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Student of the Month: Shanti Esther Parajuli

Shanti Esther Parajuli (she/her/hers) is a PhD candidate in Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York. She is from Nagaland-Nepal, currently living in a Women Interfaith Residency Program at UTS, an intentional community. She is finishing her dissertation that explores the ways by which purity, defilement, and danger are embroidered into our understanding of sameness and difference, and the ways it further shapes our understanding of the self and the other. Her attempt is to explicate the need to theologically probe and resist xenophobia.

What are your interests in your field of study/work?

I am interested in apophatic theology, postcolonial theory, and liberation theology. I am interested to explore how theology can weave spirituality, critical theory, and liberation praxis to build communities that is life affirming.

Who has inspired you to want to do the work you want to do?

My Christian faith has inspired my work. The confession of a faith that calls me in love and calls me to love my neighbor as I love myself, inspires me to do this work.

I also find inspiration from my parents. My parents are “transgressive lovers”. They both married outside their community despite its strong endogamous norms. In some sense they both refused to fear the neighbor and choose to love the other. I am a testimony of their fierce love and courage. In so many ways the work that I do is an exegesis of both personal and collective histories of fierce transgressive love.

A quarantine hobby you have picked up?

The experience of loneliness when I first arrived at the United States in 2014 for the STM program at Union Theological Seminary was quite overwhelming. Realizing the need for companionship I got two plants for myself. During quarantine this practice took a deeper form. Yes, I have more plants now but what is significant to me is that the taking care of plants has become a spiritual practice. This connection with plants has deepened my relationship with the sacred and the world around me. The equanimity I have experienced has been immense.

What brings you hope?

The collective care that I have experienced and witnessed through the stories of neighbors, strangers, and friends showing up for each other during this catastrophic time gives me hope. The fierce courage of people on the street organizing, protesting, speaking truth to power—the conviction that there are people committed to the work of love, justice, compassion, and community building—nourishes my hope.

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