Kristy Nabhan-Warren
As a University of Iowa professor of religious studies, Kristy Nabhan-Warren feels the importance of her work most when she hears from the people involved with it.

Her book Cursillos in America was published in summer of 2013, and she still receives countless emails and calls from her readers. The book explores the way the Spanish Cursillo, or little course in Christianity, spread from Catholic Spain to American Christians of many denominations.

Recently, she received a call from Bob Franks, a man in Rock Island, Ill. asking her to be to the keynote speaker at the Lutheran Via de Cristo next July—a national meeting of a Lutheran branch of the Cursillo movement.

Nabhan-Warren also was contacted by email by Kathy Hodges, a Lutheran woman from Columbus, Ohio who will be the rectora, or head, of the women’s Cum Cristo Cursillo next November. Hodges ordered copies of Nabhan-Warren’s book and will be giving a signed copy to each cursilista, or graduate of the weekend Cursillo.

“What we do as humanity scholars really can make a difference to people. It can really validate them,” Nabhan-Warren said.

Nabhan-Warren’s favorite part of her research is talking to people—getting to know what motivates them, what they believe, and why.

“What really excites me is collecting stories and sharing my story with people,” Nabhan-Warren said.

Religion has always been something Nabhan-Warren was interested in. She grew up near Gary, Ind., the daughter of a Polish-Catholic mother who converted to the Lutheran faith when she married Nabhan-Warren’s father, facing resistance from her own family who thought she was abandoning her faith.

“She’s still very Catholic,” Nabhan-Warren said, describing her mother’s continued prayers to the Virgin Mary.

Influenced by these two sects of faith growing up, in her youth Nabhan-Warren wanted to become a pastor.

However, during her undergraduate work, she became enraptured with the philosophy of religion and decided to pursue the academic study of religion. She was particularly inspired by professor Robert Orsi, who studies popular Catholicism, how people practice their religion in their homes and backyards.

Nabhan-Warren’s current book is a study of Catholics in the Midwest. She describes her own Midwest home in Indiana as a melting pot, and she hopes to uncover the ways Latino, German, and Irish Catholics all interact with each other.

“I’m expecting to find different ethnic Catholic groups working together for a common goal,” Nabhan-Warren said. “That is what distinguishes Midwestern Catholicism. There’s really a Midwestern ethos of helping out. I’m hoping to find that, and I think I will find that too.”

Though Nabhan-Warren took a different path than that of a pastor, she believes she takes a pastoral approach in her classes through her interactions with students.

“I attempt to reach students where they are,” said Nabhan-Warren. “I counsel them, get their views, and hopefully make them feel better about their place in the world and encourage them to make a difference.”

Advice to young researchers: “Go with your gut. If something interests you, go for it. Don’t do a project that someone else wants you to do.”

If Nabhan-Warren was not a researcher, she would be a… midwife or a doula. She loves her three children and home birthed the second and third. She would one day love to write a book about the spiritual experience of giving birth.

“I feel very strongly about women and their partners having the freedom to birth in a safe environment of their choice,” Nabhan-Warren said.

Nabhan-Warren is currently reading… The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.

By Anne Easker