We’re All Agents of Transformation

July 21, 2022

Many of us live with a sometimes overwhelming sense of the world’s fragility—a deep concern that the world and its peoples are vulnerable to increasing instability. We wonder how we might help solve the complex challenges facing our local and global communities. We wonder about the roles we might play in advancing healing, solution-finding, and shalom. What foundation shall we base our work—or vocations—upon? Individually and collectively, how might we advance God’s good kingdom and, in the process, disrupt defeatist narratives? These types of questions propelled our design of the Agents of Transformation conference.

Agents of Transformation is premised on the idea that we each have agency as people made in the image of a loving God who is continually working to redeem and restore what is broken. As God’s people, we are each equipped and beckoned to move forward as co-laborers in all fields of human endeavor. We are scripturally exhorted to “go forth,” empowered by the Spirit and wisdom.

At Upper House we audaciously believe that our decisions and actions, collectively and individually, can indeed have positive impacts in every field—from urban development to environmental research to artificial intelligence to cryptocurrency to law to education to engineering. Wherever we work, our decisions and actions can heighten, attenuate, or resolve problems and bring healing. This interdisciplinary gathering recognizes and celebrates this reality. Scholars and local leaders will address critical ideas, culture, vocation, vision, and Christian theology. We will participate in a workshop about our unique forms of agency, deepen in resolve, and encourage one another to pursue our vocations with a view to their potential impacts and redemptive power.

If you desire to take some positive steps in the ways you pursue your vocation or exercise agency, take a day to consider your own agency with fresh eyes at Agents of Transformation. Invite a friend or colleague to join you—to continue the conversation and vision-building post-conference. From Wednesday night (July 27) through Thursday (July 28), you will find much to ponder and rejoice in. It may prove life- and community-changing.

Wednesday, July 27 

5:00 – 6:00 PM  I  Hors d’oeuvres and Conversation (Upper House Great Hall)

6:00 – 7:15 PM  I  Angel Adams Parham  I  Remembrance: Memory, Justice, and the Hope of Reconciliation 

Thursday, July 28

8:30 – 8:45 AM  I  Gather at Upper House (Great Hall)

8:45 – 9:00 AM  I  Welcome and Introduction

9:00 – 10:00 AM  I  J. Richard Middleton  I  Calling: Being Human in a Sacred World

10:00 – 10:15 AM  I  Break

10:15 – 12:30 PM  I  Agents in Medicine, Climate Change, Urban and Regional Planning, and Architecture (Presentations and Panel Discussion with Dr. Cindy Carlsson, Rick Lindroth, Kurt Paulsen, and Peter Tan)

12:30- 1:30 PM  I  Lunch

1:30- 4:15 PM  I  Vocation Workshop and Conversation with Steven Garber

5:00 PM – 6:00 PM  I  Dinner

6:00 – 7:15 PM  I  Steven Garber  I  Remembering Beijing, Bratislava, and Birmingham: Reflections on History, Being Human, and the Responsibility of the Proximate

7:15 – 7:45  I Coffee and Dessert

Plenary and Panel Presenters

Angel Adams Parham is 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 with 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, May 20, 2022.


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 program 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).


J. Richard Middleton is 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 coauthored 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.


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 Alzheimers, featuring Carlsson and other scientists at the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP), aired on PBS on April 6, 2022.


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.


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).


Peter Tan is Executive Vice President/Chief Design Officer for Strang, Inc., 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.