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Theological union discusses roles of economy, religion

Bay City News
Saturday February 17, 2001

To celebrate the inauguration of its new president, a panel came together at the Graduate Theological Union Thursday to discuss the interplay of modern economic forces and religion. 

Four theology professors, hailing from different universities and religious backgrounds, comprised the panel. The title of the discussion, “Religion, Power and New Economy,” gave the professors plenty of room to cover a range of topics, including corporatization, globalization, racism, and George W. Bush. 

The panel found that agreeing on a hard-and-fast definition of “new economy” was a tricky prospect. But whatever the new economy is, it does not bode favorably in the eyes of the professors, whose comments were well received by the crowd. 

“The new economy is anchored by technology and consumer conglomerates,” said Mary Elizabeth Hunt of Harvard Divinity School.  

These conglomerates are so large, she said, that they rival actual nations. Microsoft, for example, is economically the size of Spain, while Hewlett-Packard “rivals Greece.”  

On globalization, she said: “As my Latin American friends put it, globalization is really gobble-ization.” 

Nancy Martin of Chapman University said the new economy was more like “a form of global feudalism.”  

James Noel of the San Francisco Theological Seminary focused on the links among race relations, religion and the economy, tracing America's economic culture from its earliest slave-running days. 

“Both religion and the economy concern themselves with some form of power,” he said, adding that “through their religion, (black slaves) discovered another source of power and another locus” of human value. 

At the end of his talk, Noel concluded: “We have to ask, can a white supremacist state really allow blacks to have real power?”  

A hundred or so rapt listeners packed the semi-modern Pacific School of Religion Chapel, located on “Holy Hill” just north of the University of California at Berkeley campus.  

After the discussion ended, members of the Graduate Theological Union and others took shuttle buses to another Berkeley church to hear the GTU's new president, James Donahue, give his inauguration speech. 

The GTU consists of nine member schools or seminaries, of which the Pacific School of Religion is one. About 1,400 students, mostly Catholic and Protestant, study through the GTU, which since the early 1960s has “sponsored events designed to encourage interfaith and  

interdisciplinary dialogue.”