pushing her beliefs, but as a mediator to find out “what’s at stake for people on both ends of the spectrum” in hopes of closing the gap. “What I can contribute to this is scholarship,” she adds.

The following are excerpts from a recent interview with Nickell:

What is something most people don’t know about Allegheny?

“One of the things is that we’re United Methodist affiliated. I hear people say ‘well loosely’ or ‘we used to be,’ but we are. We’re on the list of 120-or-so affiliated schools. And I don’t think that needs to be a scary thing. There’s a lot of common ground. I look at things like their Imagine No Malaria campaign, and work with the World Health Organization. And we have a global health department. We’re concerned about the same things. We’re concerned with social justice. And also, we bring faith into conversation with academics and intellectual life. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an Oxford tutor. His faith was always very intellectual. Methodism brings reason and faith together; we are pressed to question things, rather than just taking things at face value. It’s an inquisitive faith.”

Who is your favorite musician?

“James Taylor. I should be saying something classical, having worked in the performing arts, but I love J.T.”

What instruments do you play?

“I play piano, I studied piano all through graduate school, and have done a lot of choirs, and choral singing. I was in the band too, but it’s been a long time.”

What do you do in your spare time?

“I spend time working in my yard, cooking, watching the Food Network; either learning about or doing food. I spend time with my cats – I have two cats who love to play, and snuggle lots. Just doing things with friends and with my family; I’m closer to my family, I’ve lived farther away so it’s nice to be close.

Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled to?

“The place that I really want to go back to is Israel. Eric (Pallant, professor of environmental science) led a faculty/staff trip about four years ago, and part of it was the group I went with, but it was also just such a fascinating place, layers and layers of religious history and tension, but just really wonderful. We spent several days in Jerusalem itself. We were in Capernaum, and it was ‘here’s Peter’s house, and here’s the synagogue where Jesus preached, and here’s the Sea of Galilee,’ and I just went, ‘oh my gosh – Jesus was here!’ And it kind of overwhelmed me.

“We also visited the Arava Institute, and that’s where we send a lot of students working on environmental issues. Arava intentionally brings Israeli, and Arab, Palestinians together to work on issues of water and energy. All the things that are pressing all of us but especially in a country with limited resources. We hear students from the institute say ‘in 20 years the wars are not going to be over religious issues; they’re going to be over water.’”

What is your most important advice for today’s college students?

“Take time. Take pauses. Students should find whatever helps them slow down, and reflect, and pause, and give themselves time to absorb. Technology has allowed us to process so much information, but I don’t think our brains, and definitely not our spirits, have caught up. Give yourself that time to just take it all in.”

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Routledge Press publishes Palmer essay

Professor of Philosophy Eric Palmer’s essay “Less Radical Enlightenment: A Christian Wing of the French Enlightenment” was published this past January by Routledge Press in Reassessing the Radical Enlightenment (Steffen Ducheyne, editor). The volume concerns the influence of the radical ideas of Benedict Spinoza upon European thought and the work of historian Jonathan Israel concerning such “radical enlightenment.” Palmer’s contribution traces a group of scientific writers and intellectual journalists of the early Eighteenth century whose contribution to the conversation is now obscure because it was effaced later in the century by the victors of Enlightenment culture – Voltaire, Diderot and Hume in particular.
Information at

Source: Academics, Publications & Research

Allegheny College Students to Attend National Conference at Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics

Allegheny College students will participate in the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement conference at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics (IOP), February 3-5.

The 2017 National Campaign conference will focus on identifying the root causes of national divisiveness following the 2016 presidential election and work to formulate strategies to bridge gaps between all Americans. Student ambassadors and staff members from 28 colleges and universities across the country will convene on the Harvard campus with the mission to create a nationally coordinated program to Reconnect America.

Allegheny students Jesse Tomkiewicz and Hannah Firestone will attend the conference along with Dr. Patrick Jackson, visiting assistant professor of History and Philosophy and Religious Studies.

“The conference presents a unique opportunity for tomorrow’s leaders to have a vitally important discussion about divisiveness in our country and how we as a nation can best move forward with civility and respect for all,” said Allegheny College President James H. Mullen, Jr.

Brian Harward, director of Allegheny’s Center for Political Participation, said students come away from the conference inspired.

“Allegheny has sent students from its Center for Political Participation for several years. Each time, students return to our campus and community energized to engage the important and complex issues that confront us,” Harward said.

Since 2003, the National Campaign has held annual conferences to identify collaborative projects, foster engagement in electoral politics, assist students in pursuing careers in public service, and provide a foundation in civic education. Led by a team of Harvard undergraduate students, the collegiate ambassadors to the National Campaign work together to achieve concrete goals, such as working with local election offices to improve the voting experience for their campus communities.

Other participating colleges and universities include Arizona State University, Elon University, Franklin & Marshall College, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Louisiana State University, The Ohio State University, Rutgers University, Saint Anselm College, Simpson College, Tennessee State University, University of Florida, University of Louisville, University of Rochester, University of Southern California, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Utah, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, University of Oklahoma, Howard University, United States Military Academy, Tufts University, University of Chicago, Colby College, and University of Texas at Austin.

Source: Academics, Publications & Research