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2016-2017 taft center fellows


aryay finkelsteinAri Finkelstein

Project Title: Emperor Julian and the Jews: The Place of Jews in the Making of a Pagan Empire

My book project, Emperor Julian and the Jews, demonstrates how Emperor Julian (361-363), the nephew of Constantine, used Jews’ proximity to pagans in Syrian Antioch to re-make imperial pagan identity and to delegitimize Christian “others”. This important discovery in the study of religion of late antiquity, for Jewish-Christian relations, stems from the fact that Julian’s comments have never been examined in any depth, and the fact Julian only mentions Jews in the final six months of his eighteen-month rule. Nevertheless, beginning in January 363 and in the midst of growing opposition from both Christians and pagans alike to his program in Antioch, Julian wrote six works in which Jews figured prominently. In these works he used the Jewish God, Jewish practices, Jewish heroes, and the Jerusalem temple to model imperial pagan religion and to delegitimize Christianity. My work asks questions about the relationship between religion and state, and between religion and empire. In particular, I investigate the state’s use of religious identity to legitimate itself and to de-legitimate its opponents.


Ivanovagergana ivanova

Project Title: Unbinding The Pillow Book: Gender, Adaptation, and the Afterlife of a Japanese Classic

My book project examines the intersections between gender ideology, political context, cultural appropriation, and literary production in the re-construction of the large corpus of Japanese women’s writing that emerged in the tenth and eleventh centuries. These works are frequently referred to as “classics,” and have played a crucial role in the creation of national literature in modern Japan. Focusing on The Pillow Book (early 11th c.), which is one of the texts that form the core of the Japanese literary canon as it is taught today, I examine different streams of influence on perceptions of Heian (794-1185) literary works, tracing how they have come to take on different evaluations. Why, for example, do some texts from the distant past continue to play important roles in cultural production? What processes and agents have contributed to new readings of Japanese “classics”? Why have the images of women writers been manipulated and appropriated over the centuries?


heidi maibomMaibom

Project Title: Coming to Grips with Perspective Taking

What do we do when we put ourselves in someone else’s situation? What do we hope to achieve? How does our ability to take others’ perspectives relate to our empathizing with them, respecting them, understanding what it’s like to be them, and acting morally towards them? Do certain perspectives undergird traditional political power structures? Despite the centrality of these questions to our lives, there have been relatively few accessible and interdisciplinary investigations into perspective taking as a whole. My book addresses these questions in a unified approach, uniting psychology and philosophy and extending our understanding of perspective taking. I defend a version of the common sense view that perspective taking involves a substantive change of perspectives, is experiential, contains more details than more objective and discursive modes of thought, allows you to share (part of) someone else’s experience, and brings to light distinctive kinds of information (what it’s like).



Nortonfuraha norton

Project Title: The Uses of Realism in the Postmodern Literary World: Reading Toni Morrison After George Eliot

Victorian novelist George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans, has been canonized as one of the greatest nineteenth century British writers for novels such as Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss, and Middlemarch. Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature, has garnered countless accolades for her ten novels, The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved among others. Both use the realist novel to champion a broad range of ethical concerns: to critique how patriarchal societies limit women’s choices and possibilities for growth and achievement; to articulate the transformative power of sympathy; and to illuminate the crucial role of childhood, memory and history in characters’ conceptions of themselves and what it means to belong to a community. To do all of these things both writers use the omniscient narrator in strikingly similar ways, despite the differences of time and place that would seem to divide them. My book illustrates how both Eliot and Morrison use the realist novel—one which seeks to represent everyday life and the lives of characters in a believable manner—to ensure readers understand their characters’ lives and the beliefs and values that inform their fictive worlds.



shailaja paikPaik

Project Title: The Politics of Performance: Caste, Sexuality, and Discrimination in Popular Culture in India

Why did the “folk” theatre of tamasha, paradoxically engender a degraded form of “folk” performance demeaning Dalits (“Untouchables”) and non-Dalits alike? How did mixed-caste performers in tamasha connect with the larger politics of their social, political, economic, and intellectual marginalization? Why did modern Maharashtrians depict tamasha as “dirty” and “corrupt” and at the same time embrace it as a regional icon? To investigate these questions, I focus on Maharashtrian popular culture that has been rooted in the politics of caste and gendered practices and engendered certain caste-specific norms of gender and sexuality. I purposefully delve into the realm of popular culture—doggerels and poems, songs and theatrical performances—fashioned by lower caste women and men to express their concerns, experiences, and aspirations as they negotiated with colonial rulers, the upper-castes, and lower castes in particular historical conjunctures. I study Dalit performers ideas, actions, and lives, focusing on the intersections of caste, class, gender, sexuality, and popular cultural practices in the cities of Pune and Mumbai (Western India) in the twentieth century.



Wrightearl wright, II

Project Title: Jim Crow Sociology

The first book length examination of “Black Sociology” in the United States, “Jim Crow Sociology: From the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory to the Association of Black Sociologists,” is the second of a three book series on the origin, development and significance of sociology in the United States as practiced by Blacks at predominately Black institutions. Jim Crow Sociology extends the examination of the Black sociological enterprise beyond the exploits of W. E. B. Du Bois and Atlanta University and into the individual accomplishments of persons including, but not limited to, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Anna Julia Cooper and Maria Stewart and institutional units including Fisk University, Howard University and Tuskegee Institute over a nearly fifty year period. This volume concludes with an examination of the conditions leading to the establishment of the Association of Black Sociologists and a discussion of the impact of desegregation on sociology at predominately Black institutions.




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