Christian scholars gather in Chile to share challenges, cultivate vocations 

Christian scholars from more than eight countries across Latin America came together in January for a conference where they were able to share challenges and nurture their vocations.  

“It was a very special meeting because in most Latin American countries there are few spaces and opportunities for Christian professors and academics to share their challenges and dreams in the university context,” shares Sarah Nigri, former General Secretary of ABUB, the national movement in Brazil, who now serves as a mentor to LCI Catalysts. “Many feel alone and don’t have peers in the faith.” 

photo of speakers Pablo, Lorena, Deborah and Sarah
Pablo, Lorena, Deborah and Sarah

IFES’ vision of seeing Christians on university campuses thriving together in witness and whole-life discipleship applies not only to undergraduates but also to faculty members, researchers and graduate students.  

How can Christian scholars be empowered to engage with the university and bring their Christian voice and service into the conversations and culture of academia?  Scholars from Latin America have told the Logos and Cosmos Initiative that fostering a supportive network of peers is important in helping them live out their unique calling to the academy. But such opportunities for connection are often rare.  

Thirty-five scholars attended the two-day Christian Scholars Gathering, which took place in Chile. It is believed to be only the second such conference in the region, and the first took place almost a decade ago.  

“There were high hopes about bringing this community together, to exchange ideas, learn from each other and pray for each other,” Sarah says. “These hopes were not only met but exceeded! I have no doubt that we all came away strengthened to face the challenges of our contexts and encouraged to celebrate and cultivate the vocations that the Lord has given us.” 

photo of small group discussion
Small group discussion

The conference was the culmination of a project led by Chilean physicist Pablo Gutiérrez. As an LCI Catalyst from 2021 – 2023, Pablo partnered with GBUCH Chile, the IFES national movement, to develop a network of Christian scholars in his country. His plans for a national conference evolved into a regional gathering and he joined forces with regional LCI staff and a few other scholars to organize the event. 

“Christian scholars have a very specific call,” explains Pablo. “Events like this help to strengthen a network of scholars interested in integrating science and theology, each one from their own workplace.” 

“Participants appreciated the uniqueness of being together and the opportunity to discuss the challenges and joys of teaching and research with peers,” he says. “The image of the road to Emmaus comes to mind: two people on the road, discussing what happened, and then Jesus came along and gave them a new meaning.”  

The main talks were delivered by Vinoth Ramachandra, former IFES Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement, who invited participants to read his new book God’s calling and the university ahead of time.  

Participants also attended roundtable discussions on the challenges of being a Christian scholar (in the face of the “publish or perish” culture); pastoral challenges of Christian scholars (mental health, family, church and students); and the challenges faced by women in the academy. 

“The academic environment is often not receptive to children and families,” shares Sarah. “Because of the “machista” culture in which we live, academic women feel these difficulties more acutely than most men. At this meeting, we were able to talk about relevant topics, such as gender inequalities at university and the challenges of academic productivity.” 

In addition to being an LCI mentor, Sarah is a mother of two young children. She has a master’s degree in political history and hopes to resume her studies at some point.  

“For me personally, the scholars gathering was a remarkable meeting because I was able to travel with my family and meet and get to know other families who share a love for Jesus Christ, the student mission and the university.”  

Scholars connecting with students and staff too 

Gustavo Sobarzo, who helped organize the scholars gathering, explains that it was held in the middle of a week-long training event for student leaders and staff from IFES national movements in the Southern Cone sub-region (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay).  

photo of scholars with Southern Cone conference participants
Scholars with Southern Cone conference participants

“We intentionally designed it this way to energize the interactions between the scholars and the staff and students,” he says. Gustavo is the Tier One Training Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America and IFES Subregional Coordinator for Latin America’s Southern Cone subregion– positions which he holds alongside his academic career as a professor of veterinary microbiology.  

“Both events had their own program but shared meals, devotions and free time,” Gustavo says.  

Sarah affirms that the set up worked well: “This strengthened the bond between professional academics and student ministry – something which is very precious.” 

Several members of the LCI community contributed to the training for national movement staff and student leaders. Gustavo and Catalyst Lorena Brondani led an Engaging the University workshop; LCI staff members Jouseth Moya and Alejandra Ortiz led a workshop about women in ministry; and LCI staff member Josué Olmedo led a workshop about vocation and work.  

