Natalia Marandiuc received a 2013 Postdoctoral Fellowship. She currently teaches at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.
LI: Tell us about yourself and your current work.
NM: I was born and raised in Romania, where my family of origin still lives. With the exception of my sister, my family does not speak English. My grandparents are countryside peasants. My parents, however, are city intellectuals, so as a young girl I was privileged to grow up with an exceptionally large library of the world classics. While we were very poor materially, we had a rich life of the mind. My father is an historian and a writer; my mother worked all her life in epidemiology. After the 1989 revolution the borders of my country opened. Some years later, when I was a student at the University of Bucharest, I came across information about studying abroad. I decided to go to an English-speaking country, took the SAT test (first multiple choice test I ever faced!), and received an academic scholarship to study in the USA. More years later, I finished my Ph.D. in theology at Yale University and started my current work at Perkins School of Theology. I am delighted to be here. I teach theology to students in several Masters’ programs and I also work with Ph.D. students. This past summer, after marrying in my native city in Romania, my husband and I went to Rome and participated in a papal audience at the Vatican, which culminated with receiving a blessing on our new marriage from Pope Francis. It was an extraordinary experience: I felt that we were in the presence of a spiritual giant, an astute political leader, and the most gentle of shepherds—all in one person.
LI: What question currently matters to you and why?
NM: I am currently working on a book manuscript in which I ask the question of what we may call “home” in today’s globalized and highly mobile world. Considering the identity loss resulting from the relational poverty that characterizes much of the contemporary Western context, I conceptualize “home” as special relationships of deep love attachment. My argument depicts such human loves as participating in, sustained by, and mediating the streams of divine love which God gives us perpetually. Human loving is therefore a sacramental site for God’s own presence, which I portray as occurring pneumatologically, through the Holy Spirit. The project makes a constructive theological argument for the function of love attachments as sources of subjectivity and enablers of creaturely freedom. I argue that paradoxically, the depth of human belonging is directly proportional to the strength of human freedom and selfhood. The significance of such a relationally understood “home” consists in its power to shape the making of the human self. My main interlocutor in this project is Soren Kierkegaard.
LI: In what ways has the LI Postdoctoral Fellowship supported your formation as a new faculty member at Perkins?
NM: The speakers that came to our Louisville Institute gatherings have been exceptionally insightful, particularly with respect to the changing landscape of theological education in North America. Some of our conversations revolved around how the role of the professional minister is diminishing, and how the demographics of both society and ecclesial communities are changing in complex ways, resulting in a need for holistic approaches to pastoring increasingly diverse people and multiple communities. Consequently, theological education needs to adjust. Since many of my students at Perkins are future ministers whose lives will be woven into new forms of shepherding people and congregations, I find these dialogues greatly valuable.
LI: How would you advise eligible graduate students who are interested in applying for this fellowship?
NM: I would suggest that they forge a creative vision for how their voice contributes uniquely to the complex and evolving relation between academic research and teaching, on one hand, and contemporary ecclesial realities, on the other hand. I would encourage them to tell their story in the application in a way that shows both sophistication of mind and a heart for communities of faith. I would invite them to come to the Louisville Institute reception at the AAR in November, and get acquainted with the ethos of the program and its people firsthand.