The 2010-11 Marty Center Junior Fellow Profiles
"What do you hope to accomplish this year as a Martin Marty Junior Fellow, and how does the MMC look as a place to do your work?"
The element I think I will appreciate most during my time as a Junior Fellow of the Marty Center is the challenge to articulate relevancy, both to the internal academic community, but especially externally to those without formal academic training. It is my hope that in this articulation the task of writing becomes more fluid, the end product stronger, and my professional development as an educator is enhanced. I am also very much looking forward to being challenged by a talented group of peers, to learning more about their projects, and to the mutual enrichment that will result. Over the course of the year, my immediate goal is to write two additional chapters, bringing the dissertation more or less to completion. As the dissertation examines the role of religion in democratic political life, the Marty Center should prove an ideal setting.
Elizabeth Sweeny Block, Ethics
“The Virtue of Conscience: Reclaiming the Significance of Freedom of Conscience for the Formation of Moral Identity”
I am so pleased to be a Martin Marty Junior Fellow and so grateful for the opportunity to learn from the varied perspectives of my colleagues. In particular, and in line with one of the program's main goals, I look forward to developing a greater ability to communicate theological ideas to a wide audience, both in the fellowship seminars and in the undergraduate course that I am teaching. In writing a dissertation on conscience and the labor of forming one's moral identity, I am eager to make my argument accessible to many and to incorporate interdisciplinary perspectives, and I anticipate that the conversations in the fellowship seminars will be instrumental in helping me to do this. Additionally, as I teach undergraduates new to theological ethics, my aim is to introduce them to the value of bringing religious resources to bear on moral problems. The Marty Center will provide a collegial environment in which to advance my project, to learn from the projects of others, and to articulate my research so that it is accessible to a diverse audience.
Having drafted the first half of my dissertation, which focuses on the theological ethics of H. Richard Niebuhr, I plan to write the first two chapters of the second half of my dissertation focusing on the pedagogical theory of Paulo Freire. One chapter will examine the progressive pedagogical theories of Rousseau and Dewey, and the other will examine the early humanist thought of Marx. This will lay the groundwork for my argument that Freire's thought is best read as a continuation of the progressive trend of pedagogical theory inflected by Marxist humanism.
I especially look forward to the interdisciplinary environment of the Martin Marty Center. Personally, I have found that great insights have struck me regarding my own project when I'm considering work that's not at all directly related to it. I have also found that writing a dissertation can be extremely isolating work, so I look forward to the company of other "dissertators."
Helen Findley, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
“Moveable Feast: The Place of Sekkyô in Meiji Buddhist Discourse”
During my time as a Marty Junior Fellow, I fully expect to complete my dissertation on modern Japanese Buddhist homiletic practice. My research on the ways in which Buddhist preaching activities were integrated into nineteenth-century Japanese social life through the organization of public events has led me to more carefully consider changing perceptions of religion’s role in modern society. In short, to what extent may we understand religion to function in modern society as a malleable discursive category capable of “legitimate entry” into a multitude of domains – from politics to education, from social reform to science – not just with respect to the rules and practices of the governing religious institutions themselves, but also within the prescribed limitations of public debate? How has religious speechmaking, in particular, contributed to the creation of a public consciousness? In answering these questions, I eagerly look forward to joining the rich intellectual environment fostered by the Marty Center, as well as the opportunity to further refine my own abilities in addressing diverse audiences.
Pierre-Julien Harter, Philosophy of Religions
“The Role of the Path in Gnoseology of the Abhisamayālamkāra Literature”
My research is quite isolated, even in my own field, so I hope that the Martin Marty Seminar will be a place where I will be able to “break the wall of specialization” to reach out to other students, professors, and non-specialists. As an apprentice-philosopher, it is my conviction that philosophical discourse should not belong exclusively to a small group of people with their own private language, understanding each other even before laying the problems and answers they provide. To be properly philosophical, a set of texts or ideas should possess some sort of (potential) universality which makes them accessible to any good-willing soul wanting to sustain a conversation on the subject. Hence I am looking forward to test the philosophical dimension of the texts I am working on by discussing them with the Fellows of the seminar.
