2023 International Sermon Studies Association Conference

Day Two Summary

On July 22, the 2023 International Sermon Studies Association Conference resumed to continue the scholarly exploration of sermons and their relation to human dignity from the day prior. While the conference’s format remained consistent, with each topical expert and academic describing their research on particular sermonists, different themes emerged from their remarks. As the voices of the conference’s presenters and historical sermonists intertwined, the audience gained insights into the profound connection between sermons and their preachers, the influential role of sermons in driving social change, and their profound impact on individuals.

The day’s discussions commenced with a statement from Paul Kerry of Brigham Young University, the Conference’s organizer, who asserted that “the sermon is not removable from the person who delivers it.” He elaborated on how even one’s style of delivering a sermon can be an expression of their perspective and beliefs. Andrew Teal from Oxford University highlighted the importance of incorporating diverse religious and cultural viewpoints within sermons. 

“All that you are is welcome here. God loves everything about you, and wants to equip you to make meaningful choices that are not suppressed,” he said.

Sermons were also discussed as a means for promoting social change. Revd. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, a former pastor closely connected with the family of Martin Luther King Jr., expounded on how his sermons played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement. In addition to explaining Martin Luther King Jr.’s techniques in influencing society, she quoted him in saying,

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

In Saturday’s discussion, sermons were viewed not only for their impact on society but also as instruments of personal transformation. Christian Hallstein from Carnegie Mellon University underscored how preaching of all varieties focuses on individual development; an essential factor in fostering human dignity. This sentiment was echoed by Andrew Reed of Brigham Young University, who stated:

“Human dignity is entirely dependent on the choices a person makes, according to Patriarch Kirill’s framework.”

Jenna Carson of the US Air Force shared her experience as a chaplain in a maximum security prison, witnessing the transformative effect of creating a safer worship space through which prisoners could receive sermons:

“Honoring human dignity requires much more than the ideals and words of a sermon. It requires mutual labor to behold the worth of another soul.”

The conference concluded with a unified commitment to continued research on the impact of sermons, not only on their intended audiences, but also on the broader mission of advancing human dignity throughout the word.

by Emily Curtis Hooke, ICLRS Intern