MASNEWS 2/2014: Of Tradition and Newly Opened Doors
On April 25, the HCA celebrated the commencement of the MAS Class of 2014. This year’s ceremony featured the graduation not only of ten MAS students, but also of the HCA’s first B.A. in American Studies (BAS) class.
As is traditional for the HCA’s commencement celebrations, this year’s ceremony took place in the Alte Universität’s solemn and magisterial Aula.
Opening this ninth commencement ceremony, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Stefan Maul, Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy of Heidelberg University, acknowledged and praised the achievements and efforts of this year’s graduates. Deploying Heidelberg University’s motto, semper apertus (always open), Prof. Maul expressed his heartfelt wishes to the graduates, who stand now before newly opened doors. Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Detlef Junker, Founding Director of the HCA, warmly welcomed the graduating students, their families and friends as well as faculty, staff and friends of the HCA. Stressing the remarkable efforts and achievements of this year’s MAS class, Prof. Junker also extended his congratulations to the HCA’s first graduating BAS class. “Graduating the first 12 students of the Bachelor of Arts in American Studies at the HCA shows how remarkably the HCA has grown as an institute for higher education,” he explained. “So far, 144 students from 44 countries have gained ‘inside knowledge with an outside perspective’ within the MAS program. No fewer than 256 applications were sent in for the BAS program last year.” After describing the studies of the MAS graduates in the last fifteen months, Prof. Junker introduced this year’s guest speaker, George Packer. Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of eight books, including two novels, a play, and five works of non-fiction. His latest book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America won the 2013 National Book Award. Providing expert knowledge from an inside perspective, Packer presented the main thesis and structure of his new book. “As a journalist I know a little about a lot of things,” he confessed. “The Unwinding is a book about the key factors that have shaped America from 1978 to 2012.” Packer thus took the audience through his book by presenting the different lives of its protagonists, including Oprah Winfrey; Tammy Thomas, an African American woman from Youngstown, Ohio; and Sam Walton, who founded and managed Wal-Mart. Packer summarized The Unwinding as a journalist’s study of the breakdown of formerly functioning institutions and with them, the breakdown of the social contract, which, he explained, used to mean that if you worked hard, you had a chance at a secure future and expanded opportunities for your children. Whether this remains the case, Packer said, depends on whether these breakdowns over the past thirty-five years can be halted or reversed.
Following the keynote speech and Sebastian Bausch’s musical interlude, the presentation of the B.A. and M.A. degrees began. Once the graduates were awarded their diplomas and pictures were taken, this year’s valedictorian, Edward Palmi, took his place at the venerable lectern. Palmi received the HCA’s annual book prize for his outstanding academic achievements and his M.A thesis, “The Games and Rules of a ‘More Perfect Union’: The Political Economy of Constitution-making in America 1787.” Reflecting on his time at the HCA, Palmi singled out the graduates’ families and the HCA’s faculty for particular thanks, acknowledging that the continuous support the graduates received helped them to aim high. This input and guidance, combined with the students’ own hard work and dedication, has opened new doors for the graduates to proceed further in their academic engagement with American Studies or their chosen professional fields, and made the HCA a home that they will be excited to return to.
Following the ceremony, the graduating students, their family and friends, together with HCA faculty and staff proceeded from the university back to the Curt and Heidemarie Engelhorn Palais, where the joyous occasion was celebrated with food and drinks. The pleasant atmosphere at the HCA topped the evening off, while memories of the HCA and future plans were exchanged. Congratulations to both the BAS and MAS Classes of 2014!
From May 19 to 22, the students of the MAS Class of 2015 went to Berlin to experience the capital city of their host country, attend events, and visit institutions devoted to transatlantic relations. Current student Gregory Bousamra writes about his experiences and impressions of the trip.
During this year’s HCA excursion to Berlin, the MAS Class of 2015 had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Embassy and meet with Counselor for Economic Affairs John Rodgers to discuss German-American economic relations and careers in diplomacy. After the talk, the students enjoyed an hour-long question and answer session, where they received a first-hand glimpse into the mechanisms that shape American foreign policy.
"In diplomacy, human-to-human contact is all-important. Though helpful to the cause, social media and the Internet will never eclipse personal interaction."
At the start of his talk, Mr. Rodgers highlighted the value of American Studies in a global world. He noted that American exceptionalism has played an important role in forming America’s diplomatic practices since the early nineteenth century, when the United States needed to establish and defend its position on the global stage. It achieved this by strengthening its economic ties with European countries; America’s diplomats and missions abroad were crucial to realizing this goal.
America has had a longstanding economic partnership with Germany. Some of its first diplomatic missions were in Hanseatic cities such as Bremen and Hamburg, where human-to-human interactions between American and host country envoys enabled and eased transatlantic trade. Mr. Rodgers stressed that this human-to-human interaction remains the cornerstone of American diplomacy. Although social media and Internet communications technology make conducting foreign relations easier, the importance of personal contact between diplomats is unparalleled. With this, Mr. Rodgers invited the MAS students to consider joining the ranks of diplomats and civil servants who develop and maintain this contact on a daily basis.