I have been working on the Indo-Tibetan corpus of the Abhisamayālaṃkāra (The Ornament of Realizations), constituted by scholastic commentaries, ranging from the VIth century C.E. to the present day, which focus on the different stages of progress an individual makes on the Buddhist Path until one reaches Buddhahood. Parallel ideas of Path and progress can be found in several religious and philosophical traditions, and I hope other participants in the seminar can help me by providing elements of comparison. From a more general perspective, I believe that these texts can make us reflect upon the nature of learning and what knowledge can mean, questions that are deeply intertwined with the epistemological and soteriological frameworks of such intellectual traditions. But I think the richness of the seminar also lies in the part that is not directly related to my research, and I really look forward to listening to and discussing topics totally unrelated to my dissertation – a good scholar to be should never lose curiosity for matters that are not a part of one’s field!
I am returning to Chicago this Fall after a whole summer spent in Nepal working with Tibetan scholars on Tibetan commentaries and thanks to the major progress I made there, I expect that this year I will complete the technical chapters dealing specifically with the soteriological and cognitive structures of the Buddhist Path, as well as the more comparative chapters dealing with the notion of Path in other philosophical or religious traditions. I fully expect the seminar to facilitate the back and forth movement between those two approaches.
Elina Hartikainen, Department of Anthropology
“Ritual Hierarchy, Secrecy, and Public Discourse: Forming an African Religious Public in Brazil”
As a Marty Fellow I look forward to discussing my dissertation research on religious and racial politics among Candomblé practitioners in Brazil with a multi-disciplinary group of scholars of religion. Over the year I will be writing the first chapters of my dissertation, which examine Candomblé practitioners’ conceptions of and engagements with varying forms of publicity and publics, including the representation of connections to public persons by ritual means, media depictions of the religion and practitioners’ use of different media to promote their status as religious experts. The opportunity to share this work with fellows approaching religious phenomena from a variety of theoretical perspectives will certainly enrich my thinking and writing on the relationship between religiously grounded political action and worldview. I also look forward to the opportunities the Marty fellowship provides for thinking about how to present and contextualize my research to different interested audiences beyond academia.
The ensemble of disputed questions that give rise to my dissertation research finds its context within the broader milieu of contemporary European philosophy, in particular the debates surrounding the current of thought known as phenomenology and the question of its relation to theology. Confronting this question directly, my research examines how far a rapprochement is possible between the concept of phenomenality and the concept of revelation, taking the work of Michel Henry as a point of departure. This problem is important for scholars of religion because it bears directly upon the way religion is conceived, studied and understood, both on the part of scholars and the wider public. As a place where questions concerning religion are discussed and debated openly, from many approaches and disciplines, the Martin Marty Center fosters an excellent environment for me to carry out this work, and to test its implications for the study of religion and theology in the American research university. The opportunity to write my dissertation in this context is a tremendous advantage.
I'm grateful to the Martin Marty Center for the opportunity to work, under its auspices, toward the completion of my dissertation project. My dissertation proposes a renegotiation of the generic epithet, 'Civil War literature,' in the light of recent historical scholarship, which upsets the reflexive conclusion that the close of the Civil War is the moment of American civil religion's completion or perfection. I argue that we ought reconsider previously undervalued works of late-nineteenth century literature that engage the Civil War obliquely or fragmentarily because they highlight the war's disjunctive or disordering force. During my time as a Junior Fellow, I will be completing a chapter on postwar realism and writing what will be the concluding chapter in my project, which concerns the relationship of the discourse on 'Civil War literature' to the inattention, in American religious historical narratives, to the ways in which the war potentially collapses the prospect of a cogent national faith.
My project attempts to engage a somewhat wide array of scholarly publics (e.g. American Studies, American Religious History, Civil War History, Religion and Literature), so I foresee the Marty Center's interdisciplinary environment as a great resource for such work. That is to say that, given the exigencies and potential perils of multidisciplinary speech, I look forward to the opportunity to present my research amongst the Marty Center's Fellows, whose diverse professional commitments and expertise will, no doubt, prove invaluable--because it will interrogate, chasten, and embolden--as I complete the project.
