The 2011-2012 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?"
Rachel Adelstein (Ethnomusicology)
“Braided Voices: Women Cantors in Non-Orthodox Judaism”
I am excited to have the opportunity to be a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow for the 2011-2012 school year. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss and refine my arguments in my dissertation "Braided Voices: Women Cantors in Non-Orthodox Judaism" with fellow scholars outside of my own department, Music. I especially relish the prospect of strengthening the religious aspects of my argument so that they will complement the musical aspects. I hope to complete two to three chapters during the year. I am also looking forward to teaching either at the University of Chicago or a different institution. The Martin Marty Center strikes me as a lively and ecumenical place, where one could find many different approaches to studying the relationship between the human and the divine. I hope that I will be able to offer something stimulating and interesting in return.
Shatha Almutawa (History of Judaism)
"The Use of Narrative in Rasa'il Ikhwan Al-Safa: Imagination at the Intersections of Religion, Philosophy and Science”
Whether it's a medieval animal fable or a contemporary dialogue, storytelling in the Arab world has played many roles. In the tenth century parables were used as a medium in which seemingly opposing worldviews were brought together, given new meanings and made to be viewed in fresh new ways. As a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow, I will continue to examine the narratives scattered throughout Rasa'il Ikhwan Al-Safa, a neoplatonic text, for my dissertation. As I study these allegories and tales in the context of Iraq's history, I hope that the seminars will help me hone my theoretical framework so that my study will have wider applications, for example in the study of modern and contemporary texts that address religion and politics.
Samuel Brody (History of Judaism)
"This Pathless Hour: Messianism, Anarchism, Zionism, and Martin Buber's Theopolitics Reconsidered"
What I admire most about the MMC program, and the reason that I am so excited to be a part of it, is the way it demands that each Fellow write for an audience beyond their committee. It's so easy to restrict oneself to an audience that one knows will already understand the language, context, and import of one's arguments, but the MMC understands that scholars have broader responsibilities -- especially in a democracy that purports to value reasoned discourse. I hope that the program will enable me to take my own dissertation, a reconsideration of the politics of Martin Buber, beyond the circles of Buber scholars and even of Jewish studies into a wider public concerned with questions about the relationships between religion, politics, and violence in the world today.
Emanuelle Burton (Religion and Literature)
“Fantasy and Responsibility: the formation of the ethical actor in the Chronicles of Narnia”
I am thrilled to be able to participate in the Marty seminar next year, where I look forward to learning from my colleagues: not only about how to hone my own work, but also about the questions and problems that face them as they stake their claims across the different parts of the field. Because I share the Marty Center's conviction that a scholar has debts to the wider community and not only to the academy, I am especially looking forward to the opportunity to share my work with the wider community.
My main goal for this next year is to learn how to better articulate my animating interest in fiction as a source of belief, both to colleagues and to a wider public - and, in so doing, to come closer to naming that aspect of literary study which has always seemed to be to be closely allied to the study of religion. I will use this year to complere my dissertation which, in offering an ethically-focused close reading of the Chronicles of Narnia, aims at offering an account of how readers "learn" ethical and metaphysical truths from consciously-constructed works of human artistry that, on at least one level, do not directly claim to be true. It is my hope that conversation with my Marty colleagues will help me to frame and to translate that interest in ways that are interesting and useful to others from all over the field of religion.
Kristel Clayville (Religious Ethics and Bible)
“Responsible Hermeneutics: Interpretation of Religious Texts in the Environmental Ethics of Hans Jonas and Holmes Rolston III”
As a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow, I plan to complete two chapters of my dissertation on the use of religious texts in environmental ethics. More specifically, my project approaches the topic of the interpretive context of moral reasoning through an engagement with the ethics of responsibility of Hans Jonas and Holmes Rolston III and their interpretation and integration of religious texts in their constructive proposals for human responses to the environment. By analyzing how Rolston and Jonas engage the genres of myth, law, and narrative in religious texts and then deploy these same genres in their philosophical environmental ethics, I aim to build on their work to develop a hermeneutical approach to biblical texts that counters the dominant view of the Bible as funding a hierarchical and hegemonic attitude toward nature. Having completed drafts of the chapters on Rolston, I will use my time as a Marty Junior Fellow to turn my attention to Hans Jonas’ work on Gnostic texts and his environmental ethics of responsibility.
The opportunity to work on my project in the context of the Marty Center is a great gift, in that my project stems from a desire to make religious texts historically and theologically available and relevant to a diverse academic audience and a wider public. Being part of the Marty Center will enable me to further refine my arguments and their articulation for and with a new set of conversation partners and publics.
