Charis welcomes Julia Watts Belser in conversation with Dom Kelly and Andrew Walker-Cornetta for a discussion of Loving Our Own Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subversiveness of Knowing Ourselves Whole, a transformative spiritual companion and deep dive into disability politics that reimagines disability in the Bible and contemporary culture. An essential read that will foster and enrich conversations about disability, spirituality, and social justice. This event is co-sponsored by the Georgia State University Department of Religious Studies.
“What’s wrong with you?”
Scholar, activist, and rabbi Julia Watts Belser is all too familiar with this question. What’s wrong isn’t her wheelchair, though—it’s exclusion, objectification, pity, and disdain.
Our attitudes about disability have such deep cultural roots that we almost forget their sources. But open the Bible and disability is everywhere. Moses believes his stutter renders him unable to answer God’s call. Jacob’s encounter with an angel leaves him changed not just spiritually but physically: he gains a limp. For centuries, these stories have been told and retold in ways that treat disability as a metaphor for spiritual incapacity or as a challenge to be overcome.
Through fresh and unexpected readings of the Bible, Loving Our Own Bones instead paints a luminous portrait of what it means to be disabled and one of God’s beloved. Belser delves deep into sacred literature, braiding the insights of disabled, feminist, Black, and queer thinkers with her own experiences as a queer disabled Jewish feminist. She talks back to biblical commentators who traffic in disability stigma and shame. What unfolds is a profound gift of disability wisdom, a radical act of spiritual imagination that can guide us all toward a powerful reckoning with each other and with our bodies.
Loving Our Own Bones invites readers to claim the power and promise of spiritual dissent, and to nourish their own souls through the revolutionary art of radical self-love.
Julia Watts Belser is Professor of Jewish Studies in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, as well as core faculty in Georgetown’s Disability Studies Program and a Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Her research centers on gender, sexuality, and disability in rabbinic literature, as well as queer feminist Jewish ethics and theology. She directs Disability and Climate Change: A Public Archive Project, an initiative that an initiative that documents the wisdom and insights of disabled activists, artists, and first responders on the frontlines of climate crisis.
Her work brings ancient texts into conversation with disability studies, queer theory, feminist thought, and environmental ethics. She has held faculty fellowships at Harvard Divinity School and the Katz Center for Advanced Jewish Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Gender, Sex, and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2018) and Power, Ethics, and Ecology: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Her most recent book is Loving Our Own Bones: Disability Wisdom and the Spiritual Subversiveness of Knowing Ourselves Whole (Beacon Press, 2023; published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton).
A rabbi and a longtime advocate for disability and gender justice, Belser writes queer feminist Jewish theology and brings disability arts and culture into conversation with Jewish tradition. She co-authored an international Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities (Hesperian Foundation, 2007), developed in collaboration with disability activists from 42 countries and translated into 14 languages, designed to help challenge the root causes of poverty, gender violence, and disability discrimination. She’s an avid wheelchair hiker, a lover of wild places, and a passionate supporter of disability dance.
Dom Kelly is the Co-Founder, President & CEO of New Disabled South, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and New Disabled South Rising, its 501(c)(4) arm. Until November 2022, he served as both the Georgia Fundraising Director and the Senior Advisor for Disability for Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor of Georgia. Previously, he was Senior Fundraising Manager and a Strategic Advisor for Disability at Fair Fight Action, the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, where he also created and led the organization’s Disability Council composed of prominent disability advocates and policy experts from across the country.
Dom is one of a set of triplets born with Cerebral Palsy and has been a disability advocate since he was four years old. He received a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice where he also received the Excellence in Social Impact award. Additionally, he holds a bachelor’s degree in music production, a master’s degree in journalism, an executive certificate in social impact strategy, and a graduate certificate in interdisciplinary disability studies. He was a 2021 New Leaders Council fellow, serves as a board member for The Kelsey, Society for Disability Studies, Neighborhood Access, Disability Victory, and University of Pennsylvania’s Nonprofit Leadership Alumni Association, and is a member of the NationSwell Council. Dom currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Catie, their daughter Mahalia, and their dog Vivi.
Andrew Walker-Cornetta is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University where he teaches courses on religion, disability, race, and health. His forthcoming article in the journal American Religion is titled “Without the Lord: Eliza Suggs, Religion, and the Good Disabled Subject.”
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A transformative spiritual companion and deep dive into disability politics that reimagines disability in the Bible and contemporary culture
An essential read that will foster and enrich conversations about disability, spirituality, and social justice
“What’s wrong with you?”
In Rabbinic Tales of Destruction, Julia Watts Belser examines early Jewish accounts of the Roman conquest of Judea. Faced with stories of sexual violence, enslavement, forced prostitution, disability, and bodily risk, Belser argues, our readings of rabbinic narrative must wrestle with the brutal body costs of Roman imperial domination.