Dr. Elisabeth Vasko

Elisabeth Vasko

Associate Professor
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Department of Theology

Fisher Hall 621
Phone: 412.396.2078


Ph.D., Theology, Loyola University Chicago, 2009
M.A., Pastoral Ministry, Boston College, 2001
B.S., Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1999

"Girls can do anything because they are smart and strong!" shouts my six-year-old daughter. Yet, in world marked by radical social inequalities, this statement can quickly become a question as white supremacy, poverty, neocolonialism, and heteropatriarchy work to suppress the agency of women and girls. Empowering young women and men to work toward social justice and to think critically and constructively about the intersection of Christian tradition and gender-based violence (in all its forms) are key foci of my teaching and research.

I have begun to explore these questions in Beyond Apathy: A Theology for Bystanders (Fortress Press, 2015), which takes a closer look at the role of social privilege in perpetuating structural injustices and highlights the social issues of bullying, white racism, and sexual violence. My work also appears in the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Feminist Theology, Teaching Theology & Religion, Concilium, the Journal of Religion, and the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics. I also present regularly at national and international conferences in my field.

However, what I value most is creating spaces for dialogue, community, and voice among young women and men. I seek to do this by regularly incorporating community-engaged pedagogies in my undergraduate and graduate classes. For a recent example of this, see https://syndicate.network/symposia/theology/beyond-apathy/

In my free time, you will find me running in the park or spending time outdoors with my family.


Courses Taught:
• Undergraduate: Theological Views of the Person; Women and Christianity; Christianity and Violence; Theology, Media, and Pop Culture; Theological Ethics, Honors Theology, Christianity, Embodiment, and Violence

• Graduate: Dr. Vasko teaches Ph.D. and M.A seminars in her fields of specialization

• Academic Advising: I am happy to work with students interested in participating in Duquesne's URSS or GSRS. For more information contact her directly.

• In 2014 Dr. Vasko was a recipient of a university Creative Teaching Award for her work with Dr. Anna Scheid on anti-racist pedagogy in theology classrooms.

Teaching Philosophy:
I believe that theology cannot be divorced from the social and historical situation of the world. Ultimately, the goal of theological discourse is to open up new ways of being in relation with God and one another that lend toward the flourishing of all creation. In today's global context, this position not only demands a posture of radical listening to the experiences of women and men, but must also seek to mediate in the public arena a space for the voices of those who have been pushed to the margins of our communities.

In the context of teaching theology at a Catholic institution of higher learning, this means creating constructive, critical, and imaginative spaces for dialogue between the vision of the Christian tradition and the experiences of students. As Parker Palmer says, the classroom space needs to honor "‘little' stories of the individual and the ‘big' stories of the disciplines and tradition." Concretely, I seek to achieve this through the following principles:

• Participative Dialogue. Learning, at its best, is a communal endeavor that demands active participation on the part of both the students and the instructor. My teaching style emphasizes student participation through intentionally structured discussion and group collaboration. Both skills sets of listening (to diverse texts, traditions, and experiences) and speaking (constructing one's own narrative in relation to these texts and traditions) are critical dimensions of participative dialogue.

• Praxis-oriented. I approach theology from a praxis-oriented perspective. This is reflected in my assignments, which are designed not only to help students master the material conceptually, but to also engage them in critical reflection in light of their experiences in the world.

• Attentiveness to Diversity. One of my core values is to create a space for marginalized voices in the classroom. This is reflected in terms of course content and assigned readings. All syllabi incorporate reading materials from people of diverse racial, socio-economic, ethnic, and gender backgrounds. Students are frequently asked to reflect upon their own social location in class assignments.

• Student-oriented. I place a high priority on getting to know my students. Your ideas and concerns not only deserve my respect and attention, but I have learned a lot from students over the years.


Beyond Apathy: A Theology for Bystanders (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015).

Theological conversations about violence have typically framed the discussion in terms of victim and perpetrator. Such work, while important, only addresses part of the problem. Comprehensive theological and pastoral responses to violence must also address the role of collective passivity in the face of human denigration. Given the pervasiveness of inaction-whether in the form of denial, willful ignorance, or silent complicity-a theological reflection on violence that holds bystanders accountable, especially those who occupy social sites of privilege, is long overdue. I

Elisabeth T. Vasko utilizes resources within the Christian tradition to examine the theological significance of bystander participation in patterns of violence and violation within contemporary Western culture, giving particular attention to the social issues of bullying, white racism, and sexual violence. In doing so, she constructs a theology of redeeming grace for bystanders to violence that foregrounds the significance of social action in bringing about God's kingdom.

 Recent Articles (Selected):
Vasko, Elisabeth T. "Pink Blankets, Sexual Violence, Moral Paralysis, and Christian Vocation," in Theologies of Failure, eds. Roberto Sirvent and Duncan Reyburn (New York: Cascade) forthcoming.

Vasko, Elisabeth T. "Bad Mothers, Mad Mothers: Resisting the Theo-Logic of Stigma and Embracing Grace as Dis-Ease," Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 37.1 (2017): 141-159.

Vasko, Elisabeth T. "Civic Learning and Teaching as a Resource for Sexual Justice: An Undergraduate Religious Studies Course Module," Teaching Theology and Religion 20.2 (2017): 162-170. (Also see response by Donna Frietas in the same volume)

Scheid, Anna Floerke and Elisabeth T. Vasko. "Teaching Race: Pedagogical Challenges in Predominantly White Undergraduate Theology Classrooms." Teaching Theology & Religion 17, no. 1 (2014): 27-45. (Also see essay by Karen Teel and our response to her in the same volume.)

Vasko, Elisabeth T. "The Difference Gender Makes: Nuptiality, Analogy, and the Limits of Appropriating Hans Urs von Balthasar's Theology in the Context of Sexual Violence." The Journal of Religion 94 (2014): 504-528.