The 2012-2013 Marty Center Junior Fellows
The Martin Marty Center, continuing its emphasis on global interactions and aspects of religion, welcomes fourteen dissertation (junior) fellows for the 2012-2013 academic year.
"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?"
Samuel Boyd (NELC)
"Contact Linguistics and Textual Reuse in the Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Linguistic Approach to Literary Contact"
One of the many things that excites me about being a Martin Marty Junior Fellow is the prospect of bringing into conversation not only data, which in my realms of study involve quite ancient civilizations, but also theoretical models that explain how contact with long forgotten civilizations were preserved in the Hebrew Bible. Often literary and linguistic data are kept separate when studying the Hebrew Bible and its encounters with larger, and often hostile, ancient Near Eastern empires, and yet the very literary interaction with these other cultures is what produces the occasionally odd linguistic phrase. Combining literary and linguistic studies through critical modes of analysis, like source criticism, and socio-linguistic theory, such as contact linguistics, may shed light on how the interplay between language and literature reveal strategies for survival at various times in ancient Israel's history given the shadows of surrounding imperial forces.
I hope to accomplish more synthetic approaches between text, theory, and modern religious discourse with the other Marty Fellows. I have much to learn from other disciplines involved in the symposium, and I hope to learn how the make the past part of the conversation partner with modern religious dialogue. I hope to be challenged to make the connection and exploring the similarities between past and present without blurring the very real, though no less instructional, distinction between ancient and modern religious landscapes. I could not think of a better context in which to pursue my work and explore the value of my dissertation for broader implications for the study of religion (and the humanities generally) than with the collegial and critical support network of the other fellows.
Joy Brennan (Philosophy of Religion)
"Being, Non-Being and the Path To Awakening in Mind-only Buddhist Thought"
My dissertation takes a philosophical approach to a set of ancient texts belonging to a religious tradition that is still comparatively foreign and unknown within our culture. For these reasons, making sense of my topic to a contemporary audience is difficult. I look forward to participating in the Marty Junior Fellowship because I hope that the challenge of presenting my work to other fellows and to the public will help me find ways to make my writing and thinking as clear and relevant as it can be. In addition, I participated in the Brauer seminar on translation (also sponsored by the Marty Center) in the Spring of 2012, and it was really fun to be exposed to the work of students researching a wide variety of texts and traditions. I expect that the Marty Fellowship will also foster this kind of invigorating exchange.
Patricia Duncan (Bible - New Testament)
Novel History: Scriptural Exegesis in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies
The Divinity School has been a wonderfully challenging and enriching place for me throughout my time in the M.Div. and Ph.D. programs, and I'm so thrilled that my efforts here will be capped by participation in the Martin Marty Center Junior Fellowship program. The school has equipped me well to scrutinize and interpret the text that is the subject of my dissertation, a fourth-century Greek novel known as the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, and I have already drafted much of my argument in a way that feels accountable to the rigors of my discipline. What I hope the seminar will provide is the kind of intelligent interdisciplinary critique that can help me open up my work to a wider audience in the most compelling way possible, without compromising any of the painstaking effort that has gone into the research and writing. Likewise, I look forward to learning from other dissertation writers what wisdom they have gained about the writing process, to engaging with the fruits of their labors, and to thinking together with them and with our faculty leaders about the distinctive challenges of teaching and writing about religion.
Michelle Harrington (Religious Ethics)
"Laying Down One's Life: Autonomy in the Time of Medicalized Death"
During the course of the fellowship year, I plan to write two dissertation chapters in which I will explore the moral life of the patient and the qualities of freedom and self-command that Christian theology holds as possible, even for those who are preparing to face life's end. This year, I will simultaneously hold the MacLean Clinical Medical Ethics Fellowship, and am pleased to be afforded the opportunity to engage end-of-life care issues alongside medical professionals as I prepare to serve the three communities that the Divinity School trains its scholars to serve: the academy, the church, and the public. I'm very grateful for the support of the Marty Center, and I look forward to practicing communicating within each of these distinct communities of moral discourse, to strengthening my undergraduate pedagogical skills alongside my MMC Fellows, and to presenting my work to interested members of the public.