One joint event that brought both gatherings together was the launch of Catalyst Lorena Brondani’s new book “Authentic,” which was published in January by Editorial Certeza. The book is the culmination of her LCI project from 2022 – 2023, in which she captured the stories of six Christian, Argentinian women in academia who have attempted to integrate their Christian faith, university careers and their relationships/family life. Find out more on Lorena’s blog.  

Lorena’s book launch

As part of their LCI-funded projects, several Catalysts in Latin America are already helping connect scholars at different levels. Lorena is leading a mentoring and research group for Christian “mother-scholars” from across the region. In November 2023, Deborah Vieira, held a conference for Christian scholars in Brazil, which attracted 150 students and researchers connected with ABUB.  See the LCI’s Latin America projects webpage for more information. 

In terms of region-wide gatherings and networks, Gustavo hopes that the momentum gained from the conference in January will continue.  

“I have a special calling to keep this going,” he says. “We are still working out concrete plans for the future, but we plan to have a few more online meetings. Our dream would be to make this into an annual meeting.” 

There is now an IFES Connect group for Christian researchers and teachers who are connected with IFES national movements in Latin America. For more information, visit https://connect.ifesworld.org/topics/40388/feed. 

Catalyst Perspectives: learning from women who love the sciences and Jesus 

When Argentinian academic Lorena Brondani joined the Logos and Cosmos Initiative in 2021, she found herself with her baby in her arms, juggling motherhood and a PhD while also learning how to build bridges between her Christian faith and her discipline. In this Catalyst Perspectives blogpost, Lorena explains how her experience led her to run an LCI project that will share the stories of women who love the sciences just as much as they love Jesus and their own families.  

Being a Christian woman in academia, combined with my experience as a wife, new mother and member of the IFES national movement in Argentina, have all shaped my life deeply. These personal experiences inspired me to seek out and listen to other women who share a love of science (especially the social sciences), the Lord and in the cases of mothers, the emerging life they are nurturing. This was the seed of my Logos and Cosmos Initiative project, which is called Conversations with Christian women academics from Argentina. 

How did these conversations begin? My calling to the academy 

For many years, I have felt called to the academy as a mission field – but my approach has evolved. As I progressed from my bachelor’s degree in social communication to a master’s in university teaching, I began to see that the university is a complex ecosystem. The Lord began to show me that bringing His kingdom to the university is broader than just reaching students, it also means reaching out to professors, researchers and non-teaching staff.

Photo of Lorena with her baby son
Lorena with her son

Now, as an academic and PhD student, I would say: “I became an intellectual to intellectuals, to win over intellectuals” (paraphrasing Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22) But my vision of what it means to bring God’s kingdom through academia has been enlarged further by three specific experiences.  

The first was in 2014 when I read a report written by an Argentinian, female academic, following her participation in an IFES “Latin American Consultation of Researchers and University Professors” meeting held in Brazil in 2014. It was led by Vinoth Ramachandra, IFES Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement, as part of IFES’ Engaging the University ministry. 

I am not exaggerating when I say that this report marked me for the rest of my academic career and my Christian life. At that time, I had never known anything about how Christian scholars could see their classrooms, research projects, disciplines and science in general as a place to make a Godly contribution to the university and the world.  

My heart burned when I read about some of the challenges that were presented by Vinoth Ramachandra at the event. For example, the need for Christian academics to integrate theological and scientific perspectives on important issues, to orient their research towards projects that help their communities flourish, to defend the truth in science, and to work with intellectual honesty.  

The second experience that confirmed my “call” to serve God through my academic career was participating in a program for professors and research students at the IFES World Assembly in Mexico in 2015. It impacted me greatly to meet successful academic Christians from different disciplines, countries and cultures, all with the same goal; fulfilling God’s mission in the simple matters of everyday life. I remember the testimony of one professor who felt called by the Lord to make a difference by treating her students well, leaving behind the pride and arrogance that often comes with academia. I really identified with her story and made her decision my own.  

Finally, becoming a Catalyst at the Logos and Cosmos Initiative has helped me understand the complementarity between the sciences (mainly communications) and theology. It was a huge change from the messages that I grew up with in a Catholic context in Argentina, such as “beware of science” and the idea that science and theology are opposed, or compete with one another. 

