Liberation Theology Heightens Student's Awareness of Injustice

Hannah Hawkinson studies when to speak, when to listen.

Growing up as the daughter of a pastor, Hannah Hawkinson never pictured herself going to seminary or pursuing ministry. “My dad loves his work, but ministry is exhausting,” she says.

Her father still pastors the same congregation in the Chicago suburbs where Hawkinson was raised, and she loves visiting when she can. She first wanted to be an English teacher, but soon found herself drawn to biblical and theological studies.

Hawkinson says Princeton Theological Seminary has encouraged her to consider how she came to believe what she believes, how her Evangelical Covenant tradition has formed her, and what she can learn from other Christian denominations and branches.

“It's this amazing meeting point of so many different traditions,” she says. “Sitting in class with a Presbyterian on one side, a Pentecostal on the other side, a Baptist over there, and all of us dealing with common issues or readings … has really been huge for me.” It’s had a deep impact on how she approaches her studies. “Some of my greatest influences are liberation theologians and womanist theologians,” she says. She also loves reading theologians and mystics from the Catholic, Lutheran, and Swedish Pietist traditions.

“Liberation theology is a theology whose fundamental claim is that God is the God of the oppressed,” she says. Leaders in Latin American liberation theology and philosophy include Gustavo Gutiérrez and Oscar Romero. In the United States, James Cone founded black liberation theology, and theologians like Delores Williams and Katie Cannon are leaders in womanist theology.

“Because I am a white, straight, middle class, university-educated woman, I am in this ridiculous position of privilege,” Hawkinson says. “Liberation theology in all of its diverse forms challenges me in so many ways. It reminds me of how I am contributing to these oppressive systems.”

In Sisters in the Wilderness, womanist theologian Delores Williams roots her exegesis and theological analysis of Hagar and her narrative in the history and experiences of African American community, especially African American women. Both are not often represented in larger theology.

Williams asks, “How does my black female theological voice join the chorus of non-black women's voices and male voices in theology without compromising black women's faith? How do we black female theologians speak with all our strength when some white female and some black male scholars work together to crowd out our voices or take control of our words?"

Scholars like Williams push Hawkinson to experience theology outside of the dominant cultural perspective. But relationships with her classmates and community are also key. “In talking to my African American brothers and sisters, and my Native American brothers and sisters, and my queer siblings, I am reminded that all of these individuals have experiences every day that I simply don't have because of my privilege,” she says.

Liberation theology encourages her to look at injustice both systemically and personally and to be mindful of how she is participating in ways big and small in unjust systems and power structures.

“It reminds me of the importance of listening,” she says. “One way I can work towards this liberation is actually not to speak at all in certain instances, but to listen to people and read and encounter the theologies of people who aren't like me.”

It’s a learning process she is excited to continue engaging in during her time at Princeton Seminary – seeking to discern the times that are best for speaking, best for listening, and best for helping amplify the voices of the scholars and leaders around her.

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Pastor of Scottsboro Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Alabama

Micaiah Tanck, Class of 2015

“The friends, colleagues, and professors I’ve met will continue to be resources for me both personally and professionally.”