Sonam Kachru (Philosophy of Religion)
"The Elusive Mark of the Mental: Philosophy of Mind with Vasubandhu"
In the most workman-like terms, I hope in the coming year to be stimulated by conversation to the point of completing a draft of my dissertation. I am writing a dissertation devoted to reconstructing the views of a Buddhist philosopher of the fifth century, one Vasubandhu of the city today called Peshawar, (then, 'the City of Man'), preserved for us in texts authored by him and written in diverse genres, from elegant essays on individual concepts such as 'action' and 'persons' to his encyclopedic reconstruction of the views of Buddhist scholars preserved in one of the largest philosophical encyclopedias ever written. I am particularly keen on presenting some of his core insights concerning ways we can and ought to talk about minds, attempting also to follow Vasubandhu's concern to show that learning how to re-describe minds in line with his views can have drastic consequences for the kinds of persons we are. Vasubandhu's concerns are theoretical, to be sure, but of moral consequence and therapeutic instigation. Some of his problems are still with us, and some of his concerns ought to inform the problems we claim to be uniquely the problems of our intellectual climate. I would like to think that my concerns, if not the details of the work, can find traction in cross-disciplinary conversation. I hope so, for I take it that concepts as fundamental as minds and persons, even if informed by debates not to be found in the histories we write of ourselves in European languages, ought to inform what we take to be yet possible. My academic work, broadly construed, is an instance of the history of philosophy practiced as philosophy, unapologetically, if informed by philology, historians of Early Modern and Classical European philosophy, the history of ideas and even literary criticism. I should like to learn from practice what attempts to bring into view the history of non-European, and non-modern philosophy can involve. For being normatively committed to the belief that the work of a fifth century Buddhist philosopher who wrote in Sanskrit is, on his own terms, relevant to us as philosophy, involves questions and concerns to be handled with egg-shell care. I believe that my work can only be improved by allowing it to be occasioned in part by cross-disciplinary and cross-thematic exchanges. I can think of few forums as challenging and welcoming as this.
As a Marty Fellow I anticipate a number of exciting challenges over the coming year, the first being the completion of my dissertation, which examines the way that religious ritual and sentiment were invoked and deployed in diplomatic relations between Rome and the cities and kings of the Hellenistic world. I look forward to discussions with other scholars, which can only enrich my thinking about the issues of my dissertation, and to the opportunity to gain facility in communicating the nature and relevance of my work to others within academiaand beyond. I especially welcome the challenge of devising a class in which I explore with students the ways that religious ideology was implicated in Rome's emerging empire. I am grateful to the Martin Marty Center for providing me with the opportunity to complete my dissertation in so dynamic and supportive an environment.
David Mihalyfy (History of Christianity)
"Not the Bible Alone: American Christianity and the Interpretation of the Gospels, 1790-1890"
The most attractive aspect of a Martin Marty Center Junior Fellowship is its fostering of meaningful conversations with a wide range of people beyond my discipline.
Because my dissertation better defines a major change in the conception of the origins of the gospels and treats how that change fed into American religious polemic during the late 18th and 19th centuries, I have had regular exchanges with scholars of American religion and the Bible. Thus, I welcome the unexpected ways in which perspectives of specialists in other traditions will challenge and improve my thinking, as I work on completing the majority of my dissertation chapters.
Furthermore, I am very excited to be teaching a class at a university in the Chicagoland area. Although I co-taught an open enrollment class at a local church and have given private language lessons to a variety of individuals, I have never taught at an institution beyond the University of Chicago. I look forward to creating a class that fosters critical thinking about religious truth claims in modern American, and working through these important issues with students in the spirit of academic rigor that characterizes the Martin Marty Center's approach to the role of religion in public life.
