Today we recognize and celebrate a few of the many achievements of the students in the Department of Religious Studies. Over the past year it's been our pleasure to work with, and to learn from, so many of our students.
UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT AWARDS
THETA ALPHA KAPPA
Founded in 1976, Theta Alpha Kappa is the international academic honor society for Religious Studies and Theology. There are more than two hundred chapters nationally, and they offer scholarships to graduate studies and publish a journal twice a year, which encourages student submissions. To be inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa students must maintain a 3.5 GPA in religious studies classes and a 3.0 GPA overall.
Congratulations to our 2020 TAK inductees:
PHI BETA KAPPA
Phi Beta Kappa society, which, as many of you know, is the nation's oldest and most widely known academic honor society for excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. Only about one student for every 100 college students nationally is invited to join the society each year, and joining places on in very august company. Since the Society's founding in 1776, 17 U.S. Presidents, 38 U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and more than 130 Nobel Laureates have been inducted as members—as well as countless authors, diplomats, athletes, researchers, actors, and business leaders.
Congratulations to our 2020 inductee: Anna Groover
SENIOR THESIS AWARD
Each year, the department presents the Senior Thesis Award to a student whose senior thesis shows particular scholarly distinction. As many of you already know, the senior thesis is written as the culmination of a yearlong sequence of courses (the 399-499 sequence) that are taken under the close supervision of a particular faculty member. This faculty member works with the student to develop a research program and to supervise the student through the various stages of its unfolding.
Congratulations to our 2020 winner: Anna Groover
Anna Groover’s senior thesis, “Zero Waste: A Modern Asceticism for the Modern Woman,” is an analysis of the “zero waste” movement whose practitioners respond to global environmental crises such as climate change by dramatically curtailing their own consumption and waste habits. Zero waste practitioners like to remind consumers that we hold the power to make change on an enormous scale. While its adherents do not necessarily eschew other forms of political and activist engagement, Groover documents the way in which this practice is distinctly oriented inward, toward a kind of ascetic cultivation of the self. Drawing on an impressive, interdisciplinary body of scholarship in religious studies, asceticism, history, gender studies, and her own analysis of social media sources, she shows that participants in Zero Waste are disproportionately white women whose ascetic preoccupation with controlling their own waste production ensnares them, unwittingly, in the inherent, fundamental contradictions of late-stage capitalism. Dutiful Zero Waste enthusiasts can shop for recyclable, compostable, waste-reducing products that are carefully curated and recommended by the movement’s charismatic and attractively Instagrammable thought leaders. Disciples believe they are opting out of capitalist overconsumption and its environmental impacts, yet their practice makes them easy prey for neoliberalism’s clever offloading of its own negative impacts onto individuals and their daily choices. Groover’s analysis serves less as a moral indictment of Zero Waste than as a valuable set of tools for understanding what is at stake in an ostensibly “environmental” practice that attracts a modern breed of female quasi-ascetics seeking to control the boundaries of their physical selves. The prose is intentionally journalistic in style, making it a fun and fascinating read. Anyone who has ever scrutinized their own or others’ consumption patterns—which is to say, most of us—will be left with some troubling questions to consider, as well as many new insights.
BILL GALLAGHER ESSAY CONTEST
Bill Gallagher went to college to study business and currently owns a successful petroleum distribution business in Denver, Colorado. It was the academic study of religion, however, that he credits with preparing him for the complexity of the world he navigates daily. Inspired by professors at the University of Colorado, where he earned his BA, and then at the University of Chicago, where he earned an MA at the Divinity School, he has long wanted to encourage students to learn more about religion. This desire led him to seek out a former classmate who now teaches at IU, in order to establish a contest at IU’s Department of Religious Studies. The Bill Gallagher Essay Contest has attracted outstanding submissions from students throughout the College of Arts and Sciences for the past eight years. Bill’s endowment of $25,000 ensures that the contest, with its generous prize money for remarkable undergraduate essays, will be a permanent tradition in the department.
Congratulations to our 2020 winners:
1st place: Chen Wu
2nd place: Anna Groover
3rd place: Payton Williams
Chen Wu’s paper, “Warlord’s Cloister: A New Look at Tse Jung and his Monastery” is a close examination of sources about the early development of Buddhism in China. The activities of Tse Jung (d. 195 CE), a warlord and patron of Buddhism, are recorded in several received texts. Chen provides a critical reading of the earliest two accounts to demonstrate what their differences and similarities reveal about Buddhism in early medieval China. His reading spans discussions of stupas, monasteries, and metal images of the Buddha, among other things hotly debated by scholars of the period. Chen deftly handles primary and secondary sources to make a genuine intervention in the field. Indeed, Chen reveals that Buddhism in China was far more complex and developed than previously assumed.
