Religion Symposium Honors Former Professors Thie and Berry

Professors and alumni honored former Colgate professors Marilyn Thie and Wanda Warren Berry in a two-day symposium of talks about women and religion, and philosophy and feminism on Wednesday, April 11, and Thursday, April 12. 

The symposium, arranged by Harry Emerson Fosdick, Professor of the Humanities and Native American Studies in the Department of Religion, Chair of Religion Department Chris Vecsey and moderated by Charles A. Dana Professor of Religion Georgia Frank, concluded with a talk on women in religion featuring speakers Dr. Amy Allocco ’97, Teresa Delgado ’88 and Warren Berry. Allocco and Delgado were both students of Berry and Thie during their time at Colgate.

Berry was one of the first two female professors to have full responsibility of a class at Colgate in 1962 and continued to teach philosophy and religion with an emphasis on women in religion until her retirement in 2003. Throughout her own education and early teaching career, Berry found that the female experience in religious history was extremely underrepresented in textbooks, courses and academia. Yet the scholarly work of second and third wave feminists have called attention to women’s experiences in religious tradition.

“The work of transforming religious traditions from their patriarchal captivity is far from finished. But there has been progress that I could not have imagined 60 years ago. Whether you are religious or not, I urge recognition of the great significance of this change,” Berry said. 

This scholarship was revived and enriched once again with the additional perspective and academia of women of color, a perspective Berry recognized had been missing even from some of her work. 

The womanist approach to religious academia was borne of this critique. 

Alloco spoke about Berry’s influence on her own work in South India and her present teaching career in Religious Studies at Elon University. 

She emphasized the importance not only of Berry’s mentorship during her time at Colgate, but of feminist mentorship in academia. 

“My professors [at Colgate] were passionate, and articulate and inspiring and I’m grateful to them in equal parts for the paradigm shifting material they taught me and for the examples of feminist commitment and intellectual engagement that they modeled,” Allocco said.  

First-year Lauren Hutton also appreciated the impact of feminist mentorship. 

“I enjoyed seeing the application of feminist mentorship on these women’s lives. The fact that they took what they studied at Colgate and turned the same questions raised in their college classes into lifetimes of research just goes to show the impact of studying your passions even at an undergrad level,” Hutton said. 

First-year Lucas Shapiro felt the speakers made him appreciate the format of Colgate classes. 

“It was amazing to see the impact of these first female professors on the alumnae that spoke. It truly goes to show the power of the small class sizes and personal interaction at Colgate,” Shapiro said. 

Delgado tearfully recounted that during one of her advising sessions with Thie during her time at Colgate when she was feeling particularly overwhelmed, Thie offered her home as a place to finish work. 

“If we’re honest with ourselves, as scholars in religion and as women, we know that institutions, especially ones that see themselves as connected to the sacred, are in the business of self-preservation, not radical reimagination of the ways of being in a faith community,” Delgado said.

In institutions made to exclude certain genders, Delgado has followed Thie and Berry’s example that women must challenge authority and utilize the power of insubordination.

Contact Emily Rahhal at [email protected].