Elisabeth T. Vasko, Ph.D.Assistant Professor
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Department of Theology
Fisher Hall 621
Education:Ph.D., Theology, Loyola University Chicago, 2009
M.A., Pastoral Ministry, Boston College, 2001
B.S., Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999
Elisabeth T. Vasko's primary research and teaching interests are context-attentive Christologies and theological anthropologies. Her research focuses on the intersection of Christian systematic theology and violence, including theological justifications for violence and discrimination as well as the role that Christian theology and faith communities have played in resisting such violence. In particular, she is concerned with delineating and transforming the ways in which racism, sexism, ableism, imperialism, and economic injustice dehumanize.
Her most recent project, Beyond Apathy: A Theology for Bystanders (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, January 2015), takes a closer look at the role of social privilege in perpetuating structural injustice. The book examines the theological significance of bystander participation in patterns of violence and violation within contemporary Western culture, highlighting the social issues of bullying, white racism, and sexual violence. In doing so, it constructs a theology of redeeming grace for bystanders to violence that foregrounds the significance of social action in bringing about God's basileia.
Dr. Vasko teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in theological anthropology, Christology, U.S. liberation theologies, and gender studies in religion. In 2014, she was the recipient of a Creative Teaching Award for her work with Anna Floerke Scheid on anti-racist pedagogy in undergraduate theology classrooms.
She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her daughter and her husband. In her free time, she enjoys running and spending time outdoors with friends and family.
• Undergraduate: Theological Views of the Person; Women and Christianity; Violence and Christianity; Classical and Contemporary Theologies
• Graduate: Dr. Vasko teaches Ph.D. and M.A seminars in her fields of specialization
• In 2014 Dr. Vasko was a recipient of a university Creative Teachig Award for her work with Dr. Anna Scheid on anti-racist pedagogy in theology classrooms.
I believe that theology cannot be divorced from the social and historical situation of the world. Ultimately, the goal of theological discourse is to open up new ways of being in relation with God and one another that lend toward the flourishing of all creation. In today's global context, this position not only demands a posture of radical listening to the experiences of women and men, but must also seek to mediate in the public arena a space for the voices of those who have been pushed to the margins of our communities.
In the context of teaching theology at a Catholic institution of higher learning, this means creating constructive, critical, and imaginative spaces for dialogue between the vision of the Christian tradition and the experiences of students. As Parker Palmer says, the classroom space needs to honor "‘little' stories of the individual and the ‘big' stories of the disciplines and tradition." Concretely, I seek to achieve this through the following principles
• Participative Dialogue. Learning, at its best, is a communal endeavor that demands active participation on the part of both the students and the instructor. My teaching style emphasizes student participation through intentionally structured discussion and group collaboration. Both skills sets of listening (to diverse texts, traditions, and experiences) and speaking (constructing one's own narrative in relation to these texts and traditions) are critical dimensions of participative dialogue.
• Praxis-oriented. I approach theology from a praxis-oriented perspective. This is reflected in my assignments, which are designed not only to help students master the material conceptually, but to also engage them in critical reflection in light of their experiences in the world.
• Attentiveness to Diversity. One of my core values is to create a space for marginalized voices in the classroom. This is reflected in terms of course content and assigned readings. All syllabi incorporate reading materials from people of diverse racial, socio-economic, ethnic, and gender backgrounds. Students are frequently asked to reflect upon their own social location in class assignments.
• Student-oriented. I place a high priority on getting to know my students. Your ideas and concerns not only deserve my respect and attention, but I have learned a lot from students over the years.
Theological conversations about violence have typically framed the discussion in terms of victim and perpetrator. Such work, while important, only addresses part of the problem. Comprehensive theological and pastoral responses to violence must also address the role of collective passivity in the face of human denigration. Given the pervasiveness of inaction-whether in the form of denial, willful ignorance, or silent complicity-a theological reflection on violence that holds bystanders accountable, especially those who occupy social sites of privilege, is long overdue. I
Elisabeth T. Vasko utilizes resources within the Christian tradition to examine the theological significance of bystander participation in patterns of violence and violation within contemporary Western culture, giving particular attention to the social issues of bullying, white racism, and sexual violence. In doing so, she constructs a theology of redeeming grace for bystanders to violence that foregrounds the significance of social action in bringing about God's kingdom.
