Baylor professor publishes book on intersection of disability and religion
By Lily Nussbaum | Personal editor
Surrounded by faculty, staff, students and loved ones, Dr. Devan Stahl celebrated the publication of her book Thursday in the Memorial Hall Parlor.
“The Challenge of Disability to Theology” is the Assistant Professor of Religion’s third published book. Using theological and historical works as well as the experiences of patients, herself and others, Stahl described her book as a historical study from the perspective of contemporary bioethics. She said the book hits the mark on all the important topics that interest her.
“If I can find ways to bring the disability part, the bioethics part, and the theology part together in a conversation, that’s for me what I want to do,” Stahl said.
In the past, many Christian denominations have actively in partnership with eugenics societies. Stahl’s book, in addition to exploring this history, goes further by asking, “Are we better now at advocating for people with disabilities?”
“We are now likely to repeat some of those mistakes where we undervalue people with disabilities, we overvalue biotech and we need to be more critical,” Stahl said. “I love medicine and I want people to use medicine, but I also think that not everything that comes out of medicine is always good.”
Stahl’s roundtable panel included Dr. Jeff Levin, Dr. Jason Whitt and Dr. Natalie Carnes. Every Baylor faculty member has already read the book and provided feedback on its content. Whitt said he personally enjoyed the discussion of personality versus Christian views on people with disabilities.
“[The book] wrestle with it in a way that drives it not as a threshold criterion but as a gift, which means those with disabilities are not that different at all,” Whitt said. “How can we begin to teach our congregations to see people differently? »
After graduating with a degree in religious studies, Stahl said she decided to go to theological school. There, she says she discovered that she suffered from a chronic illness, which changed her professional trajectory.
“I’ve had a lot of hospital experiences that sometimes weren’t great,” Stahl said. “I looked for a program where I could do both… where I could think about bioethics and where I could think about religion.”
Stahl said that because of the interdisciplinary nature of bioethics, it’s essential that people come from different backgrounds and bring other specialties to the conversation. Bioethics is a field launched by theologiansand she said her religious background helped her understand patients’ decisions and beliefs.
“A lot of patients and a lot of people in healthcare are religious, and so for them it’s really important to understand how their faith intersects with their medical choices,” Stahl said. “We deal with all aspects of what people are going through when they are in hospital.”
Dallas junior Marie Boone is a Stahl student who said she joined her class to further expand her interest in bioethics and the intersection of theology with the medical professions. Boone said Stahl creates a safe space to deal with nuanced and intimidating subject matter.
“After reading his book and having these kinds of conversations, I’m inspired to have these difficult conversations in spaces where they don’t normally take place,” Boone said.