Mary Hess, Ph.D.

Graduate School of Theology

Photo of Mary Hess, Ph.D.


Ph.D., Boston College, Religion and Education Media Literacy in Religious Education: Engaging Popular Culture to Enhance Religious Experience, 1998

M.T.S., Harvard University, Theological Studies, 1992

B.A., Yale University, American Studies, 1985


Marin Campus

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About Mary 

Mary E. Hess is Professor of Educational Leadership at Luther Seminary, where she has taught since 2000. During the 2016-2017 year she held the Patrick and Barbara Keenan Visiting Chair in Religious Education at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.

Hess has degrees from Yale, Harvard and Boston College, and has directed a number of projects focusing on the challenges of media culture for communities of faith. As an educator straddling the fields of media studies and religious studies, Hess has focused her research on exploring ways in which participatory strategies for knowing and learning are constructed and contested amidst digital cultures. She is particularly interested in dialogic forms of organizational development, and the challenges posed to communities by oppressive systems such as racism, classism, sexism, and so on.

Hess publishes regularly in academic journals, and is a past president of the Religious Education Association. She was a core member of the International Study Commission on Media, Religion and Culture. She is a consultant with the Wabash Center on Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religious Studies, she serves on the Faculty Development Committee of the Association of Theological Schools, and she serves on the editorial boards of several journals. Hess has created and maintains a number of websites (indexed here:



Professor of Educational Leadership at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota

Affiliate Faculty at Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, and San Francisco Theological Seminary


2016 – 2017 / Patrick and Barbara Keenen Visiting Chair in Religious Education / University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto

1997-2000 / Post-doctoral Research Fellow and Director / Religious Education and the Challenge of Media Culture Project / Boston College

1997-2000 / Lecturer in Religious Education / Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry / Boston College

1994 - 1997 / Consultant / Master’s Program / Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry, Boston College

1991 – 1992 / Research Assistant / Public Conversations Project, Cambridge, MA

1989 – 1990 / Director / Ohio Office of the National Rails to Trails Conservancy, Washington, DC

1987 – 1989 / Communications Director / First Lady of Ohio

1986 – 1987 / Director of Adolescent Programming / National Assault Prevention Center


Books (sole or joint author):

Create, Share, Believe: Storying Faith in a Post-Church World, manuscript in development.

Creating a White Anti-racist Identity: Practical Hope for Racial Change. With Stephen Brookfield, under contract with Stylus, forthcoming in 2021.

Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, New York, 150 pages, 2005

Teaching Reflectively in Theological Contexts: Promises and Contradictions. Primary editor, along with Stephen D. Brookfield. Krieger Publishing, Malabar, FL, 267 pages, 2008

Belief in Media: Cultural Perspectives on Media and Christianity. Joint editor along with Peter Horsfield, and Adán Medrano. Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, VT, 236 pages, 2004 (this book was translated into Spanish and appeared in 2007 from Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, Mexico)

Articles in peer-reviewed journals:

“Finding a way into empathy through story exercises in a religious studies classroom” in Religious Studies News, January 2020,

“Why games and gaming might be the best way and place in which to consider the meaning and purposes of theological education” in Cross Currents, July 2019,

“Guest editor’s note,” Special issue on Games and Learning, Wabash Journal Teaching Theology and Religion,, October 2018

“Adaptive action as a form of reflective practice in pastoral leadership,” Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry, Vol. 38, 2018, pp. 10 – 24.

“Exploring the epistemological challenges underlying civic engagement by religious communities,” The Good Society Special Issue: On Reintegrating Facts, Values, Strategies, Vol. 26, #2-3, pp. 305-322.

“White religious educators resisting white fragility: Lessons from mystics,’ Religious Education, Vol.112, #1, Winter 2017, pp. 46-57.

“Learning with digital technologies: Privileging persons over machines,” Journal of Moral Theology, Vol. 4, #1, Winter 2015, pp. 131-150.

“Learning amidst transforming traditions,” in Theological Education, Vol. 49, #1, Winter 2014, pp.

“A new culture of learning: What are the implications for theological educators,” in Teaching Theology and Religion, Vol. 17, #3, July 2014, pp. 227-232.

“A new culture of learning: Digital storytelling and faith formation,” in Dialog, Vol. 53, No. 1, Spring 2014, pp. 12-22.

“Loving the questions: Finding food for the future of theological education in the Lexington Seminar,” in Theological Education, Vol. 48, 2013, No. 1, pp. 69-89.

“A new culture of learning: Implications of digital culture for communities of faith,” in
Communication Research Trends, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2013, pp. 13-20.

“The pastoral practice of Christian hospitality as presence in Muslim-Christian engagement: Contextualizing the classroom,” in Theological Education, Vol. 47, No. 2, 2013, pp. 7-12.

“Mirror neurons, the development of empathy, and digital storytelling,” Religious Education, Vol. 107, No. 4, July-September 2012, pp. 401-414.

“Life on screen and other musings on faith, food and media,” Word & World, Vol. 32, No. 3, Summer 2012, pp. 252-258.

