PhD student in the History of Religions
Why did you choose to attend the University of Chicago Divinity School?
Although I applied and was accepted to a number of other programs for the masters, I was very compelled by the Div School's reputation for a stellar faculty and a strong theoretical approach to the study of religion. After visiting and meeting with several professors and the dean of students, I was convinced that there was no better place to prepare me for doctoral programs. After two years as a master's student, I had become a part of a lively and highly rigorous community of scholars and couldn't imagine pursuing my doctoral degree anywhere else.
What is your area of study and what is the focus of your current research?
I'm a PhD student in the History of Religions. I'm very generally interested in issues of authority, speech, and ritual. My current work concerns the relationship between health, gender, and religion in southern Africa. I'm particularly interested in HIV and AIDS and sexual and reproductive health, and the manner in which religious beliefs about the body and sexuality impact prevention and treatment programs related to such health issues. I've just returned from a quarter of fieldwork in north-central Namibia, where I researched responses to HIV and AIDS at local hospitals and traditional healing complexes.
What are or have been the highlights of your academic work so far?
There have been many, but greatest is the opportunity to work with scholars like my advisor, Professor Bruce Lincoln, and Professors Wendy Doniger and Curtis Evans, as well as to spend my daily life working out the world's questions alongside fellow students I respect and admire.
I've also had the opportunity to get to know faculty members through informal events like the interview series sponsored by the History of Religions Club, the annual faculty vs. student softball game, and dinner or parties at professors' homes. To have experiences like these is to learn in a very different environment, and it completes the incredible education I feel I'm gaining at the Div School.
Do you participate in any of the Council on Advanced Studies workshops (and if so, tell us a bit about that experience)?
I've attended a number of sessions sponsored by various workshops- African Studies; Medicine, Body, and Practice; Social Theory; Gender and Sexuality. I find them to be excellent opportunities both to engage relevant research outside the classroom and to build community with students and scholars from other programs.
I am also the president of the Div School's History of Religions Club, which provides similar opportunities for community building and the exhibition of student work. The students who participate in the HR Club are some of the Div School's best, and the quality of their work is a constant inspiration and challenge to me.
What experience (if any) have you had in teaching?
Thus far I've concentrated on coursework and personal research, and have not yet had the opportunity to TA or teach my own class. I look forward to teaching in the future, when I (eventually!) pass my comprehensive exams.
What activities do you participate in outside the classroom? (community service, work, hobbies, etc.)
When I'm not buried under piles of books, I work as a nanny to a precocious 3 year old, run a blog and an Etsy shop, attend Zumba classes, and perfect the art of making and drinking sweet tea. I also work with our on-campus student union, the GSU. In the summer I can typically be found on a blanket at Millennium Park, eating brie and enjoying free concerts, or sailing on Lake Michigan
How do you like living in Chicago?
I love Chicago. It has all the cultural complexity of a big city, but in many ways the kindness and friendliness of a small town. Living right next to the lake, within biking distance of school and a quick train ride downtown, is a dream.
What do you plan to do after you have completed your degree from the Divinity School?
My goal is, of course, to become a genius on a global scale. Failing that, I hope to become a professor at a college or university that values independent thought and the art of teaching, and to produce work that contributes positively to the discussion of religion, gender, and health in Africa. Additionally, I plan to continue work with development organizations to tailor their HIV and AIDS programs to the cultural and religious nuances of the communities they serve.