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UD grants doctorates in theology to four women graduates

By Dave Larsen

The University of Dayton granted doctoral degrees in theology to four women graduates at its December 2019 commencement ceremony — a notable event given that women typically account for less than 40% of doctorates in religion, according to Academy of Arts and Sciences Humanities Indicators data.

“Usually, there are only one or two theology Ph.D. graduates, so to have four is unusual — to have four women is extraordinary,” said William Portier, professor and director of the Department of Religious Studies’ doctoral program.

The graduates are Christine Falk Dalessio, Dara Delgado, Laura Eloe ’84 and Elizabeth Huddleston. Their respective dissertation topics included Pope John Paul II, Pentecostal Bishop Ida Bell Robinson, French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and British theologian Wilfrid Ward.

They already are moving on to the next phases of their postgraduate and professional careers.

Delgado, who was awarded a $20,000 fellowship from the American Association of University Women to complete her dissertation, has accepted a tenure-track position in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. She will teach courses in Christianity and contribute to their black studies, community justice studies, and women, gender and sexuality studies programs.

“To say that I feel honored to be a UD graduate is an understatement,” Delgado said. “For five formative years in the Department of Religious Studies, I was instructed and mentored by some of the leading scholars in our guild. I also had the great privilege of living and learning in a community that valued charity, cultural competency and global-social consciousness as essential to academic excellence. For these reasons and many others, I am proud to call UD home, and I plan to take the Marianist charism with me throughout my life and career.”

Huddleston will continue working at the National Institute for Newman Studies in Pittsburgh as the coordinator of research and managing editor of the Newman Studies Journal. She also teaches courses at Duquesne University, which is affiliated with the institute.

Huddleston said working at the institute is her “ideal job,” because her dissertation work was related to Saint John Henry Newman. She credited courses about Newman and the Catholic modernist controversies, taught by Portier and other faculty, for giving her an appreciation for the historical context of theology.

“The University of Dayton also provided me with the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses, one course for which I had the opportunity to develop curriculum on theological anthropology,” Huddleston said.

Dalessio plans to write a “popular” book based on her dissertation, which put Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body in conversation with three contemporary feminist theologians. Currently, she is in talks with a major Catholic publisher. She also writes for institutional blogs based on John Paul II’s work, and is scheduled to speak locally in the diocese.

“I rented out my home and left job, home and family in New Jersey to move my husband and myself to Ohio for the Ph.D. program,” Dalessio said. “The program itself is kind of an intellectual crucible that formed and refined me.”

Eloe, an alumna and former math and religion teacher at Chaminade Julienne High School in Dayton, will remain at the University as administrative assistant to the Father William J. Ferree Chair of Social Justice. Kelly Johnson, associate professor of religious studies, became the first holder of that chair in July 2019.

The Department of Religious Studies doctoral program, which marked its 20th anniversary in 2019, prepares students to teach at colleges and universities, and to bring their theological training to various forms of pastoral work in the church. The program offers a distinctive research focus on locating the work of theology in history and culture with attention to the United States. Students take courses in history, theology and cultural studies and conduct theological research in conjunction with research methods from the humanities and social sciences. Dissertations focus on theological questions that arise from ongoing life of the church in the United States.

In the second year of study, students teach undergraduate introductory religion classes and can serve as instructors of advanced courses in later years.

Currently, the department has 30 active doctoral students, including seven women.

For more information, visit the Department of Religious Studies website.

Photo above (L to R): Laura Eloe, Dara Delgado, Elizabeth Huddleston, and Christine Dalessio.

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