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Donors Make Possible United’s New Sophia Chair in Religious and Theological Studies

SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA, UNITED STATES, February 22, 2024. Funded by a generous donation from Dr. Mary Farrell Bednarowski, Professor Emerita of Religious Studies (1976–2004), and her husband, Keith Bednarowski, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities is thrilled to announce the creation of a new tenure-track, endowed faculty position. The position will be known as the Sophia Chair in Religious and Theological Studies.


Dr. Bednarowski chose the name Sophia for its obvious tie to wisdom as well as “its call to the feminine spirit of the divine; its connections to the Re-Imagining Community celebrating women’s theological creativity which has been so much a part of the history of United; its re-emergence in theological and biblical studies to animate creation spiritualities.”

Asked what inspired their gift, Dr. Bednarowski reflected on nearly 50 years of connection with United—as a faculty member, board member, and now “a devoted and intensely interested onlooker who recognizes the wonderfully distinctive contributions United makes to theological education, to religious communities, to academia, and to our society.” In addition, she shares, “I have a very deep faith that this full-of-life seminary will persist and flourish for many, many years. Keith and I want to be a part of that flourishing.”

The focus on Religious and Theological Studies is also linked to Dr. Bednarowski’s connection with United. She asserts that religious and theological studies “enliven, interrogate, and deepen each other,” and United has always managed to “sustain both the integration and the distinctiveness of different emphases and perspectives…exceptionally well.”

For President Molly T. Marshall, the Sophia Chair marks an auspicious occasion in the life of United. “We revel in charting new pathways of wisdom even as we explore the faith traditions we have inherited. We anticipate that this faculty chair will extend the legacy of Dr. Bednarowski’s scholarship and honor her capacity to encourage students to find critical distance from their traditions for the sake of clarification and commitment. Her search for wisdom will continue at United.”

Dr. Bednarowski’s hope for United is that the seminary continues to work “for the sake of the common good.” She adds, “Wherever we find ourselves, I deeply believe we have to bring as much depth of response as possible to the profoundly evocative and complicated question: ‘What is going on here?’ And then comes the next question: ‘What are the most just and loving ways to respond?’”

During Fall Convocation on September 26, 2024, United will formally install Dr. Demian Wheeler, associate professor of philosophical theology and religious studies, into the newly created Sophia Chair. For his part, Dr. Wheeler shares, “I am profoundly honored to be the first occupant of the new Sophia Chair in Religious and Theological Studies. It is very uncommon for theological seminaries to include courses and positions in religious studies. However, at United, we believe that religious studies is an essential part of theological education, enabling us to study religion and theology as aspects of human culture, to view religious traditions from a critical distance and through a multidisciplinary lens, and to uncover the theological meanings and assumptions of every cultural production, from economic policies to works of art, from political movements to scientific discoveries.”

Details for that celebration will be made available in the coming months.


About United

Founded by the United Church of Christ (UCC) as a welcoming, ecumenical school that embraces all denominations and faith traditions, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities has been on the cutting edge of progressive theological thought leadership since it was established in 1962. Today, United continues to train leaders who dismantle systems of oppression, explore multi-faith spirituality, and push the boundaries of knowledge.


Nathanial Green (he/him), Director of Marketing and Communications
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities • (651) 255-6138

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