Anna F. Bialek

Anna F. Bialek

Assistant Professor of Religion and Politics
PhD, Brown University
research interests:
  • Religious Ethics
  • Christian and Feminist Thought
  • Theories and Methods in Religious Studies
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    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
      CB 1065
      One Brookings Dr.
      St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

    Anna Bialek’s research and teaching focus on contemporary religious ethics and political theory with an emphasis on feminist thought, Christian theology, and modern forms of power critique.

    Bialek's first book project, Vulnerability and Power: The Promise of Relational Ethics, discusses vulnerability in contemporary ethics and politics. Competitive fellowships from the American Association of University Women, the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown, and the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown have offered support for her research.

    recent courses

    Love and Reason (RelPol 245)

    Love often seems dramatically unreasonable, and reason can seem coldly rational in a way that excludes any emotion, passion, or affiliation even akin to love. The supposed opposition between love and reason has been used by Christian and secular thinkers throughout modernity to organize ways of knowing and judging, and to criticize claims of faith, belief, and desire. But are love and reason really so distinct?What does it mean to say so, and why might someone make this claim? Can love be reasoned, and even reasonable? Can reason be aided by love, and even driven by it?How might different answers to these questions affect our understanding of other possibly unreasoned categories like faith, belief, and piety? This course offers an introduction to modern Christian thought and Western philosophy through these questions and themes.

      Vulnerability and Violence in Religion and Politics (RelPol 265)

      Vulnerability seems to present a paradigmatic form of ethical imperative: if we know that something bad might happen, we should act now to prevent or mitigate its effects.But in what ways, to what ends, and at what cost?Should we protect ourselves even if it prevents us from pursuing other goods?Who gets to decide what kinds of protection and preparation are necessary? These questions are complicated by the fact that we often see our vulnerabilities most vividly when they have been realized in wounds, and so the conversation proceeds from situations of trauma, mourning, and the immediate needs of caregiving and recovery. Do these occasions aid the discussion, or obscure it?This course examines the concept of vulnerability in contemporary discussions of trauma, mourning, terrorism, gun violence, violence against women, and racially motivated violence to consider this critical question of ethical thought: what does our past experience have to do with our preparation for the future? The course draws on recent work in religious ethics, political philosophy, feminist thought, critical race theory, and Christian thought to examine this concern. No prior experience in religious studies, philosophy, political science, or gender studies is required, nor is any knowledge of religious traditions.

        Gender and Power in Religious Thought (RelPol 335)

        Gender has often been posed as the fundamental distinction of the human condition, creating the original opportunity for relation across that distinction. In some strands of religious thought, this distinction comes second to the creation of the world distinct from the divine. Religious and secular thinkers have turned to ordinary experiences of interpersonal relations for insight into these purportedly more fundamental relations and the connection between them. This seminar examines the role of interpersonal relationships in recent religious, ethical, and political thought, with particular attention to the way they bring gender and sexual desire more centrally into view.

          Solidarity and Silence: Religious Strategies in the Political Sphere (RelPol 407)

          Although political action is often considered a problem of making oneself heard, religious practices of silence, self-effacement, and withdrawal from certain worldly struggles have guided many significant political and social movements, particularly forms of non-violent resistance. This course considers the role of religious thought and practice in such movements in the twentieth century. The history of these movements presents an apparent paradox: how can political action emerge from the supposedly "private" realm of religion in the modern era, particularly its most individualistic formations in contemplative and mystical practices? Does the historical role of these practices in the political sphere complicate their portrayal in some scholarship as private, individual, and depoliticizing? With these questions animating our investigations, we will consider the work of authors and activists including Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Simone Weil, and William Barber, as well as the history of movements associated with their work. Toward the end of the semester, we will turn to contemporary movements against economic inequality, intimate violence, racially motivated violence, and discrimination toward transgender persons to discuss the use of religious strategies or religiously-derived strategies in current political and social activism.

            Selected Publications

            “Response to Douglas Hedley’s The Iconic Imagination.” Modern Theology, Volume 33, Issue 3 (July 2017).

            “Vulnerability and Time.” In Exploring Vulnerability, H Springhart and G Thomas, eds (Vanden-hoeck and Ruprecht, Gottingen, 2017).

            “Vulnerability, Violence, and the Cultivation of Community: A Response to Sarah Coakley’s God, Sexuality, and the Self.” In Syndicate Theology, November 13, 2015.