Matthew Petrusek (Religious Ethics)
"Catholic Social Ethics and the (In)vulnerability of Human Dignity"
I am honored and grateful to be among the 2012-2013 Martin Marty Junior Fellows. My dissertation, "Catholic Social Ethics and the (In)vulnerability of Human Dignity," works from descriptive and normative perspectives on the question of dignity, examining, in particular, how it can be understood as both inherently and universally equal and yet also in need of protection. Although the inquiry is rooted in Catholic social thought and the theology of Karl Rahner, I also seek to develop a conception of dignity that has pertinence for anyone interested in upholding a universally equal and practical conception of human worth, no matter what their religious commitments. The Marty Center provides an ideal environment for advancing and completing this project.
As both a developing scholar and teacher, I find the Center¹s commitment to exploring the interface between public life and the study of religion especially motivating and challenging. I thus hope to use the year not only to complete my dissertation, gain additional teaching experience, and benefit from the thinking of other Fellows. I also see it as an invaluable opportunity to learn how to become an academic with something useful to say to specialists and non-specialists alike‹a skill that is particularly important, I believe, for those who wish to call themselves "ethicists."
After undertaking two years of dissertation research in Istanbul, Turkey, I am excited to be a Martin Marty Fellow for the 2012-2013 academic year. The MMC Fellowship offers a great opportunity for me to settle back in Hyde Park, and write my dissertation in a place specifically designed for this end. While conducting my research, I have written a chapter draft, and have grasped the significance of having a structural and systematic atmosphere and community to write one's dissertation out of an immense amount of material gathered over time. The friendly exchanges with other MMC fellows will not only help me clarify my mind concerning my dissertation, but also will give me a chance to learn from their experiences, as I believe, we will be going through different yet similar challenges of writing. Through the MMC Fellowship I hope also to cultivate the crucial skill of going beyond the specificities of my subject, and articulating it to others who are not familiar with it -- whether they are students and faculty in different fields, or a wider non-academic public. By the end of the fellowship, I intend to finish at least two chapters of my dissertation, which examines the late Ottoman institutional and intellectual Muslim debates on Islam and morality. I am grateful to be a MMC fellow, and look forward to this yearlong productive, stimulating, and positively challenging experience of teaching, learning, as well as writing my dissertation.
Jawad Qureshi (Islamic Studies)
"Islamic Tradition in the Age of Revival and Reform: Said Ramadan al-Bouti and His Interlocutors"
I am grateful for the opportunity to complete my dissertation under the auspices of the Marty Center. My dissertation examines the tumultuous changes that have taken place in the Islamic world over the last century through examining the life and career of the Syrian religious scholar, Said Ramadan al-Bouti (b. 1929). By studying his engagements with various interlocutors, I consider his interventions in the competing conceptions of religion and its role in public life in modern Syria. I hope to start the seminar with three chapters written and to write the remaining two chapters over the course of the year.
As a Marty Junior Fellow, I look forward to sharing my work not only with my peers, but also with a non-academic audience. From the latter, I hope to take on the challenge of articulating the relevancy of my dissertation topic to non-specialists, as well as writing in a manner that is accessible to them. From my peers, I look forward to the opportunity to enrich my dissertation through mutual engagement with specialists in the study of religion.
The Marty Center is the ideal place to complete my dissertation, not only because of its inter-disciplinary environment, but also because of its attention to the role of religion in public life.
Myriam Renaud (Theology)
"God: Construction within the bounds of the 1993 Parliament of the World Religions' Global Ethic"
My dissertation focuses on the concept of God in Gordon Kaufman's constructive philosophical theology. God, for Kaufman, is an imaginative construct which serves as an ultimate reference point. Kaufman's theological method is designed to help theists reconstruct a more coherent and consistent concept. In the chapters I have written, I explore the shifts in Kaufman's theology during his six-decade-long career and argue that the Personalist (middle) phase of his theology was, and continues to be most helpful to Western theists. Currently, I am analyzing the moral bounds Kaufman places on the God-constructs produced by his method. Because these bounds are vague, I propose replacing them with those contained in the Global Ethic ratified by the 1993 Parliament of the World Religions. As an ordained minister (Unitarian Universalist), I consider my academic work to be a form of ministry. For this reason, I have sought to engage various kinds of groups in theological conversation both within and outside of my religious tradition. I look forward to my year at the Marty Center as an opportunity to bring my work to new forums. I also look forward to receiving feedback on my dissertation, learning about the religion-oriented research taking place outside of the Divinity School, and sharing insights on college-course pedagogy.
