Lisa Dahill is wrapping up her first year teaching at California Lutheran University. According to the Cal Lutheran website Dahill spent a year in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Milwaukee and seminary in Chicago. She also served two parishes in Iowa before returning to California to pursue her Ph.D. in Christian Spirituality.
Q. What brought you to California Lutheran University?
Dahill: I grew up out here, so I’ve wanted to come back to the west coast for a long time because my family’s out here, but it wasn’t till I saw this [job] posting that I got excited or it seemed possible because I teach in religion and there aren’t a lot of jobs in the area. So this position was perfect for me. It’s in sort of contemporary theology and spirituality, and also connections to science or the larger world. I do spirituality and ecology in the natural world.
Q. How long have you been teaching?
Dahill: Well, this is my 11th year full time, but I’ve taught long before that too in various capacities. Before I was a parish pastor and I served congregations in Iowa, before I went for the Ph.D.
Q. What courses do you teach here?
Dahill: I teach the Intro to Christianity course, like all of us do, and then also I’m teaching Environmental Ethics this semester and next semester. Then I’ll begin teaching courses in spirituality in the spring a year from now, different things in spirituality. Both sort of historically oriented like Lutheran spirituality but then there will also be courses in spirituality and the arts.
Q. What was your own area of study in school?
Dahill: I was a German major as well as Religion.
Q. What is your research about?
Dahill: I’m researching what happens when Christian ritual life moves outdoors, so like the practice of baptism. What happens if we baptize people not just in pools of water in a building but in actual natural bodies of water, in terms of their sense of relationship with the larger biological world as being part of Christian faith as opposed to being separate from the natural world. So how does ritual practice and especially the sacraments help people make an experiential connection with that larger natural world as a natural part of what faith means.
Q. What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned about being a professor at Cal Lutheran?
Dahill: This place is so much more diverse than where I taught in Ohio, which was a seminary. That was fun too, but I love how the diversity of student backgrounds shapes my own thinking in new ways. People come from so many different backgrounds, faith backgrounds, cultural backgrounds and areas of interest. Not everyone is passionate about theology like at the seminary, but people are passionate about all kinds of stuff so it stretches my own thinking and it helps me see what a difference diversity and context make in terms of the kinds of connections and questions I’m thinking.
Q. What is your favorite part of Cal Lutheran?
Dahill: Both the diversity part I said about the students, but also just great people. The colleagues are great and I’m really happy here.
Q. What do you like to do in your free time?
Dahill: Ride my bike. I just joined Conejo Valley Cyclists, which is a road-biking group and that’s really fun. There’s lots of great rides out here in the Santa Monica Mountains. I like to also hike and swim, especially in the ocean. I’m very happy being back close to the ocean, so mostly outdoor stuff.
Q. Who are your heroes or biggest influences?
Dahill: I wrote my dissertation on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a German Lutheran theologian in the 20th century who was part of the resistance against Hitler. He was being killed for that, as a martyr and I love how his witness helps us make connections between Lutheran identity in particular. He was passionate about saying being Lutheran doesn’t mean just being saved by grace and then we all just go home, but it also means standing up against injustice in the world even when that’s dangerous and risky, even when it may cost me my own life.
Q. What would you say motivates you to do what you do?
Dahill: Love of the world. I’m passionate about just being alive. I’m thrilled to be alive and I want to help other people love the world too, to be just fully alive.
Published April 27th, 2016