Interview: Mia Theocharis

School/Institution:

University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto 

Areas of Interest/Research:

Historical Theology, Jewish-Christian Relations

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I love piecing together the historical narrative of Jewish-Christian relations because it allows me to fully understand the relationship between both faiths in our present context. I’m a strong believer in the importance of studying the past because it can teach us a lot about the present. It would be difficult to comprehend the theologically complex relationship between Jews and Christians today without an understanding of the 2,000-year-old history both religions share. Through this, I am able to come to terms with the present struggles and issues standing in the way of further strengthening the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Furthermore, I love seeing how history informs theology and how theology informs history.

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

One “big idea” of my scholarship is that we need to move away from fulfillment language when discussing the covenants. In 2015, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued a document entitled, “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable (Rom 11:29),” which reiterates the theological points made in Nostra aetate, article four and emphasizes again that God’s covenant with Jews is valid and has not replaced the new covenant in Christ. However, the document goes one step further by asserting that although the new covenant in Christ does not revoke the old covenants, it does bring them to fulfillment

Fulfillment language is used as a way of relating Israel’s saving covenantal life to Jesus Christ but in doing so, poses theological difficulties because it is kindred to replacement theology – in other words, supersessionism. This puts in jeopardy the relationship between Judaism and Christianity because it creates an environment where the sides are never equal. Today, the goal of Jewish-Christian relations must be to present the covenants as complementary rather than as one being fulfilled by the other. 

What is your current research about?

My current research focuses on the 19th to 21st century with special attention to the Holocaust. I am interested in the encounter between Judaism and Christianity within the context of the Second World War (before and after), considering especially the history of Christian anti-Judaism and the fundamental revision of Catholic theology following the Holocaust. This revision can be found in the Second Vatican Council’s document Nostra aetate — the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions.” In Article 4, Nostra aetate repudiates the anti-Judaic claims of “deicide” and “supersessionism.” 

My current research aims to 1) contribute to the historical narrative of Jewish-Christian relations by bringing new voices into the current and wider discussion; 2) highlight the theological issues that stand in the way of further strengthening the relationship between Judaism and Christianity; 3) inspire a deeper understanding of the importance of interreligious dialogue and religious pluralism in our world today; and 4) bring awareness to the history of both anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism within the broader context of religion, theology and history and the more focused context of the Holocaust. I hope my research can aid in the fight against anti-racism and anti-Semitism, particularly within the Canadian context but also globally. 

Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?

One of my academic heroes is Jewish historian, Jules Isaac. The direct origin of Vatican II’s revolutionary document Nostra aetate can be linked to June 13, 1960, when Isaac met with Pope John XXIII. During the Holocaust, Isaac lost his wife, daughter and son-in-law to Auschwitz. Distressed by the persecution of the Jewish race, he dedicated the rest of his life to dissolving Christianity of its anti-Semitic tradition. 

In 1948, Isaac published his pioneering work Jésus et Israël which did what no study had done before, it showed how contempt for the Jewish people and the vilification of Judaism was closely linked to the New Testament. In his meeting with John XXIII, Isaac hoped that the upcoming ecumenical council might address the relationship between the Church and Jews, specifically discussing deicide and supersessionism (Nostra aetate successfully repudiates both these claims). I admire Isaac for many reasons but I admire him most for his heart and compassion. Following the Holocaust, he dedicated the rest of his life to fighting against hate and bigotry, all while carrying the loss of his family with him. He was a monumental figure in changing the way the Catholic Church saw themselves in relation to Judaism.  

What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?

So many to choose from! A few that come straight to mind are: Night by Elie WieselIntroduction to Jewish-Christian Relations by Edward KesslerFaith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism by Rosemary Radford RuetherThe Star of Redemption by Franz RosenzweigThe Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah ArendtThe Female Face of God in Auschwitz by Melissa Raphael; and Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity During the Holocaust by Victoria J. Barnett

These books were so important to me because they taught me something new about my field of research while also making me realize what little I actually knew about anything at all. I think there is a false perception that people in doctoral programs believe they “know everything,” when in reality it is the complete opposite. These books humbled me in a way I never knew was possible while simultaneously lighting a fire in me to discover more. 

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

I have an upcoming publication entitled, “Jewish-Catholic Relations: The Issue of Fulfillment,” that should be coming out this spring through Saeculum Undergraduate Academic Journal. I will post it on my social media accounts once it becomes available.

Where can we follow you online?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/miatheocharis?lang=en

Academia: https://utoronto.academia.edu/MiaTheocharis

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mia-theocharis-877b7b171/?originalSubdomain=ca

If we ran into you at a conference and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

Definitely travelling! I’m always curious to know what countries people are dying to visit and any recommendations about places they’ve already been to. 

What research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

I’m currently working on my thesis prospectus and bibliography as I prepare to take my general examinations this spring. Although the thought of taking exams brings back undergraduate test-anxiety, I’m excited to spend time reading and becoming better acquainted with the literature in my field! 

>> Thank you so much, Mia, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.


Are you a PhD student or Early Career Researcher working in Religion or Biblical Studies? If so, we’d like to hear from you. This website is dedicated solely to interviewing PhD students and ECRs on who they are, what they love about their work, and what has inspired them. If you’d like to be interviewed, head over to the Contact page and fill out the form. There’s no catch. Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a virtue.

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