“Sinners, Saints and Misfits: Religion and Disability in America”

March 13, 2017 at 10:04 am

How do people respond to physical and mental differences? Religion may play a huge part in how people with disabilities are treated.

The University of South Carolina Upstate welcomes Dr. Darla Schumm at 6 p.m. Monday, March 13, 2017, who will speak on “Sinners, Saints and Misfits: Religion and Disability in America.” This free lecture will be held in the Sansbury Campus Life Center Ballroom and is open to the public.

Schumm is a pioneer voice in studying the intersections between Religion and Disability. In this talk, she’ll present aspects of her new work exploring the lived experiences of people with disabilities in religious communities and organizations.

Schumm, who is partially blind, approaches the subject from her personal experience. Married to an Episcopal priest, Schumm said she hopes her research will raise awareness and help religious entities to break down the barriers that keep individuals with disabilities from attending.

Schumm’s talk will focus on the physical barriers, the attitude and the messages that sacred texts convey.

“So many of our churches were built so early that they were not required to provide ramps for easier access,” Schumm said. “Others don’t provide an interpreter for those who are hearing impaired, and there are few liturgical materials available at churches that are in large print or written in braille. Those things leave those in the disabled community feeling excluded.”

Schumm said that overall attitude of others also becomes a barrier.

“Most of us have lived with our disabilities our entire lives,” she said. “While most people are well-meaning in their comments, they can also easily offend. I hear often, ‘you are so amazing or you deal with this so well.’ Would life be easier if I could see? Yes. Do I sit around wishing I could see? No.”

The third is often harder to consider, she said. It’s the wording of sacred texts.

“Religious text is exclusionary,” Schumm said. “Sacred texts implicity communicate about disability as it’s written in metaphors — blindness of sight, darkness to light — they send a message. Most people would not scrutinize the texts in that way, but for some, that too is a barrier.”

Schumm is professor of Religious Studies and teaches at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. She is co-editor of the newly-released “Disability and World Religions: An Introduction.” She received her Ph.D. in Religion, Ethics, and Society from Vanderbilt University. She served as the 2014 president of the Southeast Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR), the southeast regional branch of the American Academy of Religion. She is currently a member of the American Academy of Religion’s Committee of the Status of People with Disabilities in the Profession.

This event is possible thanks to generous support from the Division of Student Affairs at USC Upstate. For more information, contact Dr. David Damrel, associate professor of Religion at (864) 503-5798 or ddamrel@uscupstate.edu.