Abbi Heimach came to Wooster intending to major in political science, but her experience in an introductory course in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, combined with her strong Christian faith, led her to choose a different path.
That intro course with Christa Craven, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, “really resonated” with Heimach, who declared WGSS her major in sophomore year. A year later, just back from a semester studying in South Africa, she decided to declare a minor in religious studies as well. When department chair Mark Graham pointed out that she was just two courses shy of a major, a double major was born.
It was her work in South Africa that planted the seeds of Heimach’s Independent Study project. Living with a host family in Durban and observing their worship practices, she began to make connections with a course she had taken at Wooster, on feminist theology in the global south, with campus minister Linda Morgan-Clement.
Through contacts made at a local Methodist church in Durban, Heimach set up and facilitated a series of contextual Bible study groups with Zulu and Xhosa youth, middle aged white South Africans, refugees from the Congo, and others. (According to Professor John Riches of Glasgow University, “At the heart of the [contextual Bible study] approach lies the conviction that reading the Bible with those at the margins of society can lead to personal and social transformation.”)
“Looking back, I was in way over my head,” she says, “but it was a phenomenal experience and I made some really close friends with whom I’ve stayed in touch” including a young Muslim woman from Bangladesh, with whom Heimach bonded because of the strong role their respective faiths play in their lives.
Back in Wooster, Heimach knew she wanted to build her I.S. around the use of contextual Bible study as a means to build feminist solidarity with women across borders. With Copeland funding, she returned to South Africa last summer and facilitated three more sessions with a small, interracial group of women in their twenties and early thirties.
“Abbi’s project brings together her innovative participant-observation leading Bible studies in South Africa and her thoughtful engagement with Paolo Friere and Chandra Mohanty’s work to understand and further explore that journey,” says Craven, who is one of Heimach’s two I.S. advisers, along with Chuck Kammer, professor of religious studies.
“What I’ve been most impressed by is her creative blend of different writing styles in her I.S. — poetry, academic analysis, artwork, and a letter to the women she worked with — which has showcased her scholarly experience, but also how it inspired her personally and spiritually.”
Heimach, who serves as co-moderator of the coordinating committee for the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, a feminist and social justice oriented group within the Presbyterian Church (USA), says she “likely will go to seminary at some point” but is still discerning her long term direction. The short-term path is clearer: after graduating in May, Heimach will join Teach for America and spend the next two years teaching history in a middle school or high school in Nashville, Tenn.
She will be in good company. Wooster has been recognized as one of the top contributors to Teach for America. Last year, 11 Wooster seniors were accepted into the highly competitive program.
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