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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

SU appoints 2011-12 Humanities Center Dissertation Fellows

Nell Champoux and Soumitree Gupta are doctoral students in the humanities

Aug. 19, 2011, by Rob Enslin

Nell Champoux
Nell Champoux
The Syracuse University Humanities Center is pleased to announce recipients of its 2011-12 HC Dissertation Fellowships. Nell Champoux G’12 (left) and Soumitree Gupta G’12—doctoral students in religion and in women’s and gender studies/English, respectively—are receiving one-year awards, carrying stipends and benefits. The fellowship program supports students working on doctoral dissertations that contain strong humanistic content and advance one or more areas of study in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Nell and Soumitree exemplify the interdisciplinary spirit of the humanities,” says Gregg Lambert, Dean’s Professor of the Humanities who directs The SU Humanities Center and The Central New York Humanities Corridor. “In this era of growing unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, the role of the humanities is more critical than ever,” says Lambert. “Nell’s and Soumitree’s work has inherent practical value, as well, and serves to bridge the gap between academic research and community knowledge.”

Lambert says that both fellows will meet regularly to discuss their dissertation projects during the fellowship year. In the spring they also will lead colloquia around their dissertation research, and will participate in SU Humanities Center events and activities. 

Champoux’s dissertation, “Visionary Architecture: Monastic Magic and Cognition in John of Morigny’s ‘Liber florum,’” is named for the 14th-century Benedictine monk who participated in ritual magic and had visionary experiences. Besides being fascinating reading, John’s text, says Champoux, has altered the study and classification of medieval religions.

“Through a detailed examination of John’s visions and the historical context in which they were written, I argue that magic unsettled medieval theological boundaries and imbued John with a degree of creative license that forced theological interventions from his more orthodox peers,” says Champoux.

Patricia Miller, Champoux’s advisor, says this kind of research is rooted in the latter-day work of Hélène Cixous—specifically, her concept of “productive exile”—and of Michel Foucault, whose study of utopias and heterotopias has changed our understanding of space and time. Miller also points out that Champoux’s research rocks the fractious scholarly field of magic at its “conceptual and definitional core.”

“She is intellectually bold to enter into these discussions,” says Miller, who serves as The Bishop W. Earl Ledden Professor of Religion. “I think her approach—which emphasizes the idea of what magic does, intellectually, rather than what it is—will make a real contribution toward de-essentializing this topic and enabling its study as a legitimate expression of religion."
Soumitree Gupta
Soumitree Gupta
Gupta’s dissertation, “Arriving Home: Mobile Women, Multiple Temporalities, South Asian Diasporic Texts,” also looks at the concept of human geography. Specifically, she wants to know if liberatory feminist homes for women of color can be imagined without reproducing Western imperialist and anti-Western nationalist teleologies.

“I am examining non-linear representations of home and nation in feminist or proto-feminist cultural productions by South Asian diasporic women in the post-Nineties’ global North,” says Gupta (right), referring to the United States, England, and Australia. “These cultural texts—fiction, memoir, and film—all share the trope of the ‘mobile’ woman who travels through non-linear space and time to disrupt and explode competing and powerful ideological scripts of rescue and return.”

This kind of literary representation, says advisor Chandra Talpade Mohanty, is not without its challenges. “Soumitree’s work addresses, in productive and original ways, some of the most contested and provocative questions in the field of postcolonial feminist studies: questions of home, nation, and identity,” says Mohanty, professor of women’s and gender studies.

Mohanty is quick to praise Gupta as a mature interdisciplinary scholar. “Soumitree has a thorough grounding in theoretical and methodological issues in literary, cinematic, and cultural analysis,” she says.

The SU Humanities Center, founded in 2008, fosters public engagement in the humanities, and is home to The Mellon CNY Humanities Corridor; The Mellon Visiting Collaborator and Jeanette K. Watson Distinguished Visiting Professorship programs; the HC Mini-Seminar and Syracuse Symposium Seminar series; and other research initiatives, annual fellowships and public programming.