Revd Stephen Pepper (2018)
A question overtook me during a drive through the Pennsylvania Wilds in 2015. How might people in life situations of “exile” have access to theology and literature itself conceived out of exile? Thus, a passion for Dante that had begun during my first year of seminary at the University of Notre Dame developed into a weekly Dante study group at my local prison in northeast PA, and through my exposure to the lives and hopes of these inmates over the course of two years, I began to see how Dante could be used to explore the fundamental structures of and possibilities for human unity, even in the midst of fragmentation and isolation. My research in the Faculty of Divinity will formalize this exploration by tracing the theological and metaphysical participation traditions in which Dante stands, delimiting his understanding of the inter-relationality among divine and human nature(s), and applying the systematic consequents of his theology of participation to new ways of thinking about social modalities, wherein pluralities of valuation and reasoning may cohere to address the anomies of our own day. As a Roman Catholic priest from a military family in Alabama, I am humbled to be part of the Gates community and eager to gain from it a deepening respect for the versatility of human goodness.