Faculty sabbatical research empowers good scholarship, good teaching

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September 16, 2019

This year, 2019, brings the 150th anniversary of events related to Vatican I, which was opened December 1869. Dr. Kristin Colberg, professor at the Graduate School of Theology and Seminary, undertook research during her sabbatical in the Winter/Spring semester of 2019 focusing on the results of that council and its implications related to papal primacy and the church today.

Dr. Colberg teaches classes in ecclesiology and theological anthropology, examining fundamental issues in theology and their ability to illumine contemporary questions. She performs significant research on Vatican I, which is an unusual topic among theologians, and has authored a book discussing the relationships between the Vatican I and II Councils - Vatican I and Vatican II: Councils in the Living Tradition. Remarkably, in recent years, new research and information from other scholars has been published regarding Vatican I. Kristin has also been appointed by Vatican to the ARCIC Commission (Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission), which is the official dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. Due to this appointment, the anniversary, and her sabbatical time, it seemed appropriate that she spend those months immersing herself in topics regarding the Vatican I topics of the role of the pope and structures of decision-making within the church.

Kristin shared that she came to a new understanding of how the Vatican I view of the Pope actually reflects a larger view of the church. It requires reading documents regarding the papacy as a whole, rather than as parts. The new research that is being published because of the upcoming anniversary of the Vatican I Council provides a new framework and synthesis regarding the pope’s authority  – without having the time to truly focus on this reading, she would not have been able to reset her comprehension of papal primacy and why the focus on this topic by that council was so important. These discussions are about applying living concepts to how the church can move forward today.

She was surprised by how much the focused research allowed her to uncover new resources and realize how much that concentration enabled her to see the Council in new ways. And how much one is able to accomplish when given the time to devote to her research. Kristin feels the sabbatical was one of the best gifts she’d ever received – a gift of the ability to explore her own research with an attentiveness she typically does not have time for when teaching. Sabbaticals are hugely important, as are research publications. Good scholarship feeds good teaching, she said. It is important to her that others realize how crucial sabbatical time is to scholars in and out of the classroom.

Another thing she undertook over her sabbatical time was to write several book reviews, because she felt compelled to contribute to the topic and wanted to have a voice in those conversations. That voice is so important to Kristin and is also what makes teaching such an essential role for her. She would have enjoyed more time to research but is also happy to be back in the classroom sharing the new insights and learning she has achieved.

Dr. Colberg remains very active in using her voice in service of theological learning this fall and into the spring. Along with teaching, she’ll be speaking at the American Academy of Religion in San Diego this November and traveling to lecture in Belgium as well as at the Catholic Theological Society of America in the spring of 2020. She has recently written two articles for Catholic News Service to be published this fall. Her appointment to the ARCIC Commission puts her near the center of international ecumenism and emphasizes Saint John’s continued vibrant tradition in that discussion. Being part of this commission, conducting her research, and her role as a teacher helps her understand why these topics really matter, how they impact decisions, teachings and other Christians. It helps her remember how these conversations play out in the real world.