Graduate student wins essay contest

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by Charlotte Brockway

Peter McLellan, an adjunct philosophy lecturer at William Paterson University and student at Drew Theological School, was nominated as the winner of this year’s Christianity Seminar Graduate Student Essay Contest by the Westar Institute. The institute hosts of a number of seminars focused on different aspects of the development of Christianity to engage in the historical, biblical scholarship including one of their best known seminars is the  “Jesus Seminar” aimed to report a scholarly consensus attributed to Jesus in the gospels. This Christianity Seminar also includes a Graduate Student Essay Contest to foster and encourage up-and-coming scholars in their field, awarding prizes for the best graduate student essay on a subject related to the Seminar’s topics in the Fall and Spring meetings each year.

The Fall 2016 winner McLellan is currently pursuing a PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity at the Theological School. His award winning essay, “Decapolis Death Worlds: Necropolitics, Specters, and Gerasene Ethnicity Among the Tombs,” examines a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which a possessed man from the country of the Gerasenes is exorcised.“My essay,” explained McLellan, “is a cross-pollination between my interests in contemporary theory and politics and my focus on the earliest Christian communities. More specifically, this essay used contemporary theories of space and haunting to think about the ways in which racism and violence put people to death–at least socially–in the present and in the past portrayed by sacred texts.”

On Drew’s impact on his work, McLellan explained, “I think of this essay and my large written work almost entirely as I do my time at Drew. Both my mentors- notably my dissertation committee of Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, Stephen Moore, and Althea Spencer Miller-and my peers have permitted me to consider meanings found in and the worlds imagined by scriptures to always be contested. I’ve begun to think of my scholarship as a process of what I call “hearing voices”. He also noted his professors’ impact on his work, particularly Johnson-DeBaufre’s work with theories of space and material culture and Moore’s talent for infusing theoretical insights into his critical interpretations of biblical texts.
“More than anything, though,” he added, “my peers in the PhD program at the Theo School have ingrained in me a desire to see the ways in which meaning in the Bible is always contested.”

McLellan will present his essay at the Institute’s next national conference, in San Antonio. The conference, a biennial event, brings together scholars, authors and the general public to discuss key topics related to religion.

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