Goodwin Prize Honorable Mention Author Profile with Lisa Hickman



Your name:  Lisa Nichols Hickman

The title of your paper:   Before Our Bodies Glittered: Beyond Ontological Difference in Disability and Theology

What inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in theology? What do you hope to do with your degree?

As a Presbyterian pastor, someone who cares deeply about spiritual formation, I am interested in “everyday theology.”  By everyday theology, I simply mean the intersection between the sacred and secular currents of our ordinary, everyday life.  When I first considered possible Ph.D. work, I envisioned studying Practical Theology or the New Testament.  Then, when I learned about the program at Duquesne University in Theology I realized how much sense pursuing this course of study made in the context of my life.  Ever since I was a kid, making tents out of sheets and staying up late to talk with friends, I’ve been asking theological questions. I’m thrilled to devote this season of my life to full time theological study and I would love when finished to be able to teach in a Seminary or a college where spiritual formation is valued as part of the curriculum.

Where do you see connections between your personal faith, your intellectual work and the other aspects of your life?

There are many connections!  Given the topic of this essay regarding disability and theology, an important connection was the initial “life crisis” of learning we would have a daughter with Down Syndrome.  During that time of initial grief, I read “Put to the Test” by theologian and ethicist Amy Laura Hall in The Christian Century.  Surprisingly, this book review of hers reframed my journey theologically to consider “hospitality” in the face of a life crisis.  Her words were a clarion call in that hard season.  Good theology can do just that – transform lives, transform institutions, transform the most challenging of situations.  Now, Caitlyn May is eleven years old.  She is a cheerleader, a great sister, a good friend, and a place of real grace in our household. 

How would you summarize your paper for someone without a theological background? 

Jean-Luc Marion prompts us to consider God “without being” and in so doing offers new access for disability studies.  Such a challenge sets “ontological difference” aside and begins with the revelation of love as the foremost encounter with the divine. Our interaction with this charitable love sets aside the bedazzlement of the bodily idol and provides accessibility through an encounter with the icon of revelation.  Such an encounter is not a Gnostic rejection of the body, but instead an invitation beyond the glittery norms of perfect embodiment toward a revelatory love that summons our gaze to a new depth. That revelation prompts greater access in the institutions, streets and byways of our culture that now, guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1995, must provide ‘access.’  However, Marion’s insight points to encounter which is perhaps even more needed than access. This paper points to a model of public access beyond functionality; instead, one that creates space for encounter with each other as human beings.

How might this award make a difference in your life?

Of course I am honored to be able to list this on a C.V. and resume.  But even more so, for now, this award makes “real” the work that I do to my older daughter Leah.  While studying theology may sound abstract some day, this award makes real the hard work and heart of theology to a thirteen year old.  We will use a portion of the award to celebrate time together as a family and for that we are all grateful.

What would you say to prospective donors might fund the Goodwin Writing Prize?

To the prospective donors, I would share the above story of how good theological writing mattered to my family and me during a critical point in our lives.  I will forever be appreciative to Amy Laura Hall for her theological reframing of a crisis point.  And, I am grateful to The Christian Century for cutting through the other noise in my life and arriving as a “message in the bottle” in my mailbox that tough October day over ten years ago. 

How do you spend your time when you are not studying?

I enjoy playing scrabble with my husband Jason.  I love going to our daughter Leah’s cross -country meets.  These fall days are filled with lots of football games with two cheerleaders in the house.  In Amish country, where we live, I love long walks and great bike rides through the back-roads.

Any other comments?

I am really grateful to the Goodwin team – and am inspired by the whole spectrum of opportunities you offer.  

For more information on the Goodwin Prize, please click here