New Heard Libraries’ exhibit celebrates 50 years of theological reflections by women

A new exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of Vanderbilt Divinity School’s Antoinette Brown Lecture Series will open on Monday, March 4, at the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries. 

“Celebrating 50 Years of Antoinette Brown Lectures” will be on display in the second-floor gallery of the Central and Divinity Libraries Building. A preview of the exhibit will be from 2 to 4 p.m., with the grand opening and a reception at 8 p.m. The Divinity School’s 50th annual Antoinette Brown Lecture featuring ethics professor Grace Y. Kao will be at 7 p.m. at Vanderbilt Divinity School’s “The Space,” Room G-29. 

Vanderbilt Divinity’s Antoinette Brown Lectures began in 1974 with the aim to “bring to the school distinguished women theologians to speak on concerns for women in ministry.” The series was established by a gift from Sylvia Sanders Kelley, BA’54, of Atlanta. The lectureship is named for Brown, who, in 1853, became the first woman ordained to the Christian ministry in the United States. Brown was a prominent public speaker on the paramount issues of her day and distinguished herself from her contemporaries with her use of religious faith in her efforts to expand women’s rights.  

The lecture series’ 50-year history coincides with the expansion of women’s presence at the Divinity School and is reflected in the posters for each lecture, which are a highlight of the anniversary exhibit. The exhibit, curated by Divinity Library Reserves Coordinator MAT Trotter, also pays tribute to Brown and Kelley. 

This year’s lecture will be delivered by Kao, professor of ethics and the Bishop Roy I. Sano and Kathleen A. Thomas-Sano Professor of Pacific and Asian American Theology at Claremont School of Theology. Her talk, “Can Surrogacy be Feminist? How about Christian?” will explore societal discomfort with surrogacy as a method of family expansion and offer a vision in which surrogacy—if conducted ethically—can advance both feminist and Christian aims. 

Kao is a founding co-director of the Center for Sexuality, Gender and Religion at Claremont School of Theology. A feminist Christian and former surrogate, she is the author or co-editor of four books, including her most recent: My Body, Their Baby: A Progressive Christian Vision for Surrogacy (Stanford University Press, 2023). 

In addition, a lunch-and-learn panel discussion about the lecture series’ 50th anniversary will be held at noon March 4 at Vanderbilt Divinity School’s “The Space.” The panelists include Kao; Eunjoo Mary Kim, Charles G. Finney Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics at Vanderbilt Divinity School; and Katherine Fredlund, associate professor of English and director of first-year writing at the University of Memphis.

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