During the Q&A, students asked numerous questions regarding topics ranging from official matters such as many Germans’ apprehension to entering the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) and the repercussions of the NSA Scandal, to more personal subjects like Mr. Rodgers’ educational and career background and the path that led him there. At the end of the meeting, the MAS delegation left the Embassy with a more detailed understanding of America’s diplomatic mission in Germany and the value of the German-American partnership in a global context.
Eter Churadze, a graduate of the MAS Class of 2007, returned to Georgia after graduating. She reports how the MAS program has influenced her current academic and professional activities.
After finishing the MAS program in 2007, I returned to Georgia and worked as an international relations coordinator for a local company. Then I moved to the public sector and I held the position of chief specialist in the department of international relations at the Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure. The transferable and interpersonal skills obtained in the international environment at the HCA enabled me to successfully cooperate with foreign stakeholders and partners at my previous jobs, as well as to cope with all kinds of challenging situations.
I would say the MAS program was an important factor in shaping my future, ultimate objectives and interests. The program allowed me to refine my academic competencies and broaden my horizons. Methodology and American Literature appeared to be especially beneficial and interesting, arousing my intellectual curiosity and developing analytical and writing skills, thus contributing to my professional formation. For that I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to my thesis supervisor, Professor Dietmar Schloss, who stimulated my interest in literature and encouraged my final decision to do a research project on early American novels. The result of the mentioned classes is that I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in philology at Tbilisi State University. The program focuses on literary translation criticism. Further, I am a TA and I deliver a special course on translation theory and practice. At the same time, I work in translation; I have recently initiated a philological study of George Byron’s personal correspondence and I plan to edit its first collection of Georgian translations.
Studying at the HCA and spending a year in Heidelberg was a rewarding experience for me. I wish every student would be offered an opportunity of studying in Heidelberg, the most enchanting and ravishing city in Germany. In addition to providing education and academic expertise, the MAS program facilitated the building of social relations and gave us a chance to interact with people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. This international flavor helped our student life to become an unforgettable and exciting adventure. Since graduation, I hadn’t seen any of my classmates until last year, when Marina Borisova and her husband paid me a visit to Georgia, which made me very happy. Our meeting was a real celebration, with Georgian cuisine and wine and a reunion of friends who have much in common: vivid recollections of the past life in Heidelberg, present values and interests. It was a real surprise that we both felt as if we only saw each other just a couple of days before.
Here is my advice to those who are just about to study abroad: If you decide to continue your education in Germany, believe me, the city of Heidelberg is the best place and the HCA is the best institution. There one can uniquely integrate the academic aspirations and the out-of-class experience. The significant point to consider is that the HCA staff creates a friendly learning environment and a cozy atmosphere where all students are equally inspired and supported.
Two former MAS students, Bryan Banker, MAS Class of 2012, and Robert Lee, MAS Class of 2007, participated in this year’s Spring Academy at the HCA. The Spring Academy is a one-week interdisciplinary conference for Ph.D. candidates working in different fields of American Studies. Banker and Lee report on their life after the MAS and their experience coming back to the HCA for the Spring Academy.
Bryan Banker: After graduating from the HCA in 2012, I continued my graduate studies and begun my Ph.D. in the Department of American Literature under Prof. Dr. Klaus Benesch at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. My dissertation is entitled Black Hegelians: Negotiating the Political, Social, and Aesthetic Consciousness in the Work of W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Langston Hughes. My project employs Hegelian philosophy in examining the dialectical struggle found within the work of Du Bois, Robeson and Hughes, while simultaneously exploring the political aesthetic and social aesthetic values of their art. I look to uncover how each intellectual artist used their artistic production as the analytical process in which to negotiate their political, social, and aesthetic consciousness. I applied to the Spring Academy in 2014 in order to gain valuable insights on how I can maximize my research and dissertation. It was a tremendously invigorating and beneficial experience! My colleagues and the staff were extremely helpful in providing great commentary and methodological recommendations for my work. Last but certainly not least, attending the Spring Academy helped in motivation! I felt energized being amongst such great aspiring scholars. I highly recommend it to all!
