Kristine Culp

Glorious Life?

Associate Professor of Theology, Dean of the Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago
The University of Chicago, The Divinity School
Chicago, Illinois, United States of America

Capstone Conference Talk

Saturday (8/5) 1:50-2:10PM

The Glory of Living Things: Aliveness not Limitlessness

What is creaturely life like at full capacity and integrity? Consider the wild splendor of lilies, the push and pull of color in a Rothko painting, and the satisfaction of sharing good bread. Such experiences, albeit evanescent and often ambiguous, can suggest what the aliveness of life looks, feels, even tastes like. At such moments, more life seems impossible to bear or imagine. As theologians have taught (and cautioned), “fully alive” creatures are edged by a magnificence that is not self-generated/generating, and also by limits beyond which their lives may become diminished, endangered, and/or endangering of other living things.


Capstone Conference Research Laboratory

Sunday (8/6) 1:00-2:30PM

Drawing the Edges of Human Life

This laboratory session will attempt to bridge our research findings (encompassing technological, social, and moral dimensions) on human enhancements at the beginning and end of life with those normative views, beliefs, and attitudes operating in the public sphere. Which narratives about enhancement achieve valence? Which “publics” participate? How does the definition of “health” draw margins and borders of fitness that implicate resource allocation, justice, and disparity? Are the margins changing? To what extent can notions of human flourishing, the awe of life, and living finite life to its fullest move and shift the normative boundaries and expectations for the beginning and end of life that predominate our technology-driven cultures?

Research Laboratories allow audience members to interact with a panel of ELP Scholars and Interlocutors in addressing a problem of public relevance. We invite active participation from audience members in the creation of new knowledge.

Academic Biography

Kristine A. Culp teaches at the University of Chicago where she is Associate Professor of Theology in the Divinity School and also serves as a faculty member of the Fundamentals: Texts and Issues program in the College. She has been Dean of the Disciples Divinity House of the University of Chicago, one of the University’s oldest affiliates, since 1991. She is the author of Vulnerability and Glory: A Theological Account (Westminster John Knox, 2010), one of the first theological works to connect multidisciplinary analyses of vulnerability and risk with theological anthropology and sociality. She is the editor of The Responsibility of the Church for Society and Other Essays by H. Richard Niebuhr (2008), which collected Niebuhr’s various writings on ecclesiology and Christian community for the first time. Her essays have addressed protest and resistance as theological themes, the use of fiction in theological thinking, feminist and womanist theologies, and the appeal to “experience” in contemporary theology. An avid traveler and photographer, she has also written about pilgrimage, and her photographs have been published on several websites. She is a PhD graduate of the Divinity School, an alumna of the Disciples Divinity House, and an MDiv graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. She serves on numerous boards and advisory panels, and she currently represents the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

Project Executive Summary

This researc project explores glory as a theological resource for the enhancement of vulnerable life.

Its thesis, most broadly formulated, is that “glory,” when construed in relation to an account of vulnerability as susceptibility to devastation and to transformation, can inform the enhancement of life by shifting and expanding the narrative field in which vulnerable life is interpreted.

In its depiction of “vulnerable life,” the project intends to gesture particularly to human creatures, cultures, and societies, but without excluding other creatures, biological life, or, for that matter, landscapes and other fields that are created and/or altered by human power. Global susceptibility to endangerment and enhancement is the situation to which an interpretation of glory must relate and respond, as well as the situation in which glory may become manifest. An adequate consideration of glory should illumine and be illumined by vulnerable life rather than obscure or divert attention from it.

Without negating the importance of resilience in the face of global endangerments, glory points beyond resilience to the full capacity and integrity of vulnerable life. In contrast to flourishing, which can also suggest vulnerable life at the height of its powers, glory can simultaneously convey a background sense of ongoing susceptibility to damage. (For instance, a pear tastes “glorious” partly because its ripeness is fleeting.) Glory thus expands the narrative field in which vulnerable life is interpreted not only by signaling transformation, but also by keeping perishability and endangerment in view.