Betty Phifer Advanced Studies Sunday School Group

Betty Phifer

Betty Phifer was a social and political activist in Tallahassee, who taught religion at Florida State University. She founded the “Advanced Studies Class” and was its driving force until her premature death from cancer.  She requested that the class always be named Advanced because of the challenging curriculum that include works by authors such as early and contemporary  theologians, philosophers, and persons of other religious traditions. Her name was added to the class title after her death.

Learning Goals

We have two primary goals that are couched in the spirit of Christian love and activism: 
(a) to understand and explore ways to solve problems in the contemporary world while gaining insights from experts in various fields and/or from each other; and
 (b) to grow in service to—and in love for—God and our fellow human beings.

Curriculum and Current Study

Our curriculum includes four thematic areas from which we draw our studies: Prayer, Devotion, and Personal Relations to God: Theological/Biblical History and Issues; Social/Political/Practical Problems, Ecological Issues, Needs; and Inter-Faith Dialogues and Relations in an Increasingly Global Affairs Approached from a Christian Perspective.  

Current Study: The 7 Wisdom Books: An Introduction to the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha by Francis Brown

An overview of the wisdom literature of the Bible. Written for those who are new to the wisdom books as well as for those who want to refresh their memory. The Book of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Sirach) are all covered.

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Selected Studies for 2022-2024

Theme Title Author
Theme One: Prayer, Devotion, Personal Relations to God Secrets of God: Writings of Hildegard of Bingen Hildegard of Bingen
Theme One: Prayer, Devotion, Personal Relations to God The Difficult Words of Jesus Amy Jill Levine
Theme One: Prayer, Devotion, Personal Relations to God The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey Ilia Delia
Theme One: Prayer, Devotion, Personal Relations to God The Kingdom of God is Within You Leo Tolstoy
Theme Two: Theological/Biblical History and Issues The 7 Wisdom Books: An Introduction to the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha Francis Brown
Theme Two: Theological/Biblical History and Issues The Shaking of the Foundations Paul Tillich
Theme Two: Theological/Biblical History and Issues Accidental Theologians: Four Women Who Shaped Christianity Elizabeth A. Dreyer
Theme Two: Theological/Biblical History and Issues The Triumph of Christianity Bart Ehrman
Theme Three: Social/Political/Practical Problems, Ecological Issues, Needs, and Affairs Approached from a Christian Perspective Wilderness Essays John Muir
Theme Three: Social/Political/Practical Problems, Ecological Issues, Needs, and Affairs Approached from a Christian Perspective The Sacred Universe Thomas Berry
Theme Three: Social/Political/Practical Problems, Ecological Issues, Needs, and Affairs Approached from a Christian Perspective Moral Man and Immoral Society Reinhold Niebuhr
Theme Three: Social/Political/Practical Problems, Ecological Issues, Needs, and Affairs Approached from a Christian Perspective Reverence for Life: The Words of Albert Schweitzer Albert Schweitzer
Theme Four: Inter-Faith Dialogues and Relations in an Increasingly Global World I and Thou Martin Buber
Theme Four: Inter-Faith Dialogues and Relations in an Increasingly Global World The Story Of My Experiments With Truth Mahatma Gandhi
Theme Four: Inter-Faith Dialogues and Relations in an Increasingly Global World Living Buddha, Living Christ Thich Nhat Hanh
Theme Four: Inter-Faith Dialogues and Relations in an Increasingly Global World When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation Paula Fredriksen

General Info

We meet in room 307 at 9:45 a.m. on Sundays. We also connect with our travelers and others by means of Zoom.  During our COVIC hiatus, we made the change from shared leadership to weekly facilitation by Donald Crosby, professor emeritus in philosophy from Colorado State University. Don earned an M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary; a joint PhD from Columbia University and Union Seminary in New York; and a post-doc from Yale University. His area of research includes philosophy of religion and he also holds an undergraduate degree from Davidson College in classical languages.

Teaching and Learning Format

We encourage democratic participation by means of thoughtful, open, and honest dialogue. Because all class participants are considered valuable resources with unique perspectives and contributions, we encourage our members to think deeply, ask questions, and freely express their opinions based on careful reflection.  We support each other in striving to go beyond merely occupying a seat in class on Sunday mornings to being active and deeply thoughtful participants.

To see our Discussion Guidelines, please see below. 

Service Projects

Our service projects have included microfinancing through KIVA, purchasing and assembling care bags for our friends who are homeless, and providing financial assistance to Guardian ad Litem.

Discussion Guidelines

1.     We open with prayer to center us.
2.     We use respectful language in a safe and loving atmosphere.
3.     We offer all participants equal opportunities to speak.
4.     We welcome thoughtful and respectful disagreement; each person is a valued and vital resource.
5.     We give each study our time and earnest attention.
6.     We close with a prayer to affirm our place in God’s presence.

Contact Pam Crosby, class admin., for more info.