Elías Ortega

President, Professor of Religion, Ethics, and Leadership
Ph.D. (Magna Cum Laude), Princeton Theological Seminary
M.Div., Princeton Theological Seminary
B.A., Calvin College

“Because of my vocation as a theological educator and service as a lay leader, I believe that Unitarian Universalist theological education has a unique role to play.”

Dr. Elías Ortega is an interdisciplinary scholar who received his M.Div. and Ph.D. (Religion and Society, Magna Cum Laude) from Princeton Theological Seminary (2005, 2011). He also holds a B.A. in Communications Arts & Sciences and Philosophy and Religion from Calvin College. 

Prior to coming to Meadville Lombard Theological School, Dr. Ortega served as Associate Professor of Social Theory and Religious Ethics at Drew University Theological School. At Drew Theological, he served as Deans’ Council Chair, was a member of the Digital Humanities Advisory Committee, and the Title IX Committee. His primary teaching and research areas are Sociology of Religion, Religious Ethics, Cultural Sociology, Social Movements, Critical Theory, Africana Studies, Latinx Cultural Studies. In addition to teaching at Drew, he has also taught at Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt Divinity School, The College of New Jersey, and Mercer County Community College. In the American Academy of Religion, he serves on the Committee on the Status of Racial and Ethnic Minorities in the Profession, and on the Steering Committees for the Religion and Politics.  

In recent years, his denominational service included serving as a member of the UUA’s Commission on Institutional Change (2017-2020), and a term in the Religious Education Credentialing Committee (2016-2018). From 2015 to 2017, he served as a mentor in UUA’s Growing Racial Justice initiative, and during that same period was the Co-Chair of the UU Legislative Ministry of New Jersey’s Dismantling Racism Group. He also helped to launch the Drew Freedom School Initiative, a social justice program that provides training in non-violent resistance and community organizing. He has been a volunteer, provided strategic planning, and program support to various community organizations including the Student Outreach and Academic Reinforcement Program at Bethel AME in Morristown, NJ; New Jersey Parent Caucus, a mental health and juvenile justice advocacy group; and the Sila Maria Calderon Foundation. 

What is meaningful in your work for MLTS?

“As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe that effective religious leadership is in the service of the good news of our shared Seven Principles. Because of my vocation as a theological educator and service as a lay leader, I believe that Unitarian Universalist theological education has a unique role to play in a complex world demanding religious literacy, intercultural competency, administrative skills, fluency in communication styles and channels, and the ability to adapt to shifting demographics. UU theological education is most effective when it lives prophetically into what our Unitarian Universalist movement can offer to the world: to help reshape a broken world through the power of justice, equity, and compassion in our ways of being faithful to our sacred faith and with responsibility for one another.”

Follow Dr. Ortega's official presidential Facebook page and Instagram for his reflections and insights.


Below is an essay, "The Haunting of Lynching Spectacles: An Ethics of Response" by Elías Ortega-Aponte, from Chapter 7 of the book Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics, edited by Andrew Prevot and Vincent Lloyd (Orbis Books, 2017). Shared here with permission.