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Student of the Month: Seulbin Lee

Seulbin Lee (she/her) is a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University’s Graduate Department of Religion. Before attending Vanderbilt, she earned a Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University and a Bachelor’s in Theology and Mass Communication at Yonsei University. Seulbin is a certified candidate in the United Methodist Church with the call to ministry as an elder, which grounds her work in Christian social ethics. Traversing between South Korea and the United States, she incorporates a transnational feminist lens in her pedagogy and research to facilitate border-crossing and cross-cultural imaginaries and social belonging.


Congratulations on being May 2024's Student of the Month! What does the month of May mean to you?

To me personally, May is a challenging and inspirational month to wrestle with—it reminds me of what it means, looks like, and takes to cultivate democracy. My hometown city, Gwangju, is known for the May 18 People’s Uprising, a pro-democracy uprising against the authoritarian regime in South Korea in 1980. The spirit of the uprising is grounded in the collective agency of the economically exploited, politically suppressed, and culturally marginalized people. Such collective agency of the people who tenaciously hold onto radical hope for social change is also found in other movements across the world, such as International Workers' Day, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, and the ongoing struggle and resistance in Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka for human rights and democracy, only to name a few. In remembrance of the May 18 People’s Uprising in Korea, my communities across different cities and countries who inherit the legacy continue to work on expanding our solidarity with people who are fighting for democracy. I hope the spirit of May continues to evolve to expand solidarity across national borders.


How are you identifying your calling?


As a theological educator and a certified candidate in the United Methodist Church, I am called to be a pastoral scholar-activist who cultivates radical belonging in education, church, and society. Focusing on Ethics and Society, I study what cultivates democratic belonging by exploring the relationship between faith and social movements through qualitative methods such as ethnography. Combined with a minor in practical theology, I hope to equip faith leaders to understand better the relations between social practices and lived theologies in pursuit of the common good. My calling is to minister to people by equipping them to wrestle with the ethical complexities of their faith so that we can collectively nurture beloved ekklēsia both in the church and society.


Would you briefly describe your research interest, methodology, and why you are drawn to the area?

As a Christian social ethicist, I study the intersection of religion and social movement. I am fascinated by how religion, particularly Christianity, plays tangible roles in movement spaces that aim for transformative social change. Studying these dynamics helps us see Christianity not merely as ideas detached from practice but as tangible materiality that is embodied and practiced. This makes me think about how triune God is present in the world through the covenant relationship with Christians in the midst of ambiguity, conflicts, and contention.

I use ethnographically informed qualitative research in my research and encourage this methodology for my students. For me, as a Christian ethicist, using ethnography helps us become better listeners, which, I think, is a crucial aspect of ethics and broader ministry. It is easy to go into a context with our pre-notions about what concepts or theories are moral and ethical. While ethical theories are instrumental in discernment, these theories and concepts alone risk missing out on listening to what really matters to people–especially for the things that are not spoken—and learning from the communities. I am passionate about advancing my research skills so that I can incorporate methodological skills and insights from ethnography into my pedagogy as I want people to participate in the work of ethics as less of a set of rules or rigid doctrinarism but more as a work of art in which we wrestle with ethical discernment and practices.



What has your experience been with PANAAWTM?

In my first year of seminary, I had the privilege of helping to organize the annual PANAAWTM gathering with Dr. Kwok Pui-lan, Dr. Helen Kim, and Rev. Laura M Cheifetz, along with great PANAAWTM leaders in Atlanta, Georgia. I vividly remember participating in the line dance ritual and how Dr. Jin Young Choi spent time at the end of the event to sit with my friends and me, sharing her experiences. These opportunities for mentorship, the supportive community, and the vibrant atmosphere are hallmarks of PANAAWTM, where I experienced healing, joy, and hope. Most of all, it is truly inspirational to connect with women and non-binary leaders in theology and ministry who share Asian heritage. Having gained so much from this community, I am eager to continue as a supportive member and contribute further to PANAAWTM.


What brings you hope and joy?


I am passionate about spiritual wellness and fitness! Spending most of my days in the library, I am intentional about connecting with my body through diverse types of workouts. I love to dance, including hip-hop, K-pop, Zumba, kayaking, yoga, and Pilates. I think it is easy to be overexposed to negative narratives that shame our bodies and distort our relationship with ourselves. Through workouts, I experience healing as I cultivate relationships with my body. I enjoy accompanying my friends and family to the gym and teaching postures and workout routines. I hope to lead a group fitness class, such as a cardio dance class and an outdoor yoga healing retreat one day.

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