Robert Lee: I graduated from the MAS program in 2007, and stuck around to work as a TA and research assistant in the 2007-08 academic year. Back then, the Spring Academy was in its infancy. I knew several Ph.D. students at the HCA who had participated and really enjoyed it, so I kept it in mind when I started work on a Ph.D. in American History at the University of California-Berkeley, and have been reminded about it periodically by the HCA’s newsletter. I’ve been living in the Bay Area since 2009 and am now looking toward finishing my dissertation, Louisiana Purchases: The US-Indian Treaty System in the Missouri River Valley, under the direction of Mark Peterson and Brian DeLay. The 2014 Spring Academy seemed like a perfect time to come back to Heidelberg. I had collected a great deal of materials and I was looking for a forum to get some feedback. I was delighted when they accepted my proposal, not in the least because it had been a few years since I had been back in 2011, shortly after I married Dorothee Unger (we met at the HCA—I got more than an education in Heidelberg!). There were some big changes at the HCA, in particular the building expansion and the B.A. program. I was glad to see other things had stayed the same--the convivial atmosphere, the interdisciplinary spirit, and several members of the faculty and staff. It was great to come back, reconnect with old friends, and make some new ones. The Spring Academy lived up to its reputation. The intensive, small group format, under the able direction of Ms. and Mr. Spring Academy, of course, was both productive and fun. I particularly valued the opportunity to get perspectives from Americanists outside my discipline and subfield. For the next year, at least, Doro and I will be in Berkeley—me finishing my dissertation and she working as a Program Coordinator at Berkeley’s Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing. We’re not sure where we will eventually end up, but hope it’s not too long until we can visit Heidelberg and the HCA again.
Professor John Turner is the HCA’s visiting scholar-in-residence for the 2013-14 academic year. Professor Turner teaches and writes about the history of religion in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America in blogs like Religion in American History and The Anxious Bench, and newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. Today, he shares insight into his current research project at the HCA.
My year at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies has allowed me to advance my current research project, entitled The Mormon Jesus.
Over the past two presidential election cycles in the United States, journalists, scholars, and others spent considerable time examining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Why do Mormons wear special underwear? What do Mormons do in their temples? What about polygamy? Many evangelical Protestants in particular, while supporting Mitt Romney over Barack Obama, questioned whether Latter-day Saints are Christians.
In The Mormon Jesus, I use that final question as a point of departure and as a means of reexamining key Latter-day Saint beliefs and practices. I argue that Mormonism is not, as some writers have asserted, "a new religious tradition" or a "fourth Abrahamic faith." Instead, it is a new branch of Christianity, alongside Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy. The Latter-day Saints have introduced new scriptures, distinctive rituals, and beliefs (such as the rejection of the Nicene Creed and its understanding of the Trinity) that diverge from most other branches of Christianity. Nevertheless, given the intensely christocentric nature of contemporary Mormonism, it decreasingly makes sense to categorize this church as an entirely new religion. Most Mormon beliefs and practices, such as baptism for the dead or the possibility of theosis, have antecedents within either the Christian Bible or within early Christian practice.
Over the span of six chapters, I trace how Mormons have conceptualized and interacted with Jesus Christ over the church’s history. I examine visions, revelations, scripture, artwork, and hymns. I present early Mormonism as thoroughly christocentric, as evidenced by reported visions of Jesus Christ, dialogue with Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith’s revelations, and the significance of Jesus Christ within the Book of Mormon. In these instances, I connect Mormonism to antecedents within the broad sweep of Christian history and within the context of nineteenth-century America. Over the course of the church’s first hundred years, the Latter-day Saints continually revised their understanding of Jesus Christ. At first, they adhered to a typically Protestant conception of the Trinity, then understood Jesus Christ and God the Father as "separate personages" with exalted human bodies. For a time, in accordance with an understanding of God the Father having a wife ("Heavenly Mother"), Mormon leaders entertained the possibility that Jesus had been married (to more than one woman) during his earthly existence. Eventually, Mormon leaders codified their beliefs about Jesus Christ in the early twentieth century, identifying the Son of God with the "Jehovah" of the Hebrew scriptures.
Throughout the manuscript, I treat Mormonism within its American cultural context. When other Americans began depicting Jesus Christ as a white, Anglo-Saxon male, so did the Latter-day Saints. At the same time as American Protestants criticized contemporary depictions of Jesus as too effete, Mormon artists brought forth more muscular and athletic images of the Son of God. In the late twentieth century, the Latter-day Saints were strongly influenced by evangelical culture, partly through an attempt to rebut evangelical criticisms of Mormonism. Latter-day Saints adopted evangelical rhetoric about a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" and emphasized their christocentricity in everything from sermons to artwork.
During my year at the HCA, I have drafted the bulk of The Mormon Jesus. The manuscript is under contract with Harvard University Press and is scheduled to appear in early 2016. I am grateful to the HCA for providing me with time to write. More particular, I am grateful for the HCA’s remarkable environment of collegiality (among faculty, staff, and students) and conviviality. Herzlichen Dank!
July 25, 2014
Summer Barbecue of the HCA student´s committee
October 6, 2014
Start of Orientation Week for the new MAS and BAS classes at the HCA
October 16, 2014
Awarding of the Rolf Kentner Dissertation Prize to Juliane Braun, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, for her Ph.D. thesis on French Theatrical Culture in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana.
Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA)
Curt und Heidemarie Engelhorn Palais
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