Anne Mocko, History of Religions
“Demoting Vishnu: Ritual, Politics, and the End of Monarchy in Nepal”
I will be beginning my term as a Martin Marty Junior Fellow shortly after returning from over a year of field research in Nepal, where I have been investigating the role of ritual in the recent demotion of the king of Nepal. I am looking forward to the support and structure of the seminar as I readjust to living in the US, and as I finish processing my primary research. As far as writing goes, I am hoping to finish and polish the two-and-a-half chapters I have already drafted, as well as write two new chapters. I am also very much looking forward to teaching my course, and have already begun tinkering with my syllabus.
I am pleased to have been selected as a Martin Marty Fellow because of the program's commitment to broad-based, non-specialist enquiry. I believe that it will be very useful to be required, while I am writing, to explain my work to colleagues who may know or care very little about Nepal, its religious traditions, or its monarchy, as this will force me to develop my thinking along lines that are as accessible and broadly relevant as possible. I look forward to a stimulating and challenging year.
After two years with nineteenth-century American bibles and the diaries of their owners, in archives from Utah to Kentucky to Massachusetts, what I hope to get out of my time as a Junior Fellow is the chance to talk to live human beings about my work while completing my dissertation. My project uses bibles as physical artifacts to explore the contested nature of religious authority in early-national America: rather than imagining “the Bible” as a source of authority in the Second Great Awakening, I am looking at “bibles” as contested sites of authority. This project has required me to look closely at lay bible usage, and so I have a particular interest in hearing thoughts on my work from audiences outside of academia; the Marty Center has the resources and the commitment to public engagement to make this possible, and I am deeply grateful for this opportunity.
Benjamin Schonthal, History of Religions
“Regulating Religion: Buddhism, Pluralism, and the State in Contemporary Sri Lanka”
Having recently come back from two years researching and writing in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, I’m very excited to return to the Divinity School as a Martin Marty Junior Fellow. Over the next year, I hope to complete two chapters of my dissertation, a project that looks at the relationship between religion and law in contemporary Sri Lanka. One chapter will review the history of religious policies on the island since independence; the other will look at the development of the Holidays Act, a statute that specifies which religious holidays are to be recognized as public holidays, requiring the closures of government offices, businesses and schools. In general, I’m interested in how religion has been conceived and shaped through legal practice and how the process of drafting, amending and repealing laws that regulate religion involve distinct assumptions about what, where and when is “religious." The Marty Center will be a wonderful place to do this work both because it gives a me a chance to meet regularly with a diverse group of Ph.D.-writers to present, critique and discuss each other’s dissertation work and because it offers an opportunity to think about my work in the context of larger issues concerning the study of religion and the general public. I’m particularly looking forward to the attention given to examining the processes and goals teaching, and the opportunity to get critical feedback on teaching methods by a teaching mentor.
Michael Turner, Religious Ethics
“Does the Laborer Deserve to be Paid?: The Place of Desert in a Christian Conception of Distributive Justice”
As a Junior Fellow this year, I hope to complete two chapters of my dissertation, which examines the extent to which a standard of desert can be appropriate for Christian conceptions of distributive justice. One chapter draws from scriptural sources and their interpreters to gain an idea of how elements of grace and desert function in economic distributions during biblical times. The other chapter, which I plan to present in the Seminar, focuses on theological notions of just wages in the modern economy.
This fellowship gives me the opportunity to exchange ideas with colleagues who share an interest in the intersection of religion and public life, and I look forward to receiving input on my work as well as to learning from and providing feedback on other projects. The MMC offers dissertation writers the rare occasion to combine teaching, peer discussions, and public presentations of their work within a single practicum. I expect the experience to be invaluable to my future academic career, and I am grateful to be a part of it.
Over the coming year, I hope to finish my dissertation, which analyzes Late Antique rabbinic confrontations with the divine, by writing the introductory chapter and conclusion. As I near finish line, I could not think of a better context to complete the work than as a Martin Marty Fellow. Beyond its financial backing and helping me secure a teaching opportunity at a local university, the Fellowship will provide me with a supportive group of scholars to whom I can present and exchange ideas. Receiving critical feedback from the wider academic community at this stage of my work will be crucial as I am now interested in thinking through the broader theological and historical implications of my findings.