Alumni Profile: Awet Andemicael, MAR ’10
Today we have the opportunity to bring you an interview with ISM graduate Awet Andemicael, MAR ’10, whose study in music and theology at the ISM eventually led her back to Yale to pursue further graduate work in systematic theology! Awet was kind enough to share about her experience at the Institute, and how it shaped her vocational trajectory. Enjoy these words from one of our multi-talented, multi-disciplinary ISM grads!
1. Tell us a little about your current position, your enthusiasm for it, what makes it great for you.
I am currently working on a PhD in theology at Yale. I am thankful for the opportunity to study under a stellar academic advisor and mentor, Kathryn Tanner, as well as to work with network of theological mentors, both at the ISM and elsewhere. Alongside my academic work, I am slowly getting back into singing professionally, which was what I did for a living before coming to the ISM. Since music and theological aesthetics are among the central concerns of my theological work, being active as a musical performer–to the extent that time and energy permit–will likely enrich my scholarly investigations.
2. Tell us a little about your career trajectory after leaving the ISM.
It has been a busy two years since I left the ISM! After graduating, I worked on a research project surveying artistic activity in international refugee camps; my research was eventually published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I spent the following year studying theology and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame. It was a deeply formative experience to be immersed in a environment in which prayer and study are equally valued. I had the opportunity to study with wonderful theologians, including Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, Matthew Ashley, Cyril O’Regan, Francesca Murphy, and Mary Catherine Hilkert, as well as scholars in the field of peace studies. Although I was not able to study with Margot Fassler, I benefitted from her mentorship, and was invited by Margot and Peter Jeffrey to serve on the Mellon Working Group on Music and Religion.
I have traveled quite a bit in the last year or so. I went to Japan to sing Messiah with Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan, which was an amazing experience. Later, while at Notre Dame, I took part in a study/service course called the Common Good Initiative, in which I engaged in interdisciplinary reflection on issues of poverty and injustice, in preparation for a week of participating in the prayer and work life of the Missionaries of the Poor in Kingston, Jamaica. The theology department also sent several theology students, along with colleagues in Jewish rabbinical schools, on a trip to Israel to learn about Christian-Jewish dialogue. It was a challenging and incredibly rewarding experience, and further confirmed my commitment to interfaith and ecumenical engagement. That summer, I went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and taught two courses at the Universite Chretienne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC) in Beni, Nord-Kivu: one on theologies of reconciliation, and one on music and worship in the churches. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, and I was deeply blessed by my colleagues and students there. What a delight to be serving on my own continent! I hope to return again some day.
Other special experiences in the last year or so include helping moderate an international interfaith conference in Oxford, England; taking part in a global peace symposium in Reykjavik, Iceland; serving on an AAR panel as part of the Mellon Working Group on Music and Religion; participating as a musical performer and theologian at a Center for Theological Inquiry conference on science and religion; and being invited to serve as a theological consultant to a UNHCR conference in Geneva on faith and refugee protection. This summer, I will be presenting a paper on religion and peace studies in Salzburg, Austria.
As a result of all of these experiences, I am finding myself drawn toward a way of doing theology that is in spiritual and tangible service to God with and through the enactment of social justice, healing, and sustainable peace. This year, I will continue as a member of the think tank of the Elijah Interfaith Institute; though I expect to be attending fewer theological conferences, I will be doing more singing engagements.
Most recently, I have had the honor of presenting papers at my home institution (Yale) in my “home” discipline (music and systematic theology) at the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music and in the ISM Consultation on Music and Theology. That experience has served to confirm my call to constructive theology in music, and to generate great home-coming joy upon my return to the ISM community.
3. What project or accomplishment has given you most professional satisfaction (may or may not be related to the current position)?
My experience teaching at UCBC in the Congo, along with all that I learned from my colleagues and students. Also, the process of preparing to return to professional singing, with all the vocal, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional growth I have experienced during my studies at the ISM.
4. How specifically did the training received at the ISM prepare you for the work you’re doing today?
I can safely say that almost none of what I am doing today would have been possible without the ISM. Before I came there, I had no academic background in theology. In fact, I don’t think I had even heard of systematic theology, let alone had any idea how my background as a musician and my burning spiritual questions could be brought into fruitful conversation with others who shared similar concerns and interests. The ISM’s financial support made it possible for me to discover and study theology at Yale; and the personal encouragement and validation I received from Martin Jean, the faculty and friends of the ISM, and my colleagues, helped me discern my scholarly calling to theology and music and gave me the courage to pursue it.
I am deeply grateful to God for having granted me the chance to study at the ISM. The experience was a major turning point for me, and, though I have studied at several institutions, I continue to think of the ISM as the alma mater of my heart.