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Religion Spotlight

Allison Asay Duvall: Building Relationships Around the World

“Because of my Transylvania education, I was the youngest person and one of two laypeople invited to join Episcopal bishops and high-ranking clergy to tour the Holy Land and study the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”

Allison Asay Duvall ’09 studied Greek with history professor Frank Russell while a student at Transylvania, never dreaming she would use those language skills regularly as part of her real-world job. Now, as the executive director of Reading Camp, a literacy program that is a secular ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, Duvall relies on her knowledge to compose sermons connecting the mission of Reading Camp to lectionary scripture readings.

Transylvania’s emphasis on developing strong writing skills also came in handy when she compiled a 190-page manual to guide groups in other countries who want to follow the Reading Camp model. As Duvall explains, “I would not be effective nor capable in my position were it not for my Transylvania education.”

While at Transylvania, Duvall traveled to Poland, Greece, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt during May terms and spent a term in Morocco. Those experiences gave her the cultural references and the confidence she needed to expand the Reading Camp program to sites around the world. In 2011, Duvall mentored a local leader in Tiko, Cameroon, and coordinated a team of three women from across the U.S. who traveled to Tiko and launched a Reading Camp program.

Duvall’s cultural focus extends beyond the Mideast and Africa. She has a keen interest in a more western art form: Irish dance. One year after graduating from Transylvania, Duvall qualified for the World Irish Dancing Championships in Dublin. She competed again in 2012 in Belfast, where she “used tools that I had gained from my Transylvania education, including resilience, healthy self-criticism, and confidence” to compete even more successfully.

While in Northern Ireland, Duvall learned first-hand how ethnic and religious conflicts she had studied at Transylvania are not limited to the Middle East. As Duvall explains, “The nationalism of the art form becomes shockingly apparent when you are in Northern Ireland. Most Irish dancers in Northern Ireland are Catholics/Republicans; you don't see many Protestants/Unionists doing Irish dancing.”

In 2013, Duvall passed her Irish dance teacher's certification exam. She is the first Lexington native to receive the certification (known as the TCRG or Teastas Coimisiun Le Rinci Gaelacha) through the Irish Dancing Commission in Dublin.

Duvall also serves as a deputy from the Diocese of Lexington to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the largest bicameral legislative body in the world. In that role she has drawn on her experiences in Israel and Palestine to speak to legislation coming before the church concerning boycott, divestment, sanctions against Israel, and other issues on Arab/Israeli peace. 

Some might question the value of a degree in religion after a student leaves the comfortable confines of a liberal arts college and begins pounding the pavement looking for employment. Duvall was able to find a position that is a perfect match for her interests and skills.

“I am proud to have received a Bachelor of Arts in religion from Transylvania, and to be able to apply what I studied at Transylvania to my lay ministry in the Episcopal Church.”

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