With 2021-2022 Annual Research Theme, ISLA Generates Scholarly Engagement with Meanings and Methods of Healing

Author: Josh Tychonievich

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Last year, ISLA invited scholars to consider what it means to heal and how healing occurs across individuals, cultures, geographies, and periods of time. The COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 US presidential election, recent acts of horrific violence against BIPOC and other marginalized groups, and the pall of climate change brought striking physical, emotional, and mental pain to the lives of millions of people. ISLA’s 2021-2022 Annual Research Themed Grant program, A Time to Heal, asked how we might respond to such pain.

Faculty and graduate students across the College of Arts and Letters responded to this call with proposals that span a wide range of methodologies and topics. In total, ISLA awarded 11 grants under the A Time to Heal program: five to graduate students and six to faculty. With projects grounded in such diverse fields as psychology, history, literary studies, ethnomusicology, political science, anthropology, and sociology, scholars across the college have used ISLA support to investigate the varied dimensions of healing across time and space.

Some of these projects take up topics related to emotional and mental well-being. Prof. Melissa Miller of German and Russian Languages and Literatures will use ISLA funding to support archival research at the National Library of Medicine. Miller’s project “investigates how Russian and Soviet doctors used storytelling to help their patients and themselves deal with trauma during the Russian Revolution and Civil War.” Prof. Aidan Seale-Feldman’s project similarly examines medical approaches to trauma, as well as anxiety, addiction, and depression. Focused on the contemporary San Francisco Bay Area, Feldman’s ethnographic study “explores the challenges and imagined possibilities of an alternative psychiatry that incorporates mystical experiences” and psychedelic substances.

A graduate student in psychology, Natalia Salamanca Balen, will use an A Time to Heal grant to study the role of hope in restoring physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. “By providing an optimistic vision of the near or distant future,” Balen theorizes, “hope plays a pivotal role in promoting healing.” Anna Gabur, a sociology graduate student, will examine the role of empathy. Gabur intends for this study of “how we share pain and joy with others” to yield a book that will guide counselors, psychiatrists and chaplains.

Other projects more directly engage political and social divisions. Two awardees will study the relationship between healing and immigration. Helal Khan, a graduate student in anthropology and peace studies, will examine a path toward healing for Rohingya refugees who have relocated to the American Midwest during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prof. Alex Chávez will use ISLA support to complete Sonorous Present, “a suite of compositions featuring music, dance, and spoken word poetry” centered on “key dimensions of the ongoing conflicts surrounding the [U