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Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan

Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan Transforms Grief with New Book

A literal sign from God led her to Shaw in 2004. Now, Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan is using her position at Shaw University to train Divinity students, stand for justice, and challenge her students’ thinking and writing. Her new book of poems, Baptized Rage, Transformed Grief, I Got Through, So Can You, is a project that’s been years in the making.

Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan’s career has brought her many places. The Louisiana native moved to New York after grad school in Austin, Texas to pursue her passion for music. Her promising career had her playing gigs in Carnegie Hall before she decided to move to Texas to be with her husband. Her love for her husband not only took her on a physical journey to Texas, but an emotional one as well. Her husband’s battle with memory loss due to an allergic reaction to medication and recovery, and his eventual death would inspire much of her rage – and much of her poetry.

Now, she hopes she can use her story to inspire others. After all, her life’s work has been about empowering the less privileged – whether through music, poetry, scholarly work, or the Bible. As a professor of Religion and Director of Women’s Studies at the Divinity School, she has the opportunity to do all of the above.

“I look at wherever I can help empower people – women’s studies, music, issues of justice, the Bible and violence,” says Kirk-Duggan. “The questions I always ask myself are how do you liberate people? How do you empower them?”

During her time in Texas, Dr. Kirk-Duggan found her calling in the ministry, earning a theology degree from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary before earning her PhD in religious studies from Baylor. After a brief stint as a faculty member at Meredith College in Raleigh, she accepted a role as executive director for the Center for Women and Religion and core doctoral faculty, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

That would be her last stop before finding her home at Shaw.

“A position came open at the Divinity School and one of my Berkeley colleagues said, ‘this position at Shaw has your name all over it.’ So I did the interview, they offered the position and I decided to think about it.”

Dr. Kirk-Duggan left the interview unsure of what she would decide. She received an unmistakable sign while riding through rural Georgia on her way to the Atlanta airport after completing a stint as theologian in residence in Tennessee.

“I said, ‘okay, God. The University needs to know if I’m coming or not. If I’m supposed to go to Shaw, then I need a sign,’” Kirk-Duggan recalls praying. “As we’re driving down the road in this van, there wasn’t much out there besides pine trees, but there was this huge metal sign that must’ve been 100 feet tall. It only had four letters – S-H-A-W.”

Dr. Kirk-Duggan knew immediately where God wanted her.

As Professor of Religion and Director of Women’s Studies, Kirk-Duggan has the opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary academic interests. She’s written extensively about the crossroads of religion and other subjects, including violence, gender, theology, ethics, faith and health, scripture, music, grief, race, and social justice.

“When it comes to scholarship and working with students, faculty and staff, I see myself as an intellectual instigator,” she says. “My job is to help people ask the critical questions, become better thinkers, and better writers.”

Dr. Kirk-Duggan’s latest book is just one example of the many ways she tries to reach people dealing with serious issues. She believes that poetry is a creative and expressive way of dealing with emotions around grief and loss.

“I’m doing a lot of work these days on helping people deal with trauma, and loss around grief,” says Kirk-Duggan. “The book is about how it’s okay to be angry, including angry with God. How do I process this anger so it does not cause me to self-destruct or that I destroy other people? That’s my prayer for everyone.”

Kirk-Duggan also wants people to know it’s okay to seek help and not suppress grief.

“I want people to understand grief is real, it needs to be processed, and people should not be ashamed of having to go through it. It needs to happen. It’s not going to be fun, but in the process of going through it, you can come out on the other side.”

Pools of water
Strewn about the cosmos
Are life-giving or life denying
Appreciating or tainting
the aesthetics of responsible love
Dispelled when grief and anger abound.
Weighty tears, falling
Filling the puddles
as they swell to become rivers

From ‘Fiery Puddles,’ a poem from Baptized Rage, Transformed Grief, I Got Through, So Can You.