Stephanie Wong 13 M.Div. earns Elie Wiesel Foundation recognition

Stephanie Wong, a first-year M.Div. student at Yale Divinity School, has earned a third-place prize in the national Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics essay writing contest for the year 2010.

WongThe annual contest is sponsored by The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, which is headed by Auschwitz survivor, human rights activist and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.  The competition is intended to challenge college students to analyze urgent ethical issues confronting them in today’s complex world.

Wong’s prize-winning essay, entitled “Living in Paradox,” interprets the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as, in her words, “paradoxically generous habits of life which can enable ethical conduct in general society as well as within religious orders.”

Wong wrote her essay before entering YDS, when she was a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a religious studies and English literature major.  There, Wong says, she fell in love with Philo of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, and the Cappadocian Fathers.

Drawing on examples of generosity in the midst of immorality and terror— such as Saint Maximillian Kolbe’s volunteering to starve in place of a stranger in the Auschwitz concentration camp—Wong’s essay offers the vows as a way of understanding ethics.

In describing her essay, Wong observed, “If poverty challenges us to sacrificial generosity, if chastity challenges us to service without favoritism, and obedience challenges us to intelligent listening, then these religious virtues are not antiquated notions but effective means of building an ethical society.”

Her essay concludes, “Are the particular vows necessary for an ethical presence in society?  Of course not.  The ethical modes of being and acting, which I have attempted to communicate through the discussion of Catholic religious life, go by other names in other conversations.  But wherever religion is lived ethically, it serves as an opportunity for true dialogue in which people can listen as well as talk, and give as well as defend.  It is a process of redefinition, acknowledging failings as well as pointing to a more ethical future.”

As winner of the third-place prize, Wong was awarded $1,000 and will be going to Washington DC for an awards ceremony with Elie Wiesel that will also include a meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office and a tour of the Holocaust Museum.  The ceremony was originally scheduled for Jan. 17 and 18 but was postponed to the spring when Wiesel fell ill.

Other essay winners included Joseph Vignone of Fordham University, first prize, “What Would Satan Do? Rethinking the Devil’s Place in Our Ethics,” and Raphael Magarik, Yale, second prize, “Lot’s Daughters: The Ethics of Reading in the Present.”

Posted: 02/07/2011