Agents of Transformation

July 27, 2022

“Do you know that you are an agent endowed with the agency? You have a unique capacity to exercise meaningful action in today’s challenging world.

While local and global challenges often test the human resolve and Christian faith, they also reveal that our decisions and actions, collectively and individually, can have positive impacts. In every field of human endeavor—from urban development to environmental research to artificial intelligence to cryptocurrency to law to education to engineering—our decisions and actions can heighten, attenuate, or resolve problems and bring healing. They can be life-giving or deadly. As tempting as it is to underestimate our influence, greater freedom is found in embracing it—to grow in exercising our transformative agency.

The Agents of Transformation conference is an interdisciplinary gathering headlined by scholars and leaders who think deeply about work and its impacts. We will address critical ideas, hear from local leaders about their vocations and vision, consider Scripture, and explore in a workshop our unique forms of agency. Acknowledging God’s good purposes for the world, we will reflect on our personal vision, learn, be encouraged, and deepen in resolve to pursue our vocations with a view to their potential impacts and redemptive power.


Angel Adams Parham is an Associate Professor of Sociology and senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture (IASC) at the University of Virginia. She is the author of American Routes: Racial Palimpsests and the Transformation of Race (Oxford University Press, 2017), co-winner of the Social Science History Association’s Allan Sharlin Memorial book award (2018), and co-winner of the American Sociological Association’s Barrington Moore award in comparative-historical sociology (2018). She is also co-author of Anika Prather of The Black Intellectual Tradition: Reading Freedom in Classical Literature (July 2022) from Classical Academic Press. Her recent op-ed, “Don’t Cancel the Classics, Broaden and Diversify Them,” was published in The Wall Street Journal, on May 20, 2022.

Cynthia Carlsson is a faculty member of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology within the Department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also the Louis A. Holland, Sr., Endowed Professor in Alzheimer’s Disease and the director of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute; the Clinical Core leader and a co-leader for the Biomarker Core in the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center; and a recipient of a University of Wisconsin Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professorship. Dr. Carlsson is a member of the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging (NIH/NIA) Alzheimer’s Disease Centers Clinical Core Steering Committee and Clinical Task Force, and chairs several NIH/NIA research review committees. An independent NOVA documentary titled Determined: Fighting Alzheimer’s, featuring Carlsson and other scientists at the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP), aired on PBS on April 6, 2022.

Kurt Paulsen is a professor of urban planning in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. His teaching and research focus on housing, affordable housing finance and policy, land use, and municipal finance. In addition to his published academic research, he has authored two Dane County housing needs assessments, has chaired the City of Middleton Workforce Housing Committee, and does economic impact analysis research for WHEDA (Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority). He is most recently the author of “Falling Behind: Addressing Wisconsin’s workforce housing shortage to strengthen families, communities and our economy,” published by the Wisconsin Realtors Association. Professor Paulsen is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

Lea F. Schweitz  is an interdisciplinary theologian who earned her Ph.D. in philosophy of religion at the University of Chicago and a B.A. from Luther College in biology and philosophy. The co-founder of  Nature120, a nonprofit organization that provides nature play and airway therapy for children on Chicago’s west side, Lea is also the Director of Children’s Education for Yorkfield Presbyterian Church. Previously Lea spent more than a decade as the Director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science and as a tenured professor at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Currently, she is working on a book that reimagines urban nature as a locus for theological reflection and spiritual formation.

Peter Tan is Executive Vice President/Chief Design Officer for Strang, an award-winning integrated architecture, engineering, interior design, and planning firm. Peter’s client-focused design philosophy involves a commitment to thoughtful listening in order to create environments that reflect users’ needs and visions while responding to their context of time and place. As a LEED Accredited Professional, he is passionate about sustainable design and our collective responsibility as stewards of our planet and the public realm. He is the incoming Chair of the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) Board and has served on the Madison Urban Design Commission. Peter seeks to follow Jesus’ radical example of servant leadership in his life and work.

J. Richard Middleton is a professor of biblical worldview and exegesis at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. He is the author of Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God (Baker Academic, 2021); The Liberating Image (Brazos, 2005); and the award-winning A New Heaven and a New Earth (Baker Academic, 2014). He co-authored the bestsellers Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be and The Transforming Vision (1995 and 1984, respectively, IVP). He has served as president of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies and as president of the Canadian-American Theological Association.

Rick Lindroth is the Vilas Distinguished Achievement and Sorenson Professor and former Associate Dean for Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a broadly trained ecologist, with expertise in global change ecology (including climate change), biodiversity, plant-insect interactions, and plant chemical ecology. Rick has a personal interest in the interface of science and religious faith. He has authored over 200 publications, with support from the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Department of Energy. He has been a Fulbright Fellow and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America, and the Entomological Society of America. An April 16, 2022 article in the Washington Post, titled “To fight climate despair, this Christian ecologist says science isn’t enough,” features Lindroth and his insights about climate science, faith, and activating hope.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he has recently served as Professor of Marketplace Theology and Director of the Masters in Leadership, Theology, and Society at Regent College, Vancouver, BC. The author of several books, including Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP, 2014), his most recent book is The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work (IVP, 2020).