Leah Payne joined George Fox University's William Penn Honors Program, College of Christian Studies and seminary in the fall semester of 2016. Prior to her appointment as assistant professor of Christian studies, Payne taught at Portland Seminary as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Louisville Institute (2014-2016).
Her research interests include American religious innovation, religion and popular culture, gender, race, and class construction, hermeneutics, and performance theory. Her first book, Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism: Making a Female Ministry in the Early Twentieth Century (Palgrave, 2015) won the 2016 Pneuma Book Award, and her second (forthcoming) book explores the development of political theology within American Pentecostalism. In 2015, she and three other colleagues received a Lilly Endowment High School Youth Theology Initiative grant to co-found Theologia: The George Fox University Summer Theology Institute beginning in 2017.
Adam McGuffie recently sat down with Payne to talk about her new role at George Fox.
Adam: Tell us a little bit about your academic journey from Vanderbilt to Portland Seminary.
Leah: I actually started out here at George Fox - as an undergrad! From there I worked for a few years in the music industry in Nashville, TN. Then, I decided to go back to school and enrolled at Vanderbilt Divinity School. I had such a good time that I stayed until I finished a PhD in History and Critical Theories of Religion in 2013. Afterward I applied for a postdoctoral fellowship with the Louisville Institute. For the last two years, I've been serving as a Louisville Fellow here at George Fox and now I’m excited to be here at Portland Seminary, the William Penn Honors Program, and the College of Christian Studies.
A: What will you be teaching here at George Fox?
L: I will be teaching primarily in my area of expertise, which is church history. I specialize in American Church History, and I’ll be teaching seminary courses on that topic. In addition, I am working with the North Pacific District of the Foursquare Church to create courses specially designed for Pentecostal-Charismatic leaders in the Pacific Northwest. And, I host a monthly conversation (every 3rd Thursday from 4-5:30 pm at Well & Good Coffee) that is open to the public on issues related to Pentecostal & Charismatic movements. I will also be teaching in the William Penn Honors Program at the undergraduate campus, where we ready through great books -- anything from ancient Greek literature up through books written in the 21st century -- so my inner church historian is excited about that.
A: You come from the Foursquare denomination and have established a partnership between your denomination and Portland Seminary. Can you tell us a little bit about the Foursquare center at the seminary?
L: I'm really excited to be facilitating a partnership between Portland Seminary and the North Pacific District of the Foursquare Church. Together we’ll be promoting innovative ways of educating pastors and lay-leaders and exploring aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic theology and practice through specialized courses, monthly meetings where we drink good coffee and talk about topics of potential interest, scholarships, and conferences.
A: You were recently at the 2016 Society for Pentecostal Studies conference and your book, Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism, won an award. Could you tell us a bit about the book and the award?
L: The journal for the Society for Pentecostal Studies is called Pneuma, and every year they pick a book of the year. This year they selected Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism, and I was thrilled! I've been involved with the society for several years and I lead the history interest group, so it was really gratifying and a huge honor to be given that award by my peers. Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism tries to answer the question "How were women ministers in the early 20th century authorized to lead churches?" Several women were preachers, but very few women were pastors. There’s a big difference between speaking in front of an audience and leading a particular community or denomination. I think gender, ethnicity/race, and class theory can help students of Pentecostalism understand how women within this movement were able to pull off such a tall order. My book is a gender, race/ethnicity, class, and performance study. I chose two prominent revivalists who were Pentecostals: Maria Woodworth-Etter and Amy Semple McPherson. I looked at how what they did was different from male revivalists around them (like A. B. Simpson or Billy Sunday). I had a lot of fun with the book because they are two fascinating women. The book explores their ministries in their early 20th century context.
A: With your research interests in mind, what would your greatest hope be for empowering female pastors and church leaders through your work in the academy?
L: I hope to encourage anyone who is called to the ministry - male or female. Of course women face many more challenges than men do in any profession - especially the ministry. So I would hope to affirm their call where I can, be a sounding board for them as they work through their calling, and also to provide them with some historical context so that they can understand some of the struggles that they are facing. As the scriptures say, there's nothing new under the sun. It's helpful to what has come before us so that we can get a better handle on our current context. I also hope to challenge all ministers to think deeply about theology and practice and to discipline their thoughts so that their words do healing and prophetic work in the church and the world.
A: What do you like to do for fun?L: I love spending time with my friends and family. And, I love good coffee and reading good fiction on rainy days. Basically, I love living in Oregon. I also enjoy good story telling (part of being a historian!). I’m always on the lookout for television or film that tells compelling stories, especially science fiction or fantasy. My fellow academics and nerd-friends frequently ask me for television recommendations so in my spare time I blog about religion & popular culture at: leahpayne.blogspot.com.