Jessica DeCou (Theology)
“Parables of Freedom: Toward a Barthian Pneumatology of Culture for Engaging Popular Culture in the 21st Century”
As a Marty Fellow, I look forward to the opportunity to learn more about the diverse research interests of my fellow students and to confront questions concerning the broader relevance and intelligibility of my own work. The dynamic, interdisciplinary context of the Marty Seminar facilitates the lively debates and critical reflection that are essential to the growth of any scholar, and I believe such an environment is especially fruitful for theological work. Writing on theology and popular culture and the importance of producing theological analyses that are more relevant to contemporary culture, a central goal of my dissertation is to empower theologians to make stronger contributions to the institutions and cultural environments in which we work. The challenge that theologians of popular culture face is not only that of communicating ideas to other academic disciplines that study popular culture, but also communicating those ideas to the wider public – i.e. the consumers and producers of popular cultural forms. By participating in the Marty fellowship program, I will discover whether I can go beyond just talking the talk – a challenge crucial to one’s development as a scholar, a colleague, and a citizen. I am very grateful for this exciting opportunity.
Rick Elgendy (Theology)
"Power, Complicity, and Resistance: Rereading "The Powers" with Karl Barth and Michel Foucault"
My dissertation generates a Christian theology of power and describes practices of critical resistance by means of a comparison between Karl Barth and Michel Foucault. This project rests on the assumption that theology, in at least some of its aspects, is commensurable with certain other discourses, such as social and critical theory. That is, I take it that these disciplines overlap not just in their practical applications, but also in the formative stages of their theoretical articulation. I am excited and grateful for the opportunity to test this hypothesis in the truly interdisciplinary environment of the Martin Marty Center this year.
The Martin Marty Center facilitates conversations defined simultaneously by relations to multiple publics – religious, scholarly, and cultural. As a political theologian, the relevance and intelligibility of my work to these publics are crucial. The dissertation seminar, public presentation, and other activities will hold me accountable to both the highest standards of scholarly rigor, characteristic of the Divinity School, and the demands of a social climate in which meaningful interventions into public theological discourse are urgently relevant. As I write its middle chapters, these concerns will become part of the very fabric of my project, rather than afterthoughts, and I am immensely grateful to the Martin Marty Center for the opportunity to forge a dissertation in such a context.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellow in the coming year. As a scholar concerned with the intersection of religion and ethics—and, within these two spheres, of tradition and new ideas—I aspire to produce work that is both academically rigorous and relevant to a broad and diverse public. I look forward to participating in a seminar with my academic peers, to the critical discussion and revision of my ideas, and to the opportunity to learn from others’ projects. I also am eager to approach a broader, ethically-concerned public through my research on the connection between suffering and truth in the religious controversies of the sixteenth century—an era when conceptions of the nature and value of suffering, of the proper locus of pious suffering (and action), and of the sources of truth were all radically transformed. I am eager to discuss these changes and their consequences, which are still with us today, with both students and non-academics. I want, now and in my future career, to reconsider with these two important publics our present conception of suffering and the possibility (and danger) of finding positive meaning in it.
As a MMC Junior Fellow, I intend to complete my dissertation, to teach global liberation theologies, and to bring my research and theological perspective to a diverse academic and public audience. My dissertation focuses on the theological worldview and revolutionary conclusions of Nat Turner and his violent slave rebellion while exploring the concept of prophetic violence in the Old Testament, Jesus’ philosophy of violence, and Christianity’s violent theological pre-suppositions. It proposes the legitimacy of just revolution of the oppressed as an addition to traditional just war theory. The challenge posed by the MMC is making my research and assertions accessible to a wider audience and to make my somewhat particularistic black theology of Nat Turner universal in its scope and argument. I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate, converse, and debate with peers, colleagues, and professors with diverse disciplines, methodologies, and philosophies. I look forward to strengthening my dissertation and making it relevant to today’s reality.
The Zhuangzi, an early and influential Daoist classic, has always felt like a toy to me. It yields endless meanings, none of which are very stable, and my role as a player/reader has changed as often as those meanings. "Marty Junior Fellow" is an ideal new role for continuing my work (and play) with the Zhuangzi. In the company of other fellows I hope to articulate a detailed and persuasive concept of toy, one that helps illuminate this extraordinary text. I believe the Zhuangzi is a toy appropriate for many potential readers, from scholars of classical Asian thought to non-academics, and therefore I appreciate the Center's explicit focus on addressing a variety of audiences. Zhuangzi himself developed much of his thought in animated dialogues with his best friend, a logician named Huizi. Dialogues with my colleagues at the Marty Center will continue that development, and even if my dissertation doesn't end up looking exactly like the toy it describes, I expect there will be a great deal of fun involved in sharing it.
As a Martin Marty Junior Fellow, I look forward to a number of exciting opportunities this year. I welcome the chance to develop collegial relationships with other students of religion, particularly in an interdisciplinary environment. Moreover, the seminars and culminating conference will challenge me to express my ideas with clarity, not only to those outside of my discipline but to those outside the academic community. These occasions will push me to consider what is most essential and relevant about my research, which is a beneficial exercise for me as I bring my dissertation to completion this year. Finally, I am eager to develop and teach my own course treating the relationship between early Christianity and paganism in the Roman Empire. This experience will give me a great opportunity to integrate my research with my teaching. I am very grateful to the Martin Marty Center for providing these rich and rewarding opportunities to me during my final months as a student at the University of Chicago.
