Christian ethicist to join SPA faculty as first Neely Visiting Professor in Religion and Public Policy


Mark J. Scarp

A specialist in Christian ethics from the Union Theological Seminary in New York City will join the ASU faculty in August as the first holder of a visiting professorship in religion and public policy, underwritten by the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona.

Colleen Wessel-McCoy will begin her work in August in the School of Public Affairs (SPA) in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions as the first Neely Visiting Professor of Religion and Public Policy. The one-year position was created from part of a grant the diocese received from the CW & Modene Neely Charitable Foundation.

Wessel-McCoy’s doctoral dissertation on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ministry and activism is the subject of a forthcoming book, “Freedom Church of the Poor: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.”

This fall she will begin teaching an online class titled, “Responding to COVID-19: Religion, Policy and Social Change,” which, according to the course description, “examines the impact of religious and community activism on policy responses, including anti-shutdown rallies, rent strikes and digital organizing.”

SPA Director Donald Siegel described Wessel-McCoy as “an outstanding scholar and practitioner” of her profession.

“We are delighted to have Colleen Wessel-McCoy join our faculty as our first Neely Visiting Professor of Religion and Public Policy,” Siegel said. “I encourage our students to take her exciting new online course on the impact of COVID-19 on religion, public policy and social change.” (The class is also offered to graduate students.)

Since 2018, Wessel-McCoy has been a lecturer in Christian ethics and field education at Union Theological Seminary, where she is also co-coordinator of poverty scholarship and leadership development at The Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice. This center is a convener of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, and Wessel-McCoy leads its student fellowship program.

Since 2019, she has been theologian in residence at Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Wessel-McCoy’s PhD and Master of Divinity degrees are from Union Theological Seminary. Her Bachelor of Arts degree is from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia.

Wessel-McCoy said she is grateful for what she called a “compelling and interesting opportunity” to serve as Neely Visiting Professor of Religion and Public Policy. She praised the teaching, research and resources at SPA and said she is looking forward to getting to know the students at Watts College.

“The current public health and economic crisis make this an important time to explore the relationship between religion and public policy. There is much to learn from the history of religion in times of turbulent change, and this moment is full of opportunities to study religious movements and influences on shifts in the public sphere,” she said.

“SPA's amazing faculty and students make it the ideal place to engage these questions. I'm excited that the position includes connecting religious communities with SPA and Watts College. There is real hunger for analysis and insight in these confusing times.”

Wessel-McCoy said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, she has featured speakers remotely addressing her classes and will continue to do so at ASU to provide her students with a variety of voices.

The Rev. Canon Richard Neely Morrison, co-founder of the ASU Morrison Institute of Public Policy that is also part of the Watts College, also served as director and president of the Neely Charitable Foundation. An Episcopal priest, Morrison is also an attorney who has taught water resources management as an associate faculty member at ASU’s Morrison School for Agribusiness, and agricultural law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law as an adjunct professor.  

Mark J. Scarp is media relations officer for ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.