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Kathleen S. Turner ’08 M.Div. asks, “If King David danced, why can’t we?”

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

As it happens, it was a happy circumstance that Kathleen S. Turner '08 M.Div. decided to read her Yale Divinity School electronic mail one day last academic year, when an announcement appeared soliciting applications for fellowships awarded through the Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies.

That led to Turner's submission of an application that, in turn, resulted in a June 17 e-mail from SARTS President Wilson Yates informing Turner that she had been awarded one of only two SARTS Luce Fellowships available to students across the country.

Turner, who came to YDS after a decade teaching dance at Hunter College in New York City, plans to use her fellowship for a writing project entitled, If David had not Danced . Her goal is to elucidate how King David paved the way for the 21 st century Christian Church to heed the holy call to “praise the Lord with dancing.”

Kathleen TurnerLong-term, Turner hopes to encourage the use of liturgical dance in Christian worship settings. “My desire is to expose liturgical dance to interested people who are called to utilize this creative tool within Christian liturgy and to pastors who are uncertain of its value within the Christian corporate worship experience,” she wrote as an entering student in 2005. At the center of her plan is creation of a curriculum for liturgical dance for use in seminary settings.

Turner is long steeped in the tradition of dancing and the arts, having begun her formal training when she began dancing at the Gloria Jackson Dance Studio in New York at the age of five. She graduated from the New York High School of Performing Arts, then earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from SUNY Purchase followed by a master of fine arts from Sarah Lawrence College. Then came some postgraduate work at Columbia's Teacher's College. At her church, The Greater Allen Cathedral of New York, she was founding director of the 300-member Allen Liturgical Dance Ministry, which she directed for 25 years.

Turner, who is enrolled at YDS through the Institute of Sacred Music, poses a number of questions for modern-day Christians that she hopes to address in her project by examining the Book of Psalms, among them: “If King David was free enough to demonstrate his praise of God through the dance, why can't the modern day Christian? If David did not dance, what impact would that have had upon the writing of the psalms and the call to dance unto the Lord? Why did David dance and why are not more congregations dancing as a form of worship and praise today?”

The SARTS Luce Fellowships, funded through the New York-based Henry Luce Foundation, are intended to advance knowledge of the intersections between theology and the arts by supporting the research of graduate students and faculty and encouraging the creation of networks of persons working in those areas. Student fellowships carry with them a monetary award of $3,500 each. Turner and the other awardees—one other student and two junior faculty—are invited to attend the SARTS annual meeting in San Diego this November.

SARTS had its charter meeting at the 2002 American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature conference. It was organized to provide a forum for scholars and artists interested in the intersections between theology, religion, and the arts.

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