Margarita Mooney, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Practical Theology, is a trained sociologist and psychologist.
She poses hypotheses. She gathers quantitative data. And she uses qualitative methods to interpret situations through the actions and words of those involved.
As the daughter of a Cuban refugee, she grew up hearing stories of trauma, which in turn led to her professional interest in how individuals display resilience after adversity. But there was an element missing that her scientific training couldn’t specifically address: the inner depth of people’s spiritual lives and the love that binds people into families and communities.
Enter practical theology -- the academic discipline that applies theological insights to the human experience. “I still use the methods and data that a social scientist would use,” Mooney explains. “But my research now tries to capture the predictability and the unpredictability and complexity of being human, including things that can’t be seen empirically but are very real, like a connection to God and the supernatural.”
"I hope my students learn to apply what they’re learning in Scripture and practical theology that integrates science methods and theories to the lived communities they’re serving."
Her book, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora, examines the Haitian immigrant experience in Miami, Montreal, and Paris, and how the religiosity of this group empowers them towards successful adaptation. Her most recent work on individuals struggling with trauma illuminated a similar need for community, albeit in a completely different form. “We can't use medicine to treat feeling abandoned by God,” she says. “There is a spiritual suffering that is its own condition,” and it’s one that her students will undoubtedly encounter in their own congregations.
At Princeton Seminary, Mooney’s classes on immigration, resilience, and communities help future pastoral leaders apply their theological knowledge to practical issues. “Pastors will encounter people looking for community, or who have gone through trauma, so I hope they get a framework on how to approach these questions,” Mooney says. “God isn’t just in Scripture. God is in these social areas. I hope my students learn to apply what they’re learning in Scripture and practical theology that integrates science methods and theories to the lived communities they’re serving.”