Graduating Greyhounds 2014: Justin Hagerman and David Russell, M.T.S.

Justin Hagerman and David Russell, the first two full-time students of Loyola's M.T.S. program, anticipate Commencement and their next chapters

By Matthew D. Kudler, '06  |  Photos submitted by David Russell

Loyola began offering its Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) to both part-time and full-time students in 2012.

This weekend, the program’s first two full-time students, Justin Hagerman and David Russell, will receive their diplomas.

Justin and David share their stories of how they came to be in Baltimore; their experiences in the close-knit theology community at Loyola; and how the M.T.S. program prepared them for the respective Ph.D. programs they will begin in the fall.

How did you arrive at Loyola, and which aspects of the M.T.S. program were attractive to you?

David Russell

David Russell (DR): Several different things drew me to seek a graduate degree at Loyola. As an undergraduate at Florida State University, I became interested in comparative theology and knew I wanted to continue studying in that field. I also had a desire to move to Baltimore and was planning on moving here with my fiancée after our wedding that summer.

I started researching theology programs in the Baltimore area and came across Loyola’s M.T.S. program. After looking at the list of faculty and the course offerings, I knew studying at Loyola would be a great opportunity. I liked the idea of a small student body working closely with expert theologians on the entire range of theological studies.

Justin Hagerman

Justin Hagerman

Justin Hagerman (JH): When I visited Loyola in December 2011, I had the chance to sit with several of the professors of theology for lunch. What attracted me were the topics of conversation: The first day that I was here, the theologians were talking about the nature of the resurrected body of Jesus Christ.

Once at Loyola, how did your academic aims begin to take shape?

JH: I first took courses in Old Testament, Systematic Theology, and Mariology. From these courses, I learned that I wanted to do three things: interpret Scripture as a canon, use Scripture for the purpose of theology, and ground everything that I think, write, and say in the person of Jesus Christ.

In the following semesters, I studied the New Testament, worked in the mode of theological interpretation, and read St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings, and from there, I became interested in the New Testament, Greek, and Virtue Theories of Moral Philosophy. With the help of my advisors and my friends in the M.T.S. cohort, my academic aims moved towards a theological interest in Paul’s letters.

DR: Going into the M.T.S., I knew I wanted to study and compare Christian and Islamic theology and mysticism. While at Florida State I read about a rather obscure book by a medieval Islamic philosopher and was intrigued by how it influenced thinkers over the last eight centuries.

I met with Dr. Trent Pomplun and Dr. David Decosimo in the spring semester of my first year and told them about my interest in this book. They encouraged me to study that book for my term papers, which led me to write on it for my master’s thesis.

What did your research or program experiences lead you to discover in your field that helped form your vocation?

DR: The process of writing several term essays and my master’s thesis [about the aforementioned book] has only demonstrated to me how large a historical project can grow.

After giving a conference paper on my project, I realized that I have only scratched the surface. My experience in the M.T.S. gave me the tools to keep digging into the historical bedrock of theology and mysticism, which I will be doing at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where I will be pursuing a doctorate in comparative religions.

I plan to use my research into the history of theology to bring medieval theology and mysticism into contemporary discussions on human nature. I also hope to use my experience working with medieval philosophical texts to the ever-growing initiative to digitally preserve fragile books and curate them in an online, free-access library to inspire future theologians.

JH: I spent two semesters carefully reading and commenting on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This letter allowed me to engage Augustine’s sermons, Gregory of Nyssa’s treatises, and several contemporary Biblical commentaries.

My future plan is to do research at King’s College in London, U.K., where I hope to spend the next several years writing a Ph.D. thesis on virtue in Pauline letters. I am looking forward to letting the New Testament continue to shape my aims as a Christian theologian. I am beginning to see the goal of my New Testament research as being in the service of the Church, primarily in the form of commentaries on Scripture, sermons, and letters.

What advice would you give to students considering the Master of Theological Studies?

JH: Part of my joy came from being around teachers who often use words and phrases like ‘beatific vision,’ ‘habit,’ ‘love transforming justice,’ and ‘eschatological consummation’ with a sense of humor and an artistic gift for using theological terms while at the same time avoiding jargon.

If you study at Loyola, I think that you will learn a new grammar that is grounded in a particular way of being in the world that enables you to flourish as a human being. Trust the faculty, because they can see things that you cannot see.

DR: The M.T.S. program at Loyola is a very personally enriching experience, so be prepared to fully immerse yourself in academia. Seek out a Graduate Assistantship, spend time on the beautiful campus, and get to know your classmates.

What will you remember most about the MTS?

DR: I think my favorite part about the M.T.S. was the eclectic gathering of people who were involved with the program, being either students or faculty. Each person had his or her unique approach to theological studies making each class, each conference, and each social event very vibrant and dynamic.

I look forward to seeing my classmates and professors at conferences, catching up, and seeing what they’ve been up to in their work.

JH: I will always remember the comments that my professors wrote on my papers. When I first arrived at Loyola, I lacked the tools for forming tight arguments, and so the professors helped me to discipline my writing and at the same time showed me how to think like a theologian. Whenever I think back to my first days here in September 2012, it is easy to for me to notice of the fruit that came from the kind of help that my teachers gave me for the sake of the intellectual, social, and moral life.

After I gave a short presentation to the Trustees in April 2013, Stephen Fowl gave me a high five. That was my favorite moment in the M.T.S. program.

Justin Hagerman plans to continue the research he began at Loyola and write his doctoral thesis at King’s College in London, U.K., studying the Pauline letters.

David Russell has been accepted by the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where will pursue a doctorate in comparative religions beginning in the fall of 2014.

To read more stories about this year’s Graduating Greyhounds, visit our 2014 Commencement page.

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