Alexander Rocklin (History of Religion)
"Religion under Contract: South Asian Religions and the Politics of Religious Toleration in Colonial Trinidad"
After spending the last year doing research in Trinidad and the UK, I'm excited to return to the collegial environment of the MMC. As a Marty Center junior fellow I plan to continue writing my dissertation. In my project I look at the colonial regulation of the lives of Indian laborers and their descendants in Trinidad and the changing and contested role of the category religion as Hindus and Muslims both incorporated and undermined (at times simultaneously) regnant Christian norms for religious practice and social formation. I hope to complete at least two chapters during my time as a fellow. One will be on religious conversion, the translation of non-Christian religious practices, and the politics of comparing religions, and one on the regulation of Indian healing and spirit working traditions under anti-witchcraft legislation. Having to clarify and generalize my ideas so that I can better relate them to people who do not share my background or specialized vocabulary (both within and outside of the Academy) will be a helpful and important process in working out my own project, and I am excited to learn about the work of my fellow fellows.
Robyn Whitaker (Bible - New Testament)
"The Rhetoric of Worship: Ekphrasis, Vision, and Persuasion in the Apocalypse to John"
I am delighted to be joining the community of Marty Center scholars that have and continue to discuss and debate matters pertaining to religion. My hope is to finish my dissertation this year and I believe being a MMC Junior Fellow affords me a stimulating and collegial environment in which to do so.
My dissertation approaches the biblical text through the lens of rhetorical-literary criticism, examining the way sight and worship are interrelated in the visions of the divine in the Apocalypse to John. As part of my argument I address issues of divine presence and absence, ancient epiphany, and the rhetorical practice of ekphrasis, all of which lead me into conversations outside my main discipline. I personally learn best through discussion, and I think I will most appreciate the demand of articulating my ideas to those outside my field and allowing their insights to hone my own. Furthermore, I hope that my research contributes to making a somewhat confusing and maligned biblical text be a little more approachable for contemporary readers, and I welcome the MMC's challenge and opportunity to address a wider audience.
Rebecca Wollenberg (History of Religion)
"'And they became the people of the Book': The Jewish Turn Towards Text in the Middle Ages"
During my year at the Martin Marty Center, I will explore the theory that the modes of Jewish intellectual life changed radically when the codex (that is, the book form as we know it) became the dominant cultural medium in Jewish circles, in the 10th century C.E.. My preliminary research suggests that many of the intellectual changes we see in rabbinic culture during the 11th century (such as, the widespread flowering of a new literary genres and scholarly disciplines) were spurred in large measure by the move from parchment scroll books (and the extensive memorization which that unwieldy technology necessitated) to the use of paper codices. To cite a single example of this correlation, it would have been virtually impossible to produce the synthetic and systematic Jewish legal codes that began to appear in this period without the ability to selectively leaf through multiple volumes simultaneously in order to collate scattered references to a specific legal topic. Although this particular example is both practical and straightforward, other manifestations of the correlation are more complex, and thus more difficult to articulate. In the Martin Marty Center dissertation seminar, I will not only be challenged to more effectively articulate the patterns which I see in this material but I will also benefit immeasurably from having scholars less entrenched in this particular problem point out where I may have gone astray in my logic or underestimated the possibilities of a piece of evidence. I fully expect my year at the Martin Marty Center not only to help me complete my dissertation but to transform and refine my thinking on the project.