Baylor professor publishes book on intersection of disabilities, religion

Dr. Devan Stahl celebrates the publication of her new book. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photographer

By Lily Nussbaum | Staff Writer

Surrounded by faculty, staff, students and loved ones, Dr. Devan Stahl celebrated the publishing of her book Thursday in Memorial Hall’s drawing room.

“Disability’s Challenge to Theology” is the assistant professor of religion’s third published book. Utilizing theological and historical works along with the experiences of patients, herself and others, Stahl described her book as a historical study under a contemporary bioethics lens. She said the book hits the mark on all the prominent topics that interest her.

“If I can figure out ways to get the disability piece, the bioethics piece and the theology piece together in conversation, that to me is what I want to be doing,” Stahl said.

In the past, many Christian denominations actively partnered with eugenic societies. Stahl’s book, in addition to exploring this history, goes further to ask, “Are we any better now in standing up for disabled people?”

“We’re susceptible today to repeating some of those mistakes where we undervalue people with disabilities, we overvalue biotechnology and we need to be more critical,” Stahl said. “I love medicine, and I want people to use medicine, but I also think not everything that comes out of medicine is always good.”

The panel at Stahl’s roundtable included Dr. Jeff Levin, Dr. Jason Whitt and Dr. Natalie Carnes. Each Baylor faculty member previously read the book and gave their thoughts on its content. Whitt said he personally appreciated the discussion of personhood in relation to Christians’ views on those with disabilities.

“[The book] wrestles with it in a way that leads it not as threshold criteria but as a gift, which means those who are disabled are not that different at all,” Whitt said. “How do we begin to teach our congregations to view people differently?”

After receiving a religious studies degree, Stahl said she decided to go to divinity school. While there, she said she discovered that she has a chronic illness, which changed her professional trajectory.

“I had a lot of experiences in hospitals that were sometimes not great,” Stahl said. “I sought out a program where I could do both … where I could think about bioethics and where I could think about religion.”

Stahl said due to the interdisciplinary aspect of bioethics, it is essential that people come from different backgrounds and bring other specialties to the conversation. Bioethics is a field started by theologians, and she said that her religious background has assisted her in understanding patient decisions and beliefs.

“Lots of patients and lots of people in health care are religious, and so for them, it’s really important to understand how their faith intersects with their medical choices,” Stahl said. “We are attending to all the aspects of what people go through when they are in the hospital.”

Dallas junior Marie Boone is a student of Stahl’s who said she joined her class to further expand her interest in bioethics and the intersection of theology with medical professions. Boone said Stahl creates a safe space to deal with nuanced and daunting topics.

“After reading her book and having those kinds of conversations, I’m inspired to have those difficult conversations in spaces where they normally don’t take place,” Boone said.

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