• David Beckmann

Teaching in Berkeley Next Term

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

I’m excited to share that I’ve been appointed a Joint Fellow by Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Starting in January, I’ll be teaching a graduate seminar, “Poverty and Communities of Faith in the Politics of 2021.”


I'll be resident in Berkeley and expect to be able to meet with some people there in a safe way. But I’ll be teaching my seminar and also continuing some work for Bread and the Alliance remotely.


You and the other people who have signed up for my blog posts should benefit, because I’ll be learning a lot about poverty, God, and politics. My seminars will include a series of presentations by national leaders in this arena, and I’ll make these presentations available to you.


I look forward to teaching a group of next-generation leaders. Some will be training for careers in public policy and others for careers in religious ministry. The two schools have never worked together before, but both deans are thinking this joint project might set the stage for further collaboration.


I’m also thrilled by the learning opportunity this opens for me. I expect the students to challenge some of my ideas. For several decades I’ve been razor-focused on maximizing the impact of Bread and the Alliance. But getting ready for this seminar has already pushed me to think broadly about spiritual and political changes that would accelerate progress against poverty in our country and around the world..


I’m planning one seminar session on the growth of African-American power in recent decades. African American voters turned out to vote for Biden in a big way, and the President-Elect clearly intends to make racial justice an important theme of his administration. The new Congress will include 56 African-American members (many in leadership positions), compared to 21 African-American members of Congress in 1985. I want to learn more than I know about how African-American churches and other organizations have built electoral power.


Another session will focus on the Religious Right. Most white Christians and almost four out of five white Evangelicals voted to reelect President Trump, even though many of his policies and much of his rhetoric have been harsh toward people in poverty and people of color. I want to know more than I do about this bloc of religious people and how different leaders are working to influence political attitudes among them.

I expect that a large share of my students will have no affiliation to a national religious body or tradition (Christian, for example, or Buddhist). If a survey would ask their religious preference, they would mark “None” or “nothing in particular.” So in preparing my syllabus, I have been reading and thinking about the “Nones.” They are the fastest growing group in American religious life, especially among young people and especially in the Western states.


Most of the “Nones” believe in and sometimes pray to God. Some Americans who don’t go to church experience God as a loving presence in their lives, while some Americans who go to church regularly don’t experience God as a loving presence in their lives. I focus on this aspect of religious experience, because the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the core message of Christianity. Also, people who experience God as a loving presence in their lives are more likely to support governmental anti-poverty programs such as food stamps and foreign aid. This information comes from one of my favorite books, American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell.


I just finished a book titled Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone (edited by Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk). Most people in the Northwest have never been part of a church, synagogue, or mosque, and I chose to read this book because of its focus on the "Nones." It outlines patterns of spirituality among religiously unaffiliated people in the region, including admirable creativity and love of nature. But this book also reports that mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Conservative and Reformed Jews and their organizations have made disproportionate contributions to social services and to political work on issues of war and peace, economic justice, race, class, and gender discrimination, and the environment.

Clearly, my teaching opportunity at Berkeley will help me think in new ways about poverty, God, and politics. I hope you will learn with me through my blog posts and share them with friends. I’m also praying that God will use this experience to open new doors for me to continue my lifelong vocation.



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