Divinity School

Constructing meaning

Dwight Hopkins is professor of theology and the director of MA studies in the Divinity School.

A constructive theologian, Hopkins studies contemporary models of theology, black theologies, liberation theologies, and East-West cross-cultural comparisons. Constructive theology, Hopkins explains, is “trying to understand religious traditions in a contemporary period.” Within the context of his own scholarship, “it’s correlating questions from the various publics with resources from Christianity to build, or construct, a religious tradition.“

Underlying much of Hopkins’s scholarship is the question of what it means to be human. For his book, Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (Fortress Press, 2005), Hopkins began constructing a statement to answer this question, drawing primarily on African American folk tales. After he had finished about 95 percent of the research, Hopkins realized that “there were certain conceptual presuppositions I was using in writing the book that needed to be dealt with.” Being Human, he says, became a “stepping back—clarifying the presuppositional concepts to any conversation about being human in at least the US context: the issue of culture and the notions of self and race.”

Hopkins is also exploring the concept of being human through his ongoing work in China. Hopkins’s interest in China dates back to the ’60s, when he took freshman classes at Dartmouth College at age 14. After reading two works by Mao Tse-tung, he wanted to learn more about Chinese society. In many ways, says Hopkins, China is radically different from the United States, but the cultures also share commonalities. Looking at these two economic superpowers, Hopkins states, “by appreciating and understanding the differences, but also the commonalities, I think we can advance the enrichment of being human.” Hopkins, who spent time as a visiting professor in Beijing and Hong Kong, is currently developing a course on US-China comparative theologies.

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Related links

Learn about Hopkins’s new appointment as director of MA studies.

Read a review of Being Human.

Listen to Hopkins’s NPR interview.


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