Traversing faith, religion, and research with Dr. Fides del Castillo

Dr. Fides del Castillo is the first Asian to receive the Lamin Sanneh Research Grant, which recognizes her mission to understand diverse expressions of faith.

Embedded in almost every Lasallian are the values of the spirit of faith, zeal for service, and communion in mission. These values can be traced back to the University’s patron, St. John Baptist de La Salle, and his brothers’ commitment to providing academic and spiritual education to the youth, especially those who have been pushed to the margins of their communities. 

These core values have guided countless individuals toward fulfilling their calling in life and holistically uplifting the human condition. Among them is Dr. Fides del Castillo, who in the past year was recently awarded the Lamin Sanneh Research Grant by the Overseas Ministries Studies Center at Princeton Theological Seminary for her pioneering work in mission studies, World Christianity, and intercultural theology titled Laylayan Theology: Lived Religion of Christian Migrant Workers in Asia, making her the first Asian to be conferred the grant.

Now an accomplished academic and educator from the Department of Theology and Religious Education, del Castillo shares with The LaSallian her story and the lessons from her spiritual and vocational journey. 

A chronicle of faith

Much like St. La Salle, del Castillo initially did not see herself pursuing a career as an academic and educator. After high school, she entered a convent to take up a degree in religious education, which was the only available program at the time. Two years later, she left the convent and finished with a degree in secondary education, majoring in religious education at Don Bosco College. 

Upon her graduation and the advice of her mentor, she took her master’s degree at Ateneo de Manila University and eventually found herself at DLSU, taking her doctorate in values education and religious education. Del Castillo reflects on the journey, “God will always find a way, and God will lead you to the right path.”

Furthering her education, she pursued her adult faith formation studies at Fordham University. Del Castillo quotes Newton on the significance of widening one’s perspectives: “Having studied in great institutions would really allow you to widen your perspective. We’re very fortunate that…we have [stood] on the shoulders of giants. We are actually seeing through the lens of the mentors of our professors.”

Throughout her academic and vast professional journey, del Castillo often cites her mentors and peers as key sources of inspiration and advice for her practice. As someone who has held high-ranking positions, she reminds everyone to remain humble, cherish building relationships, and be open to different perspectives and cultures, emphasizing good character as the most important value to have.

The noble pursuit of vocation

Fueled by her philosophy of amplifying the voices of the marginalized, del Castillo shares that her mission has always been rooted in teaching humanities and theology. “For some, [theology] is a minor subject, always secondary in line, but my mission is to show the community that humanities, particularly theology, is the core of what we actually do.” This belief has led her to develop Laylayan Theology in 2022. Based on the Filipino concept of “laylayan,” or the margins of society, del Castillo’s research aimed to highlight the faith and mission of indigenous Christian youths and Filipina Christian leaders. 

While del Castillo has undoubtedly polished her expertise in a field that unites the diverse topics of theology, humanities, and education, she admits that she once questioned her place when she had just started getting involved in the mission. Knowing that she would have to choose a specialization for her studies, she started exploring various mission studies before ultimately deciding to merge religion, health, and spirituality. 

When asked how she performs the multifaceted work, she responds that although incorporating different fields in her research often requires a variety of methods, there is always a connection between the concrete and theoretical, and that they collectively help her provide better theological explanations in her studies. 

Empowering voices

In a time where communities are plagued with social injustices, poverty, and oppression, the ability to make a difference is met with great difficulty, especially for those from the fringes of society. Noticing the need for representation, del Castillo lends her ear to listen and uplift their voices in her grant-winning paper.

Her exploration of the religious ideas and beliefs of marginalized Filipino Christians goes beyond conventional theology and transforms its perception. In her paper, she builds upon how theology, specifically Laylayan Theology, can be more than dogmatic doctrines and Bible scriptures: “a theology that proceeds from the people and goes back to the people, a theology that contains the people’s lives, experiences, and struggles”—in other words, theology by the people and for the people.

However, her pioneering work was not an easy feat. Among her challenges was finding and connecting with people who were willing to share stories and ensuring that their voices were accurately heard. “Another challenge lies in ensuring that the voices of the participants are faithfully and transparently conveyed to the community, devoid of any biases or distortions,” she adds. Through the difficulty, she remarks that it required genuine dedication to effectively represent their perspectives and experiences.

With the Lamin Sanneh Research Grant, she has expanded her research on the lived religion of Filipino Christian Migrant Workers in Asia and highlighted their journey as they navigate multicultural communities as Christians. “Through the Laylayan Theology, one can rediscover the witnessing of the faith of the people who try to find God, holding onto their Christian beliefs and practicing their faith in ways that resonate with them,” del Castillo remarks.

A spiritual trailblazer of the present

As a religious educator, del Castillo takes inspiration from the words of St. Anselm of Canterbury: “faith, seeking, understanding,” which drive her to continue her work of interpreting faith not from the doctrine, but from the perspective of the people. This is precisely why she believes that generalizing the current state of theology in the Philippines, wherein some describe a “weakening of the faith” among the youth, is simply not possible. “It does not mean that the faith is not there anymore, but rather, it is another form of spirituality,” she proclaims. 

In an effort to improve the scope and research of religious studies in the Philippines, del Castillo also suggests improving the religious education curriculum using participatory pedagogy, where the voices of the students must be considered and heard. As recipients, they must be engaged in the teaching and learning experience in the classroom. Moreover, research on religion and spirituality in relation to mental health may be considered.   

As an educator and researcher, del Castillo’s advice to those aspiring to follow in her footsteps is simple: “Be faithful to your vocation, your ministry, and your calling to serve God.” With her voice now heard, it is now others’ voices she seeks to find so that they, too, may find their place in the world where they belong.

Shanti Tomaneng

By Shanti Tomaneng

Linus Carl Perdon

By Linus Carl Perdon

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