My first year of doctoral work ended in fairly typical fashion. A deluge of papers and readings made the last month of courses exciting, nail-biting, and very rewarding. As May gave way to June, I celebrated with friends and family of those graduating from Drew while beginning work as a research assistant for Professor Terry Todd. My research revealed the complex relationship between politics, gender, sexuality, and trans-national conservative evangelicalism in the late 1970s. This narrative added yet another storyline to an already multifaceted historiographic account of the Religious Right’s ascendancy in the United States. My summer had officially begun in a key of scholarship.
I moved out of the archive and left behind the not-so-cooperative microfilm machines. My next summer destination was a conference at Indiana University’s Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. The university is known for its innovative journal, Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation. The Center in particular foregrounds “change” in conversations between political scientists, sociologists, scholars of religion, and historians within their respective fields. The conference discussions pushed me to reflect on why many scholars are nervous about studying the biblical text; how the field of American religious studies understands itself relative to American religious history; and in what ways the notion of “imperial democracy” reframes discussions of race and religion in North America. These questions revealed the volatile disciplinary grounds upon which my field rests, shifting the key of scholarship to include another—a key of methodological and disciplinary identity.
The third chapter of my summer began in nearby Princeton, New Jersey at the Hispanic Theological Initiative’s (HTI) summer workshop. Established to “provide a forum for the exchange of information, ideas, and the best practices to address the needs of Latina/o faculty and students,” HTI welcomed me into the community as one of its newest members. Having finally found a language suitable to my mestizo or mixed ancestry (Mexican-American and Jewish), I embraced the moment in a newfound way. I discovered a diverse community of motivated students and professors from all over Latin America. I thoroughly enjoyed the seminars, lectures, and discussions on publishing, clearer writing, and the pedagogy of Paulo Freire. The days, and nights, were packed with fellowship, intense dialogue, and organic connection between friends and colleagues. Tuned in the keys of scholarship and identity, my HTI experience added yet another component to an already melodious creation—community, or la comunidad.
My summer culminated in a course at the Hispanic Summer Program in Mundelein, Illinois. Titled, “Religion and Race in the History of the Americas,” the seminar introduced me to literatures examining the legacy of modernity in Latin America through Spanish exploration, literature, Christianity, and “religion.” De-colonial scholarship added complexity to this story, as world capitalist systems gave way to racial formations, nationalism, and internal colonialism in North America.
Looking back on my summer, I realize that one’s scholarship and experiences of various identities and communities do not represent discrete sources of individuality. Rather, they are co-constituted in a blend of individual choice and intersubjective sociality. My own braided story emerged in this reflection with the help of musical metaphors, images of ancestral combination, and a language of self-identification that embraces both chotchkies and home-made guacamole. Despite this country’s collective unease with thoughts of racial and ethnic miscegenation, in many ways, my story, like countless others, is the nation’s story. In light of this history, I am deeply grateful for my new community, and for Drew’s support in furthering my commitment to rigorous exploration.—L. Benjamin Rolsky, PhD student in Historical Studies