Joining the PSR Family

October 22, 2007

Three new faculty members joined Pacific School of Religion last year. Just before the fall 2007 semester began at PSR, they were asked to look back on their first year here and reflect on their transition into the PSR community.

Assistant professor of theology Mayra Rivera Rivera, who came to PSR from Drew University, where she was teaching both MDiv and PhD students, said, “The culture in New Jersey is very different from Berkeley. Each institution has its own culture, so this first year has been mainly getting to know what PSR’s culture is, what the interests of the people are, what kinds of questions they bring.

“I think what surprised me most about PSR is how friendly the faculty has been. I was more than welcomed—I was accepted as a friend. The faculty here has been together for a long time and has a great sense of connection, so it was good to be so warmly received by them.”

Assistant professor of theology and Swedenborgian Studies Inese Radzins, who previously had taught both at a divinity school (Vanderbilt) and at a state school (Florida State), agreed: “There was a warm welcome from the faculty,” she says. “I really felt there was a family here ready to support me. Often in academia, people get caught up in their own little worlds, and nobody interacts. So it was nice to know that there is a lot of support here.

“Another nice surprise was the fact that Benny and Mayra were both new faculty, so we weren’t doing it alone!”

She is referring to the third new faculty member, Tat-siong Benny Liew, associate professor of New Testament. He says his transition to PSR was generally smooth and was helped by the fact that his former institution, Chicago Theological Seminary, was similar in ethos and outlook. He voiced a difficulty each new faculty member experienced: figuring out the Graduate Theological Union and how all of its parts mesh with PSR. “One surprise here,” he said, “is the PSR-GTU structure. In some ways and in some matters, this doubles the committee structure, so there are a lot more meetings here than at Chicago.”

In his first year, Liew team-taught “Introduction to the Bible,” the first semester with Aaron Body, the second with Jeffrey Kuan; and he taught a PhD seminar on John. He finds the students here similar to those in Chicago. “But Chicago was more diverse, especially concerning African American students.

“In fact, I was expecting people in Berkeley to be more in tune with multicultural diversity and racial/ethnic difference, and was a little surprised to learn from my colleagues that things like intercultural exchange and accents remain challenges on campus. I understand that the PSR community is made up of people coming from all corners of the country and the world, but I am still struck a bit by the difference between my own expectations or assumptions and what I found here.”

Radzins was impressed by the diversity of experience in her students, both at PSR and GTU. “One of my classes in my first year at PSR had people from six or seven different GTU schools,” she said. “That diversity is really nice, both for students and for teachers. In some ways, that’s what allows creativity to happen—the mix of backgrounds, the different questions people come up with, the fact that some students who have just come out of an undergraduate experience will ask very different questions than a person who’s had a 20-year career in business.”

“I’m looking forward to my second year here,” Rivera said. “It’s great to have a better feeling of where I am, and I’m really excited about the courses I’ll be teaching this semester: post-colonial theologies and a required class in women’s studies for the certificate in women’s studies for the GTU. I’m very excited about both courses.”

Radzins agrees that teaching and challenges from the students are what motivates her: “That’s one of the great things about teaching: You’re challenged, and you never know what’s going to happen when you step into the classroom. It’s always a surprise!”