“Learning religion and religiously learning amid global cultural flows,” Religious Education, Vol. 106, No. 4, July-September 2011, pp. 360-377.

“Learning religion and religiously learning: Musings on a theme,” Religious Education, Vol. 105, No. 3, May-June 2010, pp. 234-237.

“What difference does it make? E-learning and faith community,” Word & World, Vol. 30, No. 3, Summer 2010, pp. 281 – 290.

“Resisting the human need for enemies, or what would Harry Potter do?,” Word & World, Vol. 28,
No. 1, Winter 2008, pp. 47 – 56.

“From Crawfordsville to Saint Paul: Promoting reflections on teaching and learning as part of a seminary's institutional culture,” with David J. Lose and Matthew L. Skinner, Teaching Theology and Religion, Vol. 10, No. 3, July 2007, pp. 178-179.

“What difference does it make? Digital technology in the theological classroom,” Theological Education, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2006, pp. 77-91.

“Possible new futures for our journal on the world wide web,” Religious Education, Vol. 100, No. 1, Winter 2005, pp. 78-88.

“Better off for all that we let in: Being Catholic while teaching at a Lutheran Seminary,” Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture, Vol. 39, No. 3, Fall 2004, pp. 441-451.

“Transforming traditions: Taking popular culture seriously in religious education,” Religious Education, Vol. 99, No. 1, Winter 2004, pp. 1-9.

“Marriage on TV,” Word & World. Vol. XXIII, No. 1, Winter 2003, pp. 48-56.

“All that we can’t leave behind: Pedagogy and theology in cyberspace,” Teaching Theology and Religion. Vo. 5, No. 1, February 2002, pp. 30-38.

“Collaborating with people to study ‘the popular’: Implementing participatory action research strategies in religious education,” Religious Education, Vol. 96, No. 3, Summer 2001, pp. 271-293.

“From trucks carrying messages to ritualized identities: Implications of the postmodern paradigm shift in media studies for religious educators,” Religious Education, Vol. 94, No. 3, Summer 1999, pp. 273-288.

“White religious educators and unlearning racism: can we find a way?” Religious Education, Vol. 93, No. 1, Winter 1998, pp. 114-129.

Chapters in multi-author books:

“Theme-centered interaction: Intersections with reflective practice in North American religious contexts,” in Theme-Centered Interaction in Higher Education: A Didactic Approach for Sustainable and Living Learning, edited by Sylke Meyerhuber, Helmut Reiser, Matthias Scharer, Springer, 2019.

“Storying faith: The promises and contradictions of new media in Catholic religious education,” in M. T. Buchanan and A.-M. Gellel (eds.), Global Perspectives on Catholic Religious Education in Schools, Springer, 2019.

“Using digital media and storytelling to unearth racism and galvanize action,” in Teaching Race: How to Help Students Unmask and Challenge Racism, edited by Stephen D. Brookfield, Jossey-Bass, 2018.

“Pursuing racial justice in the US: What religious educators need to learn from the
#blacklivesmatter movement,” in Values, Human Rights, and Religious Education, edited by Jeff Astley, Leslie J. Francis, and David Lankshear, Peter Lang, 2018, pp. 1-17.

“Learning practices for people of faith,” in United Against Racism: Churches for Change, edited by The National Council of Churches of Christ. Friendship Press, 2018, pp. 140-147.

“Gameful learning and theological understanding: New cultures of learning in communities of faith,” in Authority and Leadership. Values, Religion, Media, edited by Míriam Díez Bosch, Paul Soukup S. J., Josep Lluís Micó Sanz, Daniella Zsupan-Jerome. Blanquerna School of Communication and International Relations Facultat de Comunicació i Relacions Internacionals Blanquerna, 2017.

“Designing Curricular Approaches for Interfaith Competency or Why Does Learning How to Live in a “Community of Communities” Matter?,” in Teaching for a Multifaith World, edited by Eleazar Fernandez, Pickwick, 2017.

“Teaching and learning comparative theology with millennial students,” in Comparative Theology in the Millennial Classroom, edited by Mara Brecht and Reid B. Locklin, Routledge, 2016.

Entries on “Mary Boys,” “Hill Monastic and Manuscript Library,” and “St. John’s Bible” in the Encyclopedia of Christian Education, edited by George Kurian and Mark Lamport, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Interreligious Learning and Teaching: A Christian Rationale for Transformative Praxis, by Kristin Largen with Mary E. Hess and Christy Lohr Sapp, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014.

“Digital storytelling: Empowering feminist and womanist faith formation with young women,” in Media, Religion and Gender, edited by Mia Lövheim, Routledge, 2013, pp. 169-182.

“Media ethics and religion,” in Religion and Ethics, edited by Paul Myhre, St. Mary’s Press, 2013, pp. 48-64.

“Learning the Bible in the 21st century: Lessons from Harry Potter and vampires,” in Teaching the Bible in the Parish (and Beyond), edited by Laurie Jungling. Minneapolis, MN: Lutheran University Press, 2011.

“Preface,” in Common Worship in Theological Education, edited by Todd E. Johnson and Siobhan Garrigan. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010.

