For this year’s Clare Center Lecture, Siena College welcomed Dr. Joy Schroeder to speak on “Compassion and Imagination in Franciscan Biblical Interpretation” on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. In introducing the event, Dr. Holly Grieco, professor of religious studies, explained the origins of the Clare Center lecture, which “began as a way to welcome the religious studies department into its new home on campus, the Clare Center.” The 25th annual lecture tied into the St. John’s Bible festivities currently happening on campus and was also a part of Francis Week, a week-long celebration honoring the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi.
“When I invite scholars to give the Clare Center Lecture, I often have a particular theme in mind,” Dr. Grieco explained. “This year, I was inspired by Fr. Mark Reamer to invite someone who has done work on Franciscans and Biblical interpretation. While there aren’t direct connections to make between the St. John’s Bible and Franciscan interpretation of the Bible, having the theme of this year’s lecture connect in some way to the St. John’s Bible was a great opportunity.”
Dr. Joy Schroeder is a professor of religion and philosophy at Capital University in Ohio. She has written four books, contributed to over a dozen scholarly articles and chapters, and is a Lutheran pastor. Her academic concentrations are in the history of biblical interpretation and women in the church. When asked why Dr. Schroeder was chosen as this year’s speaker, Dr. Grieco said, “I invited Dr. Joy Schroeder because she is a scholar who is active in Franciscan Studies who is currently researching the interpretation of scripture in and beyond the Middle Ages, by Franciscans as well as others.” She continued, “She has a reputation as a fine scholar and an engaging speaker. In addition, I like bringing speakers to campus who represent part of the ‘current face’ of Franciscan Studies, which increasingly includes not only scholars who are not Franciscan, but also scholars who are women, and scholars who do not identify as Catholic.”
Dr. Schroeder started her lecture in a Santa Clara convent in colonial Peru in 1669. She spoke of Ursula de Jesus, a slave who rose out of slavery and became a religious servant in the Roman Catholic Church. Though she was no longer a slave, she felt the shadow of discrimination all of her life. Ursula was visited by St. Francis and critiqued racism in the convent; her diary gives voice to the “African descent experience,” Dr. Schroeder said. She transitioned into talking about Franciscan biblical interpreters, including Nicholas of Lyra, “Meditations on the Life of Christ,” St. Bonaventure, and Angela of Foligno. She discussed the New Testament scene in which King Herod ordered the slaughter of the babies in the region after hearing about the new king being born. In “Meditations of the Life of Christ,” the unknown author tries to elicit compassion in the reader; Dr. Schroeder tied this notion to the Syrian and Central American refugee crises. “Have compassion on them,” she said.
Another important component of Dr. Schroeder’s lecture was the value of slow, reflective reading and the importance of imagination. She shared the statistic that the human attention span has diminished to eight seconds, which is one second less than a goldfish. Reflective reading is important not only in biblical interpretation, but in people’s daily lives, especially in regards to imagination. She encouraged everyone to “empathize with the suffering of a really broken world, but new imaginative ways, creative ways, to do the work of justice and healing.” Dr. Schroeder suggested implementing compassionate imagination into the Franciscan core curriculum at Siena. “It can be done with holiness and imagination, the kind that brings about good business ethics and good business practices.”
Dr. Schroeder ended her lecture on a positive note: “With both compassion and imagination, we can imagine new ways to do just a little bit of repair work to help heal this broken world.”