Photo of Lorena teaching a class
Lorena teaching a class

During my studies at the LCI, I found it useful to read biographies of Christian scholars such as Dr Francis Collins1, an American physicist and geneticist who founded the Christian organization BioLogos I learned about models for relating science and religion by reading the work of Denis R. Alexander2, Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. I have been taking steps on the path of developing a “Christian mind,” an idea developed by Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff3. As a scholar of communication theory, I like to call this a “communicational mind,” which to me, means using the Bible to learn how to see contemporary social communication issues through the Christian lens of creation, fall and redemption. 

I’m continuing to work out the links between my Christian faith and my academic work, particularly my research for my PhD in social communication. As I continue on this journey, I was curious to learn from other women who had built bridges not only between their Christian faith and their academic discipline, but also with their family life (marriage, motherhood, singleness and divorce). When I began to look into this area, I found that very little research has been published specifically on the experiences of Christian women in academia, especially in Spanish. 

The beginnings of my project: initial findings 

When I interviewed female Christian scholars for my LCI pilot project in 2021, I discovered that many of them have spent a lifetime giving just as much love and dedication to the university and their academic career as they do to their own families and children.   

Those who are mothers have had to slow down, get up early, but not stop their academic production. Those who are single have often suffered social, cultural and even religious pressures to marry or have children but that did not stop their mission to the university, their academic contributions to society or their devotion to Jesus Christ.

Zoom screengrab of Lorena conducting an interview on zoom
Lorena (left) conducting an interview

Divorcees are also messengers of the kingdom of God in their classrooms, in their senior career positions and through their publications, and have not necessarily had a marriage interrupted “because of” their university career, as some might assume. 

The women I spoke to were remarkably diverse but they have all cultivated an active and creative spirituality and have loved God “with all their minds” (paraphrasing Deuteronomy 6:5 and Mark 12:30). 

My pilot project raised many questions about the intersections between women’s spirituality, their academic work, and their gender and family roles (marriage, motherhood, singleness). To explore the triangular intersections among these three areas, my project will collect and share the life stories of at least six female, Argentine academics.  

My goal is to develop inspiring resources that demonstrate how these three areas can complement and enrich each other, and encourage young, female Christian students who hope to pursue academic careers. I will conduct in-depth interviews and use them to publish a printed book, an e-book, a short film and a series of short audiovisual clips.  

My project today: conversations with Christian, women academics from Argentina 

After my proposal was accepted by the LCI in April, I began with times of prayer, mentoring and indispensable feedback. By the grace of God, I have a wonderful project team made up of women who have served/are serving with IFES movements in Latin America. Together, we  identified the women who would be interviewed for the project.  

Screengrab of four participants at Lorena's project team prayer meeting on zoom
Project team prayer meeting

In July I began recording the first few interviews. To give a taste of what the women talk about, the stories include: the “long singleness” of an academic woman who married at age 50; a historian and academic mother who knew how to deal with self-esteem and guilt; and a single academic who knew how to cultivate rest and seek out Christian mentoring for her academic work.  

Looking at the progress I have made so far, I am grateful that I have had two incredible consultation meetings with external advisors and participated in a course titled “Past, Present and Future of Feminism” with Dr Sarah Williams, Research Professor in the History of Christianity at Regent College.  

I am given hope by the encouraging messages I have received from the other Catalysts in my cohort, such as: “I’m very curious about the facts you’ll have on single women!” ;  “Thank you for revealing these women to us”; and “The project will bring many important lights for women in science.” 

Lorena Brondani is studying for a doctorate in social communication at Austral University in Argentina and is an advisor to ABUA Argentina ( the IFES national movement) in her hometown, Paso de los Libres, Corrientes.

Find out more:

  • Follow Lorena’s progress with her project on her personal blog (in Spanish)
  • Read about all 18 of our Catalysts’ projects on our project webpages 

ENDNOTES

1Collins, Frances (2016) “How Does God Speak? The scientific evidence of faith (Ariel, 2016)

2Alexander, Dennis (2007) “Models for Relating Science and Religion” The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion

3Wolterstorff, Nicholas (2014) “Christian Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century: Prospects and Perils “ (Cambridge, United States: Editorial Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing & Co. Translated by Moisés J. Zelada. chap.1, pp. 1-17)