2019-2020
HTI/Lilly Dissertation Fellowship

Congratulations to the 2019-2020 HTI/Lily Dissertation Fellowship Recipients!

The HTI/Lilly Dissertation Fellowships are possible thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc.

Saul Barcelo

Claremont School of Theology

Born and raised in Mexico, Saul migrated to the United States with his family in hopes of better opportunities. He worked as a pastor for eight years, and was ordained in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination before transitioning to working as a healthcare chaplain. His research areas are in the fields of liberation and political theologies, social ethics, and postcolonial theory.  In the future, Saul looks forward to joining the academy in hopes of teaching and mentoring the next generation of Latinx scholars.

Jennifer A. Fernández

Graduate Theological Union

As a Cuban-American, Jennifer values diversity in education. As a child growing up in Miami, she was inspired by her ethnic identity reflected in that of her teachers, and it empowered her to believe that she too could one day be a confident Latina leader and educator. Endeavoring to teach in the academy, Jennifer hopes that theological students who come after her are welcomed into an educational landscape that honors their lived experience. Jennifer’s work as a Hispanic feminist theologian stands at the intersection of critical social theory and modern liberal Christian theology.

Juan Carlos Morales

Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

Juan Carlos is an ordained minister, passionate about partnering with congregations to engage local justice issues. He has taught sociological, historical, and theological tools of analysis at Bible institutes, colleges, and seminaries throughout the United States. Juan Carlos was raised in Federal housing projects and a Spanish Pentecostal church in Brooklyn by parents from Guatemala and Puerto Rico. The crack epidemic of the 80’s and the later gentrification of his community made clear to him the realities of the oppression and domination of marginalized communities by powerful institutions.  Juan Carlos’s doctoral studies are in the areas of the sociology of religion and U.S. Church history. His dissertation focuses on a decolonized, intersectional analysis of Latinx Pentecostalism as a community-building space, and on the implications of the growth of the “nones” for this community.

Michael Orellana

Andrews Theological Seminary

Michael’s native Peruvian culture is rich in history and calls his interest to discovering links between the Bible and archaeological records. Through his research, he expects to contribute to the understanding of the biblical narrative by making connections between the sacred scriptures and the cultural remains in the Middle East. Michael’s  ongoing dissertation entitled “Horizons of Tall Jalul Pottery Assemblage in the Iron IIA-IIC in Its Historical and Geographical Context” intends to clarify the debate about the historicity of the united kingdom as it is portrayed in the Bible. He is a Seventh-day Adventist, and would like to spread knowledge of the ancient past of the Middle East.

Martín Rodríguez

Fuller Theological Seminary

Martín was born in California and raised in central Mexico. Like many bicultural Latinxs, he has learned to survive and thrive in the liminal space between cultural narratives. Before beginning his PhD in Intercultural Studies, Martín’s love for God and the global church led to five years of mission work among emerging Christian leaders in East Asia. During this time, he planted three churches and developed an interest in the unique challenges of leading intercultural communities. Martín’s interdisciplinary research focuses on the unexplored connections between postcolonial hybridity theory and late-modern leadership theory. His dissertation analyzes the pioneering practices of bicultural Latinx pastors working in multicultural contexts. After graduation, Martín hopes to teach courses in leadership, Latinx studies, and missiology. In his scholarship, he aims to continue researching and celebrating the work of diaspora Latinx leaders.

Michael L. Sekuras

Vanderbilt University

Michael studies the Hebrew Bible as a living tradition, an ancient text with modern political consequences. As the son of two immigrants, he is particularly intrigued by the power biblical rhetoric has over migrant issues. In the classroom, his goal is to bridge questions of biblical tradition with modern politics by uncovering the layers of sociocultural tradition at play in our current political climate. He researches biblical narratives and their use as markers of ethnicity as a political tool in the ancient world, and considers how various historical epochs have taken up themes like unity and difference in turn. He seeks to understand how power and tradition continue to coalesce in new encounters with the Other even today.

Héctor M. Varela-Rios

The University of Chicago Divinity School

Growing up in a Methodist church in Puerto Rico, Héctor was always intrigued by lived religion: religiosity beyond doctrine, ministries, or worship–religion within ‘real life’. This interest, along with his day-to-day experiences with laborers in construction for over two decades, led him to the materiality of the Christian religion and how it catalyzes a more-concrete “theology from below,” coming from and spreading through faith communities. Through research and education, and working among Christians and lo cotidiano, Héctor hopes to contribute to the study of religious expressions and their entanglements with culture and society in general.

Aizaiah Yong

Claremont School of Theology

Aizaiah is Chicano Chinese American and a PhD candidate in practical Theology with an emphasis in Intercultural & Spiritual Education. His dissertation is interdisciplinary and uses mixed race critical race theory along with insights from contemplative education to interrogate how contemplative spiritual practices impact persons who are biracial/multiracial and desire to pursue racial justice. Aizaiah’s passion is to train leaders who promote diversity, harmony, and peace.

Raúl Zegarra

The University of Chicago Divinity School

Raúl sees his role in the academy as connecting practical and theoretical concerns related to the struggle for social justice. He does so by deploying different scholarly approaches including phenomenology and philosophical hermeneutics, pragmatism, political philosophy, and social theory. He applies these approaches to the study and creative development of the main themes of the liberation theology tradition, namely, the eradication of poverty, the struggle for social justice in all its varieties, religious experience as a form of liberation, the protection of the environment and indigenous peoples, etc. Raúl is also committed to engaging non-academic audiences in an effort to give life to the ideal of the public intellectual. He does so especially in his home country, Peru, via his regular contributions to newspapers and social media.