Geographic Focus Areas

While national in scope, our program will focus on two main geographic areas: Winston-Salem and western North Carolina. The geographic, agricultural, and religious richness of central/western North Carolina creates a living laboratory for engaging the crucial issues of food insecurity, food deserts, and the attendant health disparities that confront our region.


The Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative equips faith leaders and congregations to become change agents in food security, community health, and resilient food economies. To that end, our academics and continuing education programs focus on a number of interrelated core competencies. Our programs teach faith leaders to:

  • Apply a theological frame to today’s pressing problems connected to food—hunger, obesity, diabetes, ecological devastation, energy, global warming—and draw on the core interdisciplinary areas of a theological education curriculum (spirituality, ethics, biblical, historical, and theological studies, ministry and missions) as essential resources for transforming the conversation and practices about food.
  • Expand their understanding of vocation to include church-supported agriculture projects, farmworker justice, and other food-related ministries.
  • Nurture their own spiritual growth and that of the communities they serve by adopting holistic faith practices that nourish mind, body, and soul.
  • Understand the problems with our current food system, while growing in knowledge of regenerative forms of agricultural such as permaculture, biointensive mini-farming, and other ecologically-sound agricultural practices.
  • Encourage a global perspective by applying a theological lens to food-related issues in diverse religious, cultural, and ethnic perspectives within both national and international contexts.
In Their Own Words: Faculty and Students

The food that most of us eat creates distance from our tables, distance from our farmers, and distance from our fields.  This is as much a crisis of the spirit as it is a crisis of practical insight and public resolve.  This is why future faith leaders have a vital role to play.  This distance cannot just be bridged it must be transfigured.  And this “transfiguration of distance,” according to John O’Donohue, sits at the very center of the spiritual life.

Caleb Pusey (MDiv ’13)  


Gifts and challenges associated with food systems are related to religious beliefs and communities of faith. Religious leaders today need knowledge and skills for participating in and leading conversations about food, food systems, and justice. Students who are conversant about food and faith can work with congregations to raise awareness and find solutions for broken and unjust food systems. The call to this work is at the center of the Gospel.

Jill Crainshaw, Blackburn Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology


My journey as believer, minister, and scholar has led me to the conviction that the paramount challenge for the Church and for the human species is stewardship of Creation.  Issues related to food touch on almost every other issue related to that stewardship. My theological education did not adequately prepare me to lead in this area. Now that I’m one of those charged with educating religious leaders, I want to equip them with what they need.

Mark Jensen, Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Pastoral Theology


In the Spirituality of Food course, I found myself in the midst of countless systemic injustices, corrupted markets, and human and animal rights abuses. It was a reminder that this world is indeed a broken and messy place; though wracked with death and pain, this Earth and its inhabitants are invited daily to participate in new life with one another and with their Creator. Transitioning from classroom discussions this Spring to working in a church community garden all Summer, I’ve been able to experience the beauty, struggles, and interconnectedness of life found in a successful harvest.

Baylee Smith (MDiv ’13)


In the Spirituality of Food course, I saw that I could help restore God’s kingdom on Earth simply in the kinds of food I ate.  However, I found positive, God-honoring food choices expensive, complicated, and sometimes deceptive.  In response, my brother and I are developing a web-company called ourcluster.com that makes buying organic, grass-fed beef more affordable, simple, and transparent.  The connections I made in my Spirituality of Food Faith proved absolutely invaluable. Although I’m preparing for a life of church ministry, I have found a concrete, self-sustaining way of making a difference for God’s kingdom by giving fuel, in my own small way, to a world that is more just, sustainable, and relational.

Skyler Daniel (MDiv ’13)


fred-bahnson-newFred Bahnson, Director

BA, Montana State University
MTS, Duke Divinity School

Bahnson’s research and teaching focus on the intersection of ecology, agriculture, and contemplative spirituality. In his co-authored book Making Peace With the Land, he explored how the scriptural vision of Christ’s reconciliation is not limited to people, but rather is cosmic in scope, which leads to practical implications for agriculture and ecological restoration. His book Soil and Sacrament tells the story of the church-supported community garden he co-founded in 2005, as well as describing his more recent pilgrimage among four agrarian faith communities—Trappist, Protestant, Jewish, and Pentecostal. Part spiritual autobiography, part narrative journalism, Soil and Sacrament was described by Kirkus in its starred review as “A profound, moving treatise on finding God in gardening.” He continues to explore the use of literary nonfiction as a distinct theological genre, and is currently at work on a book that will articulate a contemplative response to climate change.

Below is a video of Fred speaking at TEDx Manhattan, Changing the Way We Eat, in February 2013.

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