Launching Theophilus: Co-Editors Stephanie Cherpak, Matthew Dougherty, O Praem, and Bernadette Raspante
Stephanie Cherpak, Matthew Dougherty, O Praem, and Bernadette Raspante each came to CTU with different backgrounds, goals, and ambitions, but over the past year their efforts have coalesced to found Theophilus: The Student Journal of the Catholic Theological Union. For all three young editors, the journal represents a desire to foster a spirit of dialogue and debate in the CTU community and beyond.
Theophilus is entirely student produced; the journal is managed, edited, and reviewed by CTU students, and at present its contents are also taken only from CTU student submissions. The student-centric nature of this online publication is no coincidence. The editors’ primary intention in creating Theophilus was to inspire a stronger sense of academic community among CTU peers, a community that would be both aware of and engaged with the academic exploits of its members.
Matt, the journal’s editor-in-chief, summarizes the gap he and his fellow editors hope to fill with Theophilus. He says, “There were students on campus who were hoping to nurture study, debate, and discussion on a variety of topics, and there wasn’t really an avenue for students to do that in a more formal way.” By making the work of other students available to the community, the journal will hopefully inspire further academic exchanges among students and thus bring a student body closer together that is in many ways decentralized.
Bernadette explains how the journal will supplement the classroom experience. “We spend so much time in class discussing the readings, and then you hear what everybody is writing about, and you think ‘Ooh, I’d like to read that,’ or ‘Tell me more about that,’ but there isn’t time in a busy classroom environment. Also, with night classes and day classes – you don’t always see the same students.”
Beyond strengthening the academic community, Theophilus will also provide valuable experience and lessons to the students involved. For the editors and members of the review board, as well as those who submit work, the journal offers an opportunity to work closely on the production of an academic journal, an experience which in turn helps build a variety of skills.
As a Norbertine candidate for ordination to the priesthood, Matt came to CTU in pursuit of his MDiv. He hopes to one day teach at St. Norbert College, and the experience he has gained in editing and managing Theophilus is already translating into skills he can use in the future.
“Theophilus has really been a great opportunity for students, like me, to learn and practice leadership and management skills that are so important in future ministry situations,” he says. “Whether one is in a parish, university, or a non-profit organization, leadership and organizational management skills are crucial to serving the Church today.”
For Stephanie, who came to CTU in large part because of the diversity of its programs and student body, the promise of further editorial and publishing experience goes hand in hand with providing a medium for students to share their work. With bachelor’s degrees in both Religious Studies and Communication Studies, she hoped to continue working in both areas through her studies at CTU. Her experience with Theophilus feeds directly into that larger goal.
“One of the challenges I ponder as I continue my personal study of theology is how to transfer what I'm learning in the classroom to others outside of the classroom,” she explains. “By creating a space for classroom papers to be turned into articles and shared with the world via an open-source journal, Theophilus exposes the dialogue of a theology classroom to a larger, even global, community.”
The editors have been pleasantly surprised by the variety of topics represented in the submissions they received, which were also extremely relevant for today’s audiences. From Ecology and Thomas Merton to the next stages of black liberation theology to looking back on Pope Benedict’s social theory, the pieces presented in this first issue of Theophilus are “reflective of today’s contemporary theological debates,” notes Matt.
The editors sought to embrace this variety rather than have “themed” issues. Hence, as an interdisciplinary journal, Theophilus has thus far chosen to remain unconstrained in the breadth of topics it addresses.
Preserving a diversity of voices was of particular interest to Bernadette, whose study of feminist theology has focused upon this aim.
“Feminism is about hearing from all voices and I hope that as Theophilus grows we are able to provide this sort of platform for the students at CTU; a forum where everyone has a chance to be heard and enter the conversation about theology and ministry,” she says. “Being part of the editorial team this year has allowed me to read the work of and talk to many students I would not have had classes with or whose unique work and views I would not have experienced otherwise.”
To further foster a space for new voices to be heard, the editors have founded a Theophilus blog that “showcases” the work of CTU’s students weekly.
Stephanie explains how the blog fulfills the broader purpose of Theophilus, bringing the academic community together: “It’s a more continuous connection with the student body here, and because of the way a blog functions, you can comment right there from anywhere in the world. Given the fact that many CTU students don’t live on campus or even in Chicago, it’s a way for them to comment year-round.”
Bernadette adds that the blog also publishes different types of work than would be found in the journal. Though some of the posts are academic, they also range from poetry to photography and offer a less competitive outlet for dialogue and discussion.
For both the journal and the blog to succeed, however, students must participate. “Each year, each issue will be completely different based on the submissions,” explains Bernadette. “So this year, if you felt like a voice was missing from the community, be that voice and submit your paper next year. We’re not going to get a full representation of the voices at CTU if everybody doesn’t contribute.”
By building a platform for discussion, dialogue, and new experience within the student community, the Theophilus editors have invited a new era of communication and understanding onto the CTU scene. With the first issue of the journal launching in April 2014, it appears they have accomplished their goals and drawn many unheard voices into a new academic forum.
Though the editors will likely seek to expand the reach of their publication in the coming years, at its core Theophilus will remain a resource for strengthening the CTU student body, and thus a tool for serving the Church and academia beyond.
Theophilus is published once annually, with submissions due October 1st. The 2014 issue will be released online on April 14th, and will be celebrated with a symposium in room 210BC at 4 p.m. All are welcome to attend.