Boston University School of Theology, Shively Smith

Boston, Massachusetts

To identify the metaphors and images that shape the interpretation of Scripture within worshiping communities, and to assess the impact of these interpretive images on a community’s relationship to various “others” and socio-political realities.

Researcher(s): Shively Smith 
Academic Discipline: New Testament Studies

Project Summary

To identify the images that shape worshipping communities’ routine practices for interpreting Scripture and to heighten awareness about the impact biblical interpretation has on how congregations position themselves in relation to other worship communities, personhoods not prominent within their fellowship, and broader social-political issues. The study will use the metaphors and conceptual images from the spiritual writings of Howard Thurman to guide individual congregations through a seminar process called, “Visual Explorations of Interpretative Practice with Howard Thurman,” in which congregations name and explore the images actively shaping their community’s interpretative life. 

What questions have you asked about worship in the past year? List at least two questions that have generated theological reflection and have helped shape your project.

  1. What are the sources Thurman used in his interpretive process that congregations might consider resourcing as they think about their interpretive exercises in the current context?
  2. What are the images and metaphors Thurman deploys to talk about the inner life and the journey of faith?

In what ways has or will your project strengthen the worship life of congregations?

My project provides congregations a way for not only thinking about, but actually visualizing Interpretative practices and products. It provides image rich options for people to actually visualize what they mean when they deploy metaphors such as journey, song, music, clothesline, saddle, eyes, trees, water, and other mundane items to describe and interpret the meaning and experience of faith. 

What have been your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)

The greatest challenge was the way I needed to shift my entire project to fully virtual. This became even more challenging because my website designer ad research assistants all got COVID this first part of the year--one almost to the point of death. So things were delayed, but we are getting on track and I was able to engage in some other ways with congregations and groups and I am continuing to do so! 

What advice would you like to share with other Teacher-Scholars? 

To be flexible. There are many ways to engage in the work of our research and work, but we also have to be willing to consider those other pathways rather than to stall because our original plan was not actionable. 

What products will emerge from your project?

    1. A website on images of our interpretation that is now in process.
    2. Public videos engaging Thurman's images in his meditations as interpretive practice
    3. Book proposal to Duke University Press for monograph, Howard Thurman as Interpreter.
    4. Workshops on the Images of Thurman's meditations for Interpretive Practice
    5. Syllabus for a graduate level class on Life and Vision of Howard Thurman as Interpreter