The Reverend Dr. J. Paul Rajashekar, Luther D. Reed Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Asian Theological Summer Institute (ATSI) at ULS, will retire from full time teaching on December 31. He will continue to direct ATSI and teach part time. Dr. Rajashekar has taught at ULS since 1991 and served as Dean of Faculty (LTSP 2000-2012). He was the first dean of Asian descent among ELCA seminaries.
Originally from India, Dr. Rajashekar served as pastor in South India and Iowa. He previously taught at The Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, Madras/Chenni, and the United Theological College, Bangalore, India. He also served as Executive Secretary for Theology, Lutheran World Federation, Geneva. He continues to serve as chair of the Asian Lutheran International Conference.
Earlier this year, Dr. Rajashekar secured a $400,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support the Asian Theological Summer Institute, an annual summer program held on the Philadelphia campus for PhD/ThD students of Asian heritage studying in North America. The three-year grant will enable the institute to grow by supporting costs for visiting faculty, development of a research data base and student field research. The ATSI, founded by Dr. Rajashekar in 2007, is the only mentoring program for PhD/ThD students of Asian heritage studying in North America.
The ATSI is an annual event designed to nurture the next generation of Asian and Asian American scholars and theologians for the church and theological education. It brings together distinguished Asian/Asian American scholars and theologians for a week-long seminar for doctoral students engaged in theological studies.
Since its inception, 227 doctoral students from 40 theological institutions in North America have completed the program, of which 70 percent have teaching positions in colleges, universities and seminaries in North America in addition to several countries throughout Asia. Others have pursued pastoral vocations or engaged in adjunct teaching.
Dr. Rajashekar has inspired students and colleagues alike. Dean Jayakiran Sebastian said of his colleague: “He is a brilliant teacher; an empathetic mentor; and a valued friend – Dr. Paul Rajashekar has been all this and more, ever since I was in the very first batch of students that he taught at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India, where he began his teaching career after completing his doctorate at the University of Iowa. Down the years, I have greatly appreciated his passion for transformative theological education that has been forged through his commitment to the rich legacy of the Reformation within the ongoing life of the church in contexts that may seem disparate one from the other but are all rich soil that can be spread around to empower flourishing relationships through intercultural, inter-ecclesial, and interfaith interaction.”
Virginia Bannister (MDiv) said "Dr. Rajashekar’s class impacted me more than any other class I have taken at both Union and ULS. Not to in any way infer that my other classes were not impactful, but Dr. Rajashekar brought knowledge, wisdom and yes some good laughs to the class. He challenged me and made me think. I hung onto his every word. I still talk about it (and actually shed a tear of gratitude) when we concluded. My ministry has changed because of the knowledge he imparted. I thank God I was gifted the opportunity to learn under him."
Daniel Smith (ULS '18) and first year STM candidate wrote: "There are several things that have made Dr. Rajashekar stand out for me as a student: His decades of experience and accomplishment at multiple levels of interfaith dialogue and cooperation; his unflagging encouragement for his students to question and examine the basis of their beliefs and theological positions; and his kindness and interest in students’ lives apart from the classroom. Thank you so much, Dr. Rajashekar, for your service to the seminary, to global efforts for interfaith peace, and to the Church of Jesus Christ. Blessings and congratulations on your retirement! You’ll be missed!"
Dr. Man-Hei Yip, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Wartburg Theological Seminary and former student of Dr. Rajashekar, sent a thank you note upon hearing of his retirement:
“Dear Professor, Rajashekar:
Thank you for all the work you have done. You teach with heart and soul. Your support to students is heartening. Having you in my life opened my eyes to see religion, Christianity, and the world differently. Thank you for providing me with the nurturing space. I am inspired by your vision and motivation. Thank you for your patience, and your empathy when I needed help and guidance. I had the best Ph.D. advisor I could ever ask for. I am forever grateful. Wishing you all the best in the next stage of your life.”
Dr. Rajashekar is rostered in the NJ Synod of the ELCA and was elected a member of the ELCA Church Council, (2006-2010) and to the Commission on Accreditation, Association of Theological Schools (2006-2010). He has directed the Asian Theological Summer Institute since 2007, served as chair of the Asian Lutheran International Conference, is a member of the Consultative Panel for Lutheran-Muslim Relations, ELCA, and serves as a consultant to the Interfaith Center in Philadelphia. In addition to teaching courses in Systematic Theology, Luther and Reformation Theologies, his expertise is in Theology of Religions, Interfaith Dialogue, Christian Ecumenism, World Mission, Scriptures of the World, Cross-cultural studies and Asian/Asian American studies.
Dr. Rajashekar is author and editor of several books and numerous essays on Luther, Religious Pluralism, New Religious Movements, Islam in Asia and Africa, Asian/Asian American Theology and Interfaith Dialogue. His most recent publication is Luther's Small Catechism, An Exposition of the Christian Faith in Asian Context and Cultures (ed. Paul Rajashekar). Other publications include, Abundant Harvest, Stories of Asian Lutherans (compiled with Edmund Yee); “Luther as a Resource of Dialogue with Other Religions,” eds. Robert Kolb, et. al. Oxford Handbook for Martin Luther’s Theology (Oxford University Press); “Our God and Their God: A Relational Theology of Religious Pluralism," ed. Carol LaHurd (Lutheran University Press); and, “The Dialectic of ‘Solas’ and ‘Simul’ in Martin Luther’s Theology of Religions” in Bangalore Theological Forum.
His wife, the Rev. Esther Rajashekar, has served several congregations in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod for over 20 years and is now retired. They have two adult children, Christopher, and Patricia, who are married, and four grandchildren.
Dr. Rajashekar earned a B.A. from University of Mysore, B.D. from United Theological College, Bangalore, S.T.M. from Concordia Seminary/Seminex and a Ph.D. from University of Iowa.