Anna Groover’s paper, “Vulnerable Rascals”: Direct Address and the Performance of Invulnerability in Fleabag,” is a sophisticated analysis of the concept of vulnerability in a award-winning TV show, called Fleabag. As such, it shows the applicability of academic, philosophical ideas to American popular culture. After the introduction, the paper offers its readers an overview of theories of vulnerability as articulated by contemporary theorists of religious studies. The paper then does a deep dive into the ways in which the show’s narrative techniques express the main character’s intimate expression of her vulnerability (and invulnerability) in the face of personal trauma. More specifically, the student examines the show’s use of “direct address,” whereby the protagonist “breaks with the conventional notion of their story-world as a sealed-off entity to speak to someone (or someones) exterior to it.” The student wonderfully argues that “direct address provides a method for characters to mediate themselves in reference to an exterior audience and gives them an opportunity to present themselves as in control of their selfhood and life—perhaps, even, as having more control than they might actually have.” After performing a detailed analysis of some key scenes and dialogues in the TV series, the author concludes the paper by arguing that “Fleabag’s turn away from direct address at the end of the show is the culmination of an argument the series is making for the way in which emotional vulnerability is necessary for flourishing interpersonal relationships.”
Payton Williams’ essay, “Crystals, Capitalism, and Cultural Appropriation: Who Heals and Who Hurts?” is a fun and fascinating examination of America’s obsession with crystals and crystal healing. Crystals, Williams tells us, have long been used in healing rituals in many cultures, but became popular in America with the New Age movement. Debates over crystals tend to center on their curative powers, with many critics dismissing them as nothing more than pseudoscience. But perhaps the more important debate to have, Williams suggests, is whether crystals are ethical. The high demand for crystals means that mining activities are increased, often involving child labor. For thoughtfully examining the entanglements between spirituality, healing, and the political economy, this essay deserves to be the Gallagher award’s second runner-up.
UNDERGRADUATE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
This scholarship in honor of Mary Jo Weaver is intended to provide ongoing support for up to two years in the amount of $500 per year to one or two Religious Studies majors. Funds are available so long as the awardee continues to matriculate at IUB as a Religious Studies major and maintains a GPA of 3.5 in RS courses, and 3.0 overall.
Congratulations to our 2020 winner: Chen Wu
GRADUATE STUDENT AWARDS
THE DEVONIA & STEVE STEIN FUND FOR THE STUDY OF AMERICAN RELIGIONS
The Stein Fellowships in the Study of American Religions is for graduate students working in the Religion in the Americas field. It is awarded to graduate students presenting their research at an academic conference or traveling to an archive or other research site for a clearly defined purpose during the 2019-2020 academic year or following summer.
Congratulations to our 2020 winners: Matt Graham & Dale Spicer
Matt Graham will use the fellowship to travel to the biennial meeting of the International Society for Religion, Literature, and Culture, held this year at the University of Chester in Chester, UK. Matt’s paper (”Dickinson and Kierkegaard as Proto-Postsecularists”) considers these two important nineteenth-century near-contemporaries, according to their “lived and artistic critiques of their local Christianities,” arguing that they prefigure many of the concerns taken up by contemporary postsecular critique.
Dale Spicer will use the fellowship to conduct fieldwork at September 11 memorial events in Indianapolis and Denver, analyzing them as instances of American Civil Religion and memorial practice. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation hosts 9/11”Stair Climbs” across the country, permitting participants to climb the equivalent number of stairs of the World Trade Center’s 110 floors in the name of a firefighter who died there during the attacks. Dale writes: “I am interested in the ways that physical exhaustion, ritual, sacrifice, and collective memory produces these feelings of connectedness and national identity.”
GRADUATE PRIZE FOR TEACHING EXCELLENCE
The Graduate Prize for Teaching Excellence is given two graduate students this year.
Congratulations to our 2020 winners: Jacob Boss & Nicolò Sassi
Jacob Boss approaches teaching as a vocation; he stands out in his dedication to thinking about teaching as a practice. As one faculty member writes, "Jacob is passionate about developing innovative pedagogical methods that mitigate student obsession with grades and liberate student intellectual and creative energy," and another faculty member describes Jacob as the “most enthusiastic, hard-working, and organized young teacher” she has ever observed.
Nicolò Sassi embodies an exceptional commitment to and enthusiasm for the art of teaching. As one of his recommenders writes, "Nicolò is a dedicated, vibrant, and caring instructor who always puts the learning of his students first. [...] Nicolò has made developing as a teacher a central component of his professionalization, and he has succeeded marvelously!"
GRADUATE ESSAY PRIZE
In accord with established tradition, the Religious Studies department holds a graduate student essay contest each spring. The contest is open to all graduate students, regardless of departmental affiliation. Papers will be judged by the undergraduate and graduate committees based on the following criteria: clarity, focus, development of the subject or problem, use of evidence and sources, originality and creativity.
Congratulations to our 2020 winners:
1st place: Maggie Slaughter
“Husks of Hooded Men: Capuchin Mummies in Early Modern Sicily”
2nd place: Nicolò Sassi
“Intertextuality, Isiac Features, and the Shaping of the Sacred Feminine in Trimorphic Protennoia (NHC XIII,1)”
3rd place: Jakob Breunig
“Unsettling Meditations: Georges Bataille, Sovereignty, and the Power of the Sacred in Holocaust Images”