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Meet the Prof: Mark Ralkowski

5 Oct

Prof. Mark Ralkowski

This post is written by UHP Professor Mark Ralkowski.

Africa changed me twice. The first time it happened I was twenty years old, standing on a beach and swinging a piece of kelp at a troop of baboons who had stolen my backpack. I was drenched and short of breath from almost drowning. They were waddling through the white sand, one with my backpack in its mouth, determined to get away and gobble up my nectarines. That was the moment I decided to get a Ph.D. in philosophy.

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Meet the Professor: Theo Christov

26 Sep
Theo Christov

Prof. Theo Christov

Hi UHP-ers,

During the New Faculty Orientation, just shortly before the rocky and earth-shattering welcome Washington gave me, an incoming professor in the Sciences asked me what I will be teaching at GW. When I told him Intellectual History, he looked at me, quite puzzled: ‘So is the rest of history then… non-intellectual?’. After that question, I could not bring myself and tell him that my primary appointment is, in fact, in Honors. Imagine, intellectual history and honors: could one get any more snobbish, I am sure he would have thought. And yet, the pursuit of ideas is more than an academic title: it is a journey.

It is this journey for ideas that brought me to America when I was your age. The journey began in the early 1990’s when I was a freshman in high school, learning English for the first time. I had received a 1992 calendar-book from the Voice of America- the venerable voice of truth in Communist Bulgaria, where I grew up. The calendar had photographs of the most famous Washington landmarks, which, frankly, reminded me of imperial Rome. Little did I know that, two decades later, I would end up living right here, in Washington.

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Meet the Professor: Jenna Weissman Joselit

29 Aug
Prof. Jenna Weissman Joselit

Prof. Jenna Weissman Joselit

This post is written by UHP Professor Jenna Weissman Joselit.

Interested in gossip?  In the intimate details of daily life?  In travel and food and technology?  Then the study of History is your bag. Or ought to be.  Most of us tend to associate the study of the past with reams of facts, heaps of dates and dreary textbooks.  But if I had my way, History would spark your imagination, not dull it.

As an historian of vernacular culture – a fancy way of defining the everyday – I spend most of my waking hours (and some of my dreaming life, too) trying to reconstruct how people in, say, 16th century Venice or downtown Manhattan of the early 1900s, earned a living, dressed themselves and their homes, occupied their free time, practiced their faith and found their place in the world.  What they ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner is also of great interest to me, as is the way they made room for new forms of technology in their day-to-day routine.

The arts also loom large in my encounter with the past. How did earlier generations see and depict the world, I wonder?  What did they hear all about them? What kinds of things did they collect and put on display?  Did they go to museums? To concerts?  Kick up their heels and dance?

The challenges – and rewards – of looking for sources that reveal the texture of the everyday and the commonplace are many. It’s one thing, after all, to explore the roots of conflict or the process of industrialization. It’s quite another to figure out what someone in the 16th century had for breakfast.

To be an historian of daily life requires the instincts of a detective, the patience of a saint and an appetite for other people’s stories.

Why not swing by my office at 2142 G Street and share yours with me. I’d like that very much.  And who knows?  You just might end up becoming an historian.

-Jenna Weissman Joselit-

Director Maria Frawley Featured at English Blog

9 Oct

The fabulously popular and much-loved GW English blog has a great post on our very own Maria Frawley, Director of the UHP.

From the post:

In 1894 literary scholar George Saintsbury coined the term “Janeite” as a devotée of Jane Austen. Professor Maria Frawley (pictured with her cat Zeke) is a self-proclaimed Janeite, although she would like to emphasize that Janeites are scholars as well as devotées. You cannot deny this fact when meeting with the witty and warm Frawley who is not only a Nineteenth Century literature professor, but the new executive director of the University Honors Program.

Head on over to read the rest and find out more about our director!

Meet the Professor: Prof. Eyal Aviv

23 Sep
Professor Eyal Aviv

Professor Eyal Aviv

My name is Eyal Aviv; I am the Honors professor for Religious Studies. My main academic interests are Buddhism and East Asian religions. These interests are beyond mere research areas – they are an integral part of my personal and intellectual journey.

I grew up in Israel and, as early as high school, I was fascinated by the different ways people interpret the world. The wish to experience different cultures first hand led me on a trip to Thailand and China, and after a year of hard work to save up enough money, I packed my bundle and traveled to Asia. I lived for three months in a Thai Buddhist monastery and studied for a semester in a university in China. This was an eye-opening experience for me. The places I visited and the amazing people I met left a long lasting impression on me. I lived on a beautiful Island, traveled on elephants in the jungles of Thailand, almost got bitten by a huge and much too colorful spider, and fell into a gushing river during rafting. Still, living in a Buddhist monastery was the highlight of my trip.

When I came back to Israel, I decided to major in East Asian religions. Upon graduating I lived in China for a year and traveled extensively, especially to Buddhist monasteries. During that time, I was fortunate to meet some of the greatest Buddhist teachers living in China today. Among them was an old teacher, now over 100, who is famous for writing Buddhist texts with his blood, and an old teacher who sat in meditation while in ER and about to die. I sat with the monks in frozen meditation halls in remote temples hidden deep in the mountain and felt that there is something valuable this tradition has to teach me. The stories they told me, and the turbulent history of Chinese Buddhism in the last century, inspired me eventually focus on the challenges and prospect religions are facing in the modern period.

Later, I was stubborn enough to gain admission into a Ph.D. Buddhist Studies program at Harvard, a period which greatly shaped my intellectual journey. I wrote my dissertation on a group of scholastic Buddhists who revived one of the most sophisticated schools of Buddhist thought, the Yogācāra school.  Currently, I study this school and write my book about the history of this scholastic movement in modern China. I also published two articles about the Yogācāra school in China. One in a Chinese journal and the other will come out later this year about the reception of an important Buddhist encyclopedia from the 4th century CE in modern China. The article will be published as a part of an edited book dedicated to this important Buddhist text.

Beyond my academic life, I live in Takoma Park with my wife, Pazit, our two kids Noam and Dana, and our cat Tully. In those rare moments that I have for myself, I like to practice Tai chi, be away from the city or enjoy a good movie. My office is in the religion department, room 101. I always appreciate a good conversation, especially while imbibing a good cup of tea, chatting about Buddhism, mountains and interesting journeys.