News Articles

La Sierra University Theologian Wins National Hispanic Book Prize

A smiling Hispanic woman stands on the steps of a building named "La Sierra Hall" holding a book.

Marlene Ferreras, practical theology assistant professor in La Sierra University's H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, poses in front of La Sierra Hall with her book, “Insurrectionist Wisdoms: Toward a North American Indigenized Pastoral Theology." Her debut book won the Hispanic Theological Initiative Prize last November which includes an invitation to lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary in June of 2024. Photo: La Sierra University

For Marlene Ferreras, assistant professor of practical theology at La Sierra University, the goal of her research trip to Yucatán, Mexico in November 2016 was straightforward – to collect data utilizing scientific research methods to shed light on the struggles of female Mayan workers at multinational maquila manufacturing plants. But through a three-month immersion into the daily life of a welcoming village family and numerous conversations with the community’s mexicana assembly line seamstresses, the scope of her analysis deepened to ultimately offer a re-shaping of the paradigm of how pastoral care can support marginalized peoples who are suffering.

The eye-opening and often disturbing stories of the 11 working-class mexicanas Ferreras interviewed and their resistance through maternal and matriarchal identities in the face of exploitation, injury, and abuse begged to be told to a broader audience. When Ferreras discovered the factory seamstresses’ remote community through a series of open and closed doors, she found that many of these women wanted their voices to be heard. In interviews held over three months, they described their subjugation to the maquila’s rules and demands for irrational quota-based production speeds, long hours, little pay, constant surveillance, abuses and numerous injuries, and the weakening of communal life in their 456-member hometown.

Her research journey morphed into a book, which then served as her dissertation for a doctorate in practical theology earned from the Claremont School of Theology in 2019. A native of Redlands, California, she weaved into the book her identity and experiences as the American-born eldest daughter of a struggling single mother whose family arrived as refugees from Cuba during the early 1970s. Her mother’s sisters all worked for multinational corporations following the suicide of their father, Ferreras’ grandfather, three months after arriving in the U.S.

In October 2022, Lexington Books published her work titled Insurrectionist Wisdoms: Toward a North American Indigenized Pastoral Theology. On Nov. 18, 2023, the book won the Hispanic Theological Initiative Prize during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature. The prize includes a monetary award and an invitation to lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary in June 2024. Ferreras, who is a 2003 alumnus of La Sierra University and an assistant professor in its H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, is the first Seventh-day Adventist scholar to win the prestigious recognition. The prize has been offered by the Hispanic Theological Initiative since 2002. The organization supports the development and promotion of Latine and Hispanic religion scholars and leaders.

A woman speaks behind a podium in a small conference room as others look on.

Dr. Marlene Ferreras receives the Hispanic Theological Initiative Prize during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature on Nov. 18, 2023. Photo: La Sierra University

“The H.M.S. Richards Divinity School faculty celebrate, with pride, the Hispanic Theological Initiative’s book of the year award to professor Ferreras,” said Maury Jackson, chair of the school’s pastoral studies department. “[The work] reflects the formation Dr. Ferreras received as an undergraduate student here at La Sierra University. Furthermore, it embodies the ethos of the divinity school’s faculty, in that it investigates the theological dimensions of social activist movements. Her work in this book highlights the Adventist question of where to find traces of eschatological hope in this world. Our undergraduates and graduates will benefit greatly from this work beyond their time in the classroom.”

Ferreras explained her motivation in taking on this project. “I wrote the book to equip pastoral theologians with more adequate forms of care that are informed by working-class Latinx women's experiences,” said Ferreras. “Some pastoral theologians tend to increase the power dynamic by making the pastoral caregiver the agent of hope. What I’m attempting to do in my book is to say [that] the divinity of spiritual care is relational. I want to equip the next generation of caregivers and pastors to journey with people through their suffering and find the surprising ways God lives among and between us.”

She also noted that while the broader questions she pursues in her research and resulting book, such as the ways intergenerational trauma through colonialism has increased suffering, are not unique, there exists in scholarly literature a dearth of information on the lives of Indigenous women and working-class Latinx women who do not fit into typical categories.

“While practical and pastoral theology have attended to issues of race, class, gender, and globalization, the voices and experience of Latinas in pastoral care and counseling are largely absent from the discipline’s literature,” Ferreras stated. “This is a small beginning to a much larger project. I envision a growing body of literature in Latina practical theology informed by epistemologies of the south.”

This article has been lightly edited for concision. Click here to read the original article from Darla Martin Tucker for La Sierra University (LSU), expanding on Ferreras’ research process, inspiration, and training tracing back to her time as an LSU honors student.

Click here to learn more about the Divinity School, which offers four master’s degree programs and three undergraduate programs, including a new Bachelor of Arts in theology degree.