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2018 Costan Lecture Series - Sin, Racism and the Challenge of Contemplation

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Virginia Theological Seminary

3737 Seminary Road

Alexandria, VA 22304

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Sin, Racism and the Challenge of Contemplation: A Theological Proposal

Presented by the Office of Dean Ian S. Markham

September 25-27, 2018
5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Lettie Pate Evans Multipurpose Room

In these three Costan Lectures, Sarah Coakley explores afresh the nature of sin and the Fall, and probes the intrinsic relation to contemporary issues of racism and other systemic forms of prejudice. Starting from an analysis of some unexpected events in an American jail, she unfolds a theory of racism as sin (understood as the mis-aggregation of desire and the projective blame of the 'other'). She goes on to consider how sin/racism at its root distorts both sensual and moral perception, and asks under what (contemplative) conditions such a malaise could begin to be healed. Acknowledging the ways in which modern Euro-American racism is itself the product of a Christian culture, she turns back to early modern mystical theology to enquire whether it has any remaining lessons for today's agonies about racial division, and about the strange theological ambiguities of "blackness" and "darkness" that run through them. If writers as diverse as John of the Cross and Howard Thurman see the embracing of contemplative divine darkness as purgative of sin and blindness, what might this mean for the prospects of mutual spiritual redemption and social transformation?

September 25: In the Jail: Systemic Racism, Contemplation, and the Problem of "Seeing"

September 26: Reconsidering the Fall: Desire Gone Awry and Its Consequences

September 27: On the Way to Union? How "Divine Darkness" Convicts the Sin of Racism




Sarah Coakley is an Anglican theologian who holds one of the top chairs in Divinity at Cambridge University. She has also led major research projects only theology and the biological concept of evolutionary cooperation, and has written extensively on Christian theology and feminism.

Coakley received her Ph.D. on Ernst Troeltsch from the University of Cambridge. She has taught at Lancaster University, Oriel College Oxford, Harvard Divinity School, and has been a visiting professor of religion at Princeton University. In 2006, she was elected the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and in 2007, became the first women appointed to this chair. In 2011, she became deputy chair of the School of Arts and Humanities with a four-year appointment on the General Board of the university.

As a priest, scholar, teacher, and mother of two daughters, Coakley has described her interests as wide-ranging. They include the nature of human rationality, the passions, the idea of the “spiritual senses,” and the nature of religious truth claims. She has exposited on gender theory and feminist philosophy. The first volume of her systematic theology, God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay "On the Trinity," was published in 2013.




The Costan Lecture Series is an opportunity for a distinguished scholar to provide a set of lectures that connect the genesis of faith to the contemporary issues in spiritual practice. The annual three-part lecture series was established in 2014, by the generosity of Ms. Margaret H. Costan with the intent of strengthening the educational offerings of Virginia Theological Seminary.

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Virginia Theological Seminary

3737 Seminary Road

Alexandria, VA 22304

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