“From ICT to TCI: Communicative theology(ies), pedagogy and web 2.0,” in Kommunikative Theologie: Zugänge – Auseinandersetzungen – Ausdifferenzierungen, edited by Matthias Scharer, Bradford E. Hinze, and Bernd Jochen Hilberath. Wien: Lit Verlag GmbH & Co., 2010, pp. 130 – 149.

“Responding to the challenges of religious storying in a digital age: Building new opportunities through” in Erzählen - Reflexionen im Zeitalter der Digitalisierung / Storytelling – Reflections in the Age of Digitalization, herausgegeben von Yvonne Gächter, Heike Ortner, Claudia Schwarz und Andreas Wiesinger, unter Mitarbeit von Christine Engel, Theo Hug, Stefan Neuhaus und Thomas Schröder. Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press, 2008, pp. 112-126.

“Listening and learning to teach in theological contexts: An appreciative inquiry model,” in Revitalizing Practice: Collaborative Models for Theological Faculties, edited by Malcolm Warford. New York: Peter Lang, 2008, pp. 67-97.

“Go and make learners! Supporting transformation in education and evangelism,” in Christian Education as Evangelism, edited by Norma Cook Everist. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007, pp. 101-111.

“Media literacy,” in the Encyclopedia of Religion, Communication and Media, edited by Daniel A. Stout. New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 245 – 250.

“L’éducation religieuse dans le contexte de la culture médiatique: la pratique de l’imagination,” in Témoigner de sa foi, dans les médias, aujourd’hui, sous la direction de Guy Marchessault, Ottawa: Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 2005, pp. 351-371.

"Growing faithful children in media cultures,” in The Ministry of Children’s Education, Professors of Christian Education at the ELCA Seminaries, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004, pp 126-150.

“The Bible and popular culture: Engaging sacred text in a world of ‘others,’” in New Paradigms in Bible Study, edited by Robert Fowler, Edith Blumhofer, and Fernando Segovia, New York: T &TClark International, 2004, pp. 209-226.

“Practicing attention in media culture,” in Mediating Religion: Conversations in Media, Religion and Culture, edited by Jolyon Mitchell and Sophia Marriage, New York: T&T Clark/Continuum,2003, pp. 133-142.

“Rich treasure in jars of clay,” in The Conviction of Things Not Seen: Worship and Ministry in the 21st Century, edited by Todd E. Johnson. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002, pp. 123-140.

“Media literacy as a support for the development of a responsible imagination in religious community,” in Religion and Popular Culture: Studies on the Interaction of Worldviews, edited by Daniel Stout and Judith Buddenbaum. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 2001, pp. 289-311.

Awards, Honors, and Grants

2011 / Established Scholar Research Award Honorable Mention, “Digital Storytelling as a Form of Faith Formation,” National Association for Media Literacy Education

2005 – 2008 / Lexington Seminar Academic Leadership Mentoring Project (one of four faculty chosen from across the ATS, the only woman among them)

1999 / Felton Media Literacy Scholar

1995 / Doctoral Student Prize / APPRE

1985 / Fenmore Seton Award, Yale University

2014 – 2015 / Wabash Center / Developing Your Craft: Creativity in the Formation of the Religious Education Scholar

2014-2015 / Wabash Center / Mindfulness as a Pedagogical Resource for Mid Career Scholars

2011 – 2012 / Association of Theological Schools / Christian Hospitality and Pastoral Practices in a Multifaith Society

2011 – 2012 / Wabash Center / Deepening Our Work Together: How New Theological Work Should/Could Reshape Our Pedagogies with Regard to Engaging Racism

2009 – 2010 / AAR&Luce / Seminar in Theologies of Religious Pluralism and Comparative Theology

2006 / An anonymous foundation / Open Source Religious Resources: Part two

2005 / An anonymous foundation / Open Source Religious Resources: Part one

2004 – 2006 / Wabash Center / The Seminary as Teaching Apostolate

2001 / Lilly Endowment / Faculty Technology Grant

1997 – 1999 / An anonymous foundation / Religious Education and the Challenge of Media Culture


2019 – present /Member / Editorial Board, Journal of Religious Education (Australian Catholic University)

2018 - present / Member / Faculty Development Advisory Committee, Association of Theological Schools

2014 – present / Networking Coordinator / REA:APPRRE

2012 – present / Associate Member / International Seminar on Religious Education and Values

2012 - 2017 / Member / Publications Board / Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion

2010 - 2011 / President / REA:APPRRE

2009 – 2010 / Director / Pre-Tenure Workshop for Theological School Faculty / Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion

2008 – present / Consultant / Wabash Center

2003 – 2005 / Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Religious Leadership

2002 – present / Member / Editorial Board, Religious Education

2001 – present / Member / Editorial Board, Journal of Media and Religion

2001 – 2006 / Member / Editorial Board, Journal of Lutheran Ethics

2000 – 2003 / Member / Executive Board of APPRE

1998 – present / Member / Catholic Theological Society of America

1997 - 2005 / Member / International Study Commission on Media, Religion and Culture

1996 – present / Member / Religious Education Association