SFTS CHIMES | Fall 2012
Graduate Theological Union honors
Noel as Distinguished Faculty Lecturer
ev. Dr. James Noel of San
Francisco Theological Semi-
nary was honored as the Grad-
uate Theological Union Distinguished
Faculty Lecturer in November in
Berkeley, Calif.
The GTU, one of the largest part-
nerships of seminaries and graduate
schools in the United States, celebrates
its 50th anniversary in 2012. Each
November, the GTU faculty honors a
distinguished professor who embodies
the scholarly standards, teaching excel-
lence and commitment to ecumenism
that define the GTU. Nominations are
considered by the Council of Deans,
which selects the Distinguished Fac-
ulty Lecturer.
Noel is the H. Eugene Farlough,
Jr. Chair of African American Christi-
anity and Professor of American Reli-
gion at SFTS. His lecture was entitled
“Black Religion in the Atlantic World
during the Age of Revolution: Exca-
vating the ‘Sublime.’”
“I am very surprised, humbled and
excited about receiving this honor,”
Noel said. His lecture related several
things that are never brought together
in most discourses about modernity:
revolution, the aesthetic category of
‘the sublime’ and black religion. Noel
used the paintings of William Turner’s
with Edmund Burke’s
A Philosophical
Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful
to support his research.
The lecture was held at the Pacific
School of Religion chapel. Dr. Naomi
Seidman, Koret Professor of Jewish
Culture and Director of the Richard
S. Dinner Center for Jewish Studies
(GTU), was the respondent. A recep-
tion was held at the Badé Museum
Noel is a widely popular professor
at SFTS and the GTU and also gradu-
ated from both institutions. He earned
his Master of Divinity from SFTS in
1975 and completed his Doctor of
Philosophy from the GTU in 2000.
In addition to his responsibilities
as a professor at SFTS and the GTU,
Noel is director of the GTU’s Black
Church/Africana Religious Studies
Program. He also serves as interim
pastor at New Liberation Presbyterian
Church in San Francisco, is an accom-
plished painter and 7th dan Tae Kwon
Do Master.
His published works include
Religion & the Imagination of Matter
in the Atlantic World
(Palgrave 2009)
The Passion of the Lord: African
American Reflections
. Noel’s play,
Black Experience in Poetry and Song
has been performed nationally and in-
“What I notice is that black peo-
ple and their religions rarely consti-
tute items of theoretical reflection in
academic discourses on modernity and
post-modernity,” Noel explained. “The
nature of the West is never illuminated
by what blacks undergo by the West
— its cultural identity is self-generat-
ed. Blackness remains marginal even
when such categories as alterity, hy-
bridity and otherness are invoked. This
lecture will offer me the opportunity
to extend what I began reflection on
in Black Religion & the Imagination
of Matter in the Atlantic World and
clarify the research I will be doing on
my sabbatical this Fall semester by
sharing my thinking with my distin-
guished GTU colleagues.”
Noel challenges boundaries when-
ever they threaten to obscure or resist
truth, and students experience this in
the classroom. His interdisciplinary
method of scholarship aids students
in investigating the ways in which cul-
ture creates and transforms individual
experiences, everyday life, social rela-
tions and power.
Among the other SFTS professors
who have been named Distinguished
Faculty Lecturer are Rev. Dr. Philip
Wickeri in 2009 and Rev. Dr. Lewis
Mudge in 2003.
To learn more about past Distin-
guished Lecturers or listen to previous
lectures, go to:
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