"Teaching Race: Pedagogical Challenges in Predominantly White Classrooms." Co-authored with Anna Floerke Scheid. Teaching Theology & Religion 17 (2014): 27-45.
"Holding Us Accountable: A Response to Karen Teel." Co-authored with Anna Floerke
Scheid. Teaching Theology & Religion 17 (2014): 46-47.
"The Difference Gender Makes: Nuptiality, Analogy, and the Limits of Appropriating Hans Urs von Balthasar's Theology in the Context of Sexual Violence," Journal of Religion 94 (2014): 504-528 .
"Redeeming Beauty? Christa and the Displacement of Women's Bodies in Theological Aesthetic Discourses," Feminist Theology 21 (2013):195-208.
"Listening & Speaking as Two Sides of the Same Coin: Reflections on Intercultural Feminist Learning," co-authored with Eunice Karanja Kamaara and Jeanine Viau, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 28 (2012): 49-67.
"LGBT Bullying at the Crossroads of Christian Theology: Girard, Surrogate Victimage, and Sexual Scapegoating," in Violence, Transformation, and the Sacred: They Shall Be Called Children of God (Ed. Margaret R. Pfeil and Tobias L. Winright; Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2012) 38-53.
"Listening to Experience, Looking Towards Flourishing: Ethnography as a Global Feminist Theo/ethical Praxis." Co-authored with Melissa Browning et al., Practical Matters 3 (2010): 1-25.
"Feminist Theologies, Catholicity & Mission in a Global Context," CTSA Proceedings 65 (2010): 101-102.
"The Goods and Evils of a Globalized Context: African and American Women Doing Theology." Co-authored with Susan A. Ross and Melissa Browning. Concilium 2009/1: 44-51.
"Confessing Whiteness? Re-thinking Sin-Talk in the Context of White Supremacy." Paper presented at Catholic Theological Society of American Annual Convention, San Diego, CA. June 7, 2014.
"The Story of the Syro-Phoenician Woman (Mark 7: 24-30): Interpreting Christological Complacency in Contexts Marked by Social Privilege." Paper presented at College Theology Society Annual Convention, Latrobe, PA. May 31, 2014
"Generations Reflect on Sacrosanctum Concilium: Questions from a Young Catholic Feminist." Paper presented at the Catholic Theological Society of American Annual Convention, St. Louis, MO. June 9, 2012.
"Critical Reflection: Lessons Learned from Teaching Racism and White Privilege in the Theology Classroom." Paper presented with Anna Floerke Scheid at College Theology Society Annual Convention, San Antonio, TX. June 2, 2012.
"Sacrifice, Scapegoats, and Bullying: Rethinking Passivity and Violence in Christian Atonement Theology." Paper presented at College Theology Society Annual Convention, New Rochelle, NY. June 4, 2011.
"Passivity and Violence: A Theological Reflection on the Problem of Bullying." Paper given as a part of the panel "Movements Toward Flourishing: Theological Responses to Violence" at Journey Towards Healing: An International Dialogue, sponsored by NIAMH and Office of First Minister and Deputy Minister, Belfast, UK. March 11, 2011.
"Navigating Feminist Space(s): Interdisciplinary Challenges and Opportunities in the Context of Catholic Higher Education." Paper presented at National Women's Studies Association Annual Convention, Denver, CO. November 11, 2010.
"Beauty and the Cross: The Framing of Attention to Suffering in Hans Urs von Balthasar's Theology." Paper given at American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA. November 1, 2010.
"Prophetic Vision and Mzungu Listening in Postcolonial Space: Lessons from a US-Kenya Immersion Project." Paper given as a part of the session "Feminist Theologies, Catholicity, and Mission in a Global Context" at Catholic Theological Society of America Annual Convention, Cleveland, OH. June 12, 2010.
"Aesthetics and Eating: Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle as a Resource for Christian Spirituality." Paper given at the College Theology Society Annual Convention, South Bend, IN. May 29, 2009.