Certificate Student Feature: Derek Uejo

The Certificate in Theology and the Arts (CTA) offers M.Div., M.T.S., and Th.M. students firm grounding in the key theological loci and practices relevant to a lifetime’s engagement with the arts in the church, the university, and beyond.

Our certificate students come from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds and contribute meaningfully to the theology and arts community at Duke Divinity School. We are excited to share more about some of our students in our Certificate Feature Series, where we interview our students and alumni and hear about their experiences in the Certificate program and how it is has impacted their visions for vocation beyond DITA and Duke Divinity School.

Finding New Avenues of Exploration

Certificate in Theology and the Arts


Derek Uejo (M.Div. 2023) is a seminarian whose theological and pastoral interests converge at the intersection of academic study and artistic affection. He studied the great books tradition and political science at Biola University’s Torrey Honors College. He entered Duke Divinity as an M.T.S. Focus student but transitioned to the M.Div. when he felt called to pastoral ministry. During this transition, he entered the Certificate in Theology and the Arts program and has since found a home at DITA. He is deeply involved in the Duke Divinity community, pursuing a certificate with the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies and serving as the co-president of the Divinity Student Council, as an M.Div. representative for the curriculum committee, and as a program assistant for the undergraduate Asian American & Diaspora Studies department. He is also a clinical chaplain intern at Duke University Hospital. We are excited to share more about his experience at Duke Divinity below.


  1. What brought you to Duke Divinity and the Certificate in Theology and the Arts? Tell us a little bit about yourself prior to your time here at Duke Divinity.

    In college, I participated in a great books honors program that shaped my academic imagination in enduring ways. Although I studied political science as an undergrad, my real passion was for biblical and theological studies—so I took Greek and theology coursework. That oriented my post-graduation trajectory and initial interest in doing graduate work.

    I came to Duke Divinity as an M.T.S. Focus student, hoping to concentrate my work in New Testament Studies, especially in the Pauline epistles. I did not have a commitment to take Theology and the Arts coursework at Duke Divinity when I first arrived, although I thought it sounded interesting. Coming full circle, I realized that I wanted to ask architectural questions, that I was interested in how place and space influence us, and this slowly merged my interest in New Testament Studies with Theology and the Arts. But I was also growing interested in liturgical questions, and in the relationship between theology, poetry, and beauty. After taking Visual Art as Theology with Dr. Jonathan Anderson, I was all in on the Certificate. It was at this time that I was also transferring into the M.Div. program, with newfound questions surrounding ordination, as well as a desire to dive deeper into my relationships and coursework at Duke Divinity.

  2. How has the Certificate coursework shaped both your academic thinking and your art? Tell us a bit about your time here at DITA so far.

    DITA has been an incredible space for me to reflect upon both my academic work as well as my own creative practices. I’ve found interesting connections between the fields of theology, art history, visual studies, classics, and New Testament studies that apart from DITA faculty and coursework I’m not sure I would have wrestled with as thoughtfully or creatively.

    My time studying with Dr. Train challenged me to see the world through art—music, dance, poetry, and other creative outlets all have theological meaning and are conducive to theological imagining. Dr. David Morgan’s guidance in my directed study in art history was invaluable, guiding my thinking through the connection between temples, visuality, and how spaces and material culture form and inform us. I’m deeply grateful for the faculty involved with DITA and for my fellow students who have asked insightful questions and have dived into topics with both curiosity and respect. DITA coursework, content, and community have been a gift.

  3. Can you identify a critical moment thus far in the Certificate program that has clarified your academic thinking and theological affections? Perhaps a particular course or thinker has proved meaningful, or has there been a semester where your training has converged in a formative way?

    Taking Visual Art as Theology with Dr. Jonathan Anderson has shaped a great deal of my theological affections and my trajectory as a student at Duke Divinity. It’s hard to imagine my current research interests or the topics I am passionate about without his mentorship and support for me as a graduate student as well as the depth and breadth of his course. I came into Duke Divinity thinking in fairly conventional terms as a student. I wanted to study New Testament Studies in the traditional way, in the safe and well-paved ways that others had explored and already articulated. But taking Visual Art as Theology, I realized that my interdisciplinary curiosities were not a hindrance to me as a scholar; they were and are a strength. I am finding new avenues to explore, and even now, my final project for the Certificate program is largely the result of my pulling forward Visual Art as Theology in conversation with Dean Timothy Kimbrough’s Book of Common Prayer course. Working with Dr. Anderson has helped me construct new pathways between my faith tradition as an Anglican and my research interests as a seminarian.
  4. How has the interdisciplinary nature of the Certificate program affected your intellectual formation?

    DITA provides a space where people can imagine theologically and think creatively about artistic mediums, both ones that they practice and ones they do not practice. I’ve found that I’ve been shaped by the insights of faculty and peers who think deeply about the theological intersections with their given art medium and who have expanded my horizon of what theological inquiry and investigation might include or look like. I know that I am a more open-minded and constructive scholar because of the scope and focus of this program and have found that my capacity to ask nimble and nuanced questions has grown commensurate with my curiosity. DITA has blessed my intellectual formation, and I am grateful for all those who are a part of it and have contributed to it.
  5. What do you hope to do beyond your time at the Divinity School? Has the Certificate program equipped you for that vocation? Has it changed how you view your vocational journey?

    I am still considering several vocational avenues, including doctoral work, clinical chaplaincy, and ordained parish ministry. I feel equipped through my DITA coursework and community to explore my research interests, my pastoral presence, and my ministry through sustained curiosity and open-mindedness. The Certificate program has proven instrumental in the doctoral work I would hope to explore in a future program—but not only that, I think DITA lends itself to a way of inhabiting space and time. That has helped me to see quiet details in spaces, to be attentive to people, rooms, and environments, all of which has pastoral resonance. I think of my vocational future less as a finished product after I graduate but as a journey. My vocational journey, as I’ve come to realize, is not so set nor so simple that at any given moment it is all settled, once for all.

  6. At DITA, we strive to foster a supportive community of academics and artists from a variety of backgrounds and interests. What role have the arts played in helping you find community at the Divinity School? How has this community enriched your studies, sense of vocation, and formation?

    DITA gathers people from all sorts of backgrounds, not only in terms of artistic expression or a practiced medium but also in terms of life experience, stories, and vocational aspirations. In any given DITA class, there may be a future pastor, poet, professor, chaplain, or someone who wants to work in a non-profit. What DITA has helped me see is that beauty is everyone’s concern and is concerned with everyone. Finding shared interests or sometimes finding yourself passionately curious about someone else’s interests is a really beautiful thing and something that I think DITA fosters well. I know that there is so much out there that I could never be an expert in or might not entirely resonate with, but because the people that DITA draws are incredible, I have an interest in topics that I would otherwise probably not investigate or stumble upon. DITA has enriched my training as a seminarian and grown my ability to accompany others well.
  7. Would you encourage prospective students to pursue the Certificate in Theology and the Arts? What word of advice and support would you offer incoming students?

    Whether you are an artist or a theologian, or see yourself as both, I think the Certificate in Theology and the Arts is a space for you. When I came to Duke Divinity, I had no idea that I would find myself so involved in DITA, nor did I think that the Certificate really aligned with my academic interests or vocational aspirations. I am grateful that it has. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist and may even have a hard time calling yourself a theologian, I think there is room in the Certificate in Theology and the Arts for you. I hope you, whoever you might be, find that DITA can be and is a grace-saturated space. I know it has been such a space for me.