Sean Hannan

PhD candidate in History of Christianity


Where are you from originally?

Vegreville, Alberta, Canada.  (Vegreville is a small farming community of about 5,000, located approximately one hour’s drive east of Edmonton, Alberta’s capital city.)

Why did you choose to attend the University of Chicago Divinity School?

I was originally working in more narrowly defined History departments, but along the way I realized that most of my main research concerns could be addressed through a closer focus on Augustine of Hippo.  A divinity school seemed like a good place to familiarize myself with a broad batch of approaches to Augustine, ranging from the historical to the theological to the philosophical.  What drew me to Chicago’s Divinity School in particular was primarily the quality of its teaching faculty.

What are you working on these days?

I’m currently writing a dissertation on time and history in the writings of Augustine of Hippo.  This Autumn, I’ll also be serving as a Teaching Assistant for the Divinity School’s Introduction to the Study of Religion course, as well as for Classics of Social and Political Thought in the Social Sciences Core.

What are or have been the highlights of your time in Swift Hall so far?

There have been a lot of lively discussions over the past four or so years, but one of the best took place during a seminar on Augustine’s Confessions, which included a late and much-missed member of our community, Joshua Casteel.  That course introduced me to a number of new ways of looking at Augustine’s text, but it also introduced me to some great conversation partners and even new friends.  (The ‘four-to-eights’ have also helped in that regard.)

What activities do you participate in outside of the classroom?

I’m not sure if this really counts as ‘outside the classroom,’ but I’ve found that a lot of the student- and faculty-organized clubs and workshops have put on some great talks outside of class time proper.  The Philosophy of Religions club stands out for me; even though I’m actually in the History of Christianity stream, I’ve been able to show up to PR club talks and feel welcomed into the discussion.

How do you like living in Chicago?

My time in Chicago has been amazing.  Hyde Park has its own charms, and the South Side in general offers up an overwhelming variety of religious and social experiences.  For the last two years, I’ve lived in the Noble Square neighborhood, which is nestled in between Ukrainian Village and the West Loop on the city’s North Side.  While the commute to Hyde Park is sometimes long, living up here has allowed me to see a whole new side of what Chicago has to offer.  And it’s also comforting to know that, even now, there are so many areas of Chicago I can still go off and explore.

What do you plan to do after you have completed your degree from the Divinity School?

My goal is to keep working in the field of post-secondary education.  The next step in that direction will probably be to apply to a variety of post-doctoral fellowships at some of the other American or Canadian institutions that are strong in Religious Studies.  Luckily, Chicago has enough speakers come through that you can get a sense of what those institutions are without even having to leave town—although it’s still good to go out to conferences and see for yourself.

Any words of wisdom or encouragement for prospective international students?

I only came down here from Canada, so I know that my experience of ‘culture shock’ would pale in comparison to many other international students.  Still, there were some surprises and difficulties; working out VISA issues and income taxes is never fun.  But I’ve found that the University, and especially the Office of Internal Affairs, has been a helpful ally to have most of the time.  I’d encourage new students to drop by the OIA often early on and even attend some of its functions, which are a good way to meet other international students and swap advice.