PhD candidate in Islamic Studies
Why did you choose to attend the University of Chicago Divinity School?
Initially, I chose the Divinity School in 2003 for my MA because of its reputation as one of the best places in the country to study religion, which it still is. My undergraduate experience was unique in that I was able to study and obtain degrees in both music performance and religious studies, and for this reason the interdisciplinary nature of the University of Chicago appealed to me. I chose the Divinity School again in 2006 when I returned for the PhD program not only for the continued quality and interdisciplinary nature of the school, but because at this point I knew I was particularly interested in studying with Professor Sells.
What is your area of study, and what is the focus of your current research?
I'm in the Islamic Studies area. My main research interest is in the various modes of meaning and possibilities for relationships therein in the written and recited text of the Qur'an. Just as the written text of the Qur'an generates its own possibilities for discursive meaning, such as literary, legal, or theological, the oral form of the text may also be understood as bearing varieties of nondiscursive meaning as it is recited, such as melodic or musical meaning, poetic rhythmic meaning such as that generated through rhyme or assonance. Most importantly, these two realms of meaning—discursive and nondiscursive—are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, they exist simultaneously when the text is recited. Of course, these relationships are by no means static; it is possible that at certain points the sound and the meanings of the words may live entirely separate lives, and this can of course vary between performances.
What are or have been the highlights of your academic work so far?
I am consistently inspired through my interactions with my colleagues in the Islamic Studies area. They are intellectually challenging, supportive, and kind. And although working on a PhD can oftentimes feel like an uphill battle, there are occasional moments when you can't help but notice how much you've changed over the course of the program. I can think of a few particularly affirming comments I've received on papers, but probably the most revelatory moment so far was when I traveled to Sana'a, Yemen, on a Provost's Summer Fellowship to study Arabic and Qur'an recitation for a summer. Although I've always been very good with languages, oral communication isn't exactly my strong suit. But when I got to Yemen I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was able to communicate perfectly well outside of the classroom. That was one of the most striking times when I was able to see how much progress I'd made.
Do you participate in any of the Council on Advanced Studies workshops (and if so, tell us a bit about that experience)?
I have participated in MEHAT (Middle Eastern History and Theory) and occasionally in Ethnoise! (Ethnomusicology) workshops. I presented for the MEHAT workshop while I was working on my MA, and this spring I'll be presenting a paper at their annual conference.
What experience (if any) have you had in teaching?
This is my second year working as a writing intern in the college humanities core. Working for the Writing Program has been a great way to start learning to teach, and spending so much time thinking about and teaching academic writing techniques has done wonders for my own writing. The University of Chicago undergraduates are incredible students; they're always challenging in all the right ways.
What activities do you participate in outside of the classroom? (community service, work, hobbies, etc.)
When I'm not working on my dissertation I am almost always making something with my hands. I love to cook, knit, and crochet. Just last year I started teaching crochet at a local yarn store, and that has proved to be a variety of teaching that is differently but equally challenging as teaching U of C undergraduates!
How do you like living in Chicago?
I love it, even in the winter! There's always a new place to explore and new food to try, and fortunately much of it is affordable on a graduate student budget.
What do you plan to do after you have completed your degree from the Divinity School?
When I first arrived at the Divinity School, I had my sights set on teaching undergraduates at a small liberal arts college much like the one I had previously attended. And while that is still a goal, I've come to see it as one of many possibilities. I began considering post-PhD careers outside of academia initially for practical reasons, having seen friends struggle so much with the academic job market in the last few years. Really, what is important to me is that I am able to both conduct research and be continually engaged with religious communities. These things are possible with a variety of careers, including in academia, non-profit organizations, and the federal government, and I'm open to work that suits my goals in any of these arenas.