Lilah Shapiro (Comparative Human Development)
“Driven to Orthodoxy: Jewish identity, the achievement narrative, and family dynamics in American-Jewish culture as motivations for Teshuvah”
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to complete my dissertation work as a Martin Marty Junior Fellow. My dissertation research uses mixed methods to investigate motivations for individuals from predominantly secular, upper-middle class, Jewish backgrounds becoming Ba’alei Teshuvah, or newly Orthodox Jews. The dissertation shows that there is a prevalent and compelling achievement narrative experienced by many mainstream Jews in America. This narrative has created a collective identity through which American Jews see themselves as an extremely gifted and accomplished people and, further, has given rise to a highly pressured culture of achievement that proves to be problematic for some. I argue that some “return” to Orthodoxy as a way of negotiating the tensions wrought by the perceived achievement expectations of this culture. Over the course of the year I plan to complete my dissertation. I am very much looking forward to participating in the Marty Center Seminar. Throughout my graduate education some of my most profound and engaging educational experiences have been during my participation in conferences and workshops, both as a presenter and as an audience member/attendee. The input and feedback from colleagues, particularly those from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, has deepened my understanding of my own research and of my scholarship generally. Over the last years, as I have embarked on my dissertation research and writing, the most common substantive interactions with others regarding my work has involved answering “probing” questions such as, “But Mommy, how come there aren’t any pretty pictures in the book you’re writing?!” As much as I value my kids’ contributions, I am excited by the opportunity afforded by the fellowship to reengage in the academic community and share my work, and I am eager to learn from my peers.
Mun’im Sirry (Islamic Studies)
"Reformist Muslim Approaches to the Polemics of the Qur'an against Other Religions"
I am pleased to be appointed as a Martin Marty Center (MMC) junior fellow and hope to benefit from a rich intellectual environment fostered by the MMC. Considering that my dissertation deals with inter-religious issues, I believe that I will have engaging and productive conversations with other fellow colleagues, which will eventually prove fruitful in the process of writing this dissertation. I am interested in exploring to what extent Muslim reformers are succeeding in their interpretation of the Qur’an’s polemical texts for non-polemical interactions among different religious communities in the modern world. By the term “polemical texts” I mean those Qur’anic passages that describe other religions negatively, which include various types of Qur’anic criticism of Jews and Christians. I especially look forward to discussing this project with other MMC fellows and to learning more about their projects. During my time as a junior fellow I fully expect to complete my dissertation.
"The Good of Recognition:Phenomenology, Ethics, and Religion in the Thought of Levinas and Ricoeur"
To be selected a Junior Fellow is a tremendous honor and provides the ideal conditions to finish my dissertation in a timely and effective fashion. In the year ahead, I expect to complete a draft for my sixth and final chapter and revise the dissertation for final submission to my committee. As I begin to rework each of the chapters in relation to the broader aims and purposes of the dissertation, I look forward to testing the strength, clarity, and relevance of the arguments with students in the classroom, talented colleagues in the seminars, and finally an engaged wider public at year’s end.
My dissertation parses out the polyvalent uses of ‘recognition’ from a phenomenological approach, investigates their religious and theological underpinnings, and explores the broader social, political, and juridical implications. The MMC’s commitment to exploring the relevance of religion to public life and its opportunities for the exchange of ideas within different public contexts make it an ideal setting to bring my dissertation to completion.
Myung-Sahm Suh (Anthropology and Sociology of Religion)
"Generational Dynamics and the Crystallization of the Christian Right in Korea"
Having conducted field research in South Korea and drafted two empirical chapters of my dissertation, I hope to refine my arguments in these chapters and write two more chapters, one theoretical and the other historical, during my times as a Martin Marty Junior Fellow. As my dissertation project is a study of Korean conservative evangelicals engaged in contentious politics, I look forward to joining conversations with other fellows and diverse audiences including undergraduate students and the wider public to search for broader relevance of this case study as well as to acquire a comparative perspective on the intersection of religion and the public life in the contemporary world. In so doing, I am truly honored and grateful for having this wonderful opportunity to be part of the venerable legacy of the Martin Marty Center.
Suzanne Wint (Ethnomusicology)
"The Western Classical Music Scene in Kampala, Uganda: A Music of the Other?"
A year of ethnographic fieldwork in Kampala (Uganda) convinced me that one could not write about Western classical music in Uganda without writing about Christianity, and the importance of religion in Ugandan everyday life. The articulation of faith and religion through non-church performance groups led me to consider how notions of the secular or the ecumenical are worked out through musical practices in Kampala. In addition, the treatment of post-mission history, especially as it relates to music, is an issue I confront almost daily in my research and teaching, and consider it a question of ethics within my field.
I look forward to the year as a Martin Marty Junior Fellow for the interdisciplinary discussion the Marty Center fosters amongst those grappling with similar issues. Writing a dissertation and teaching a new course can both be very isolating endeavors, so I relish the opportunity to exchange with other young scholars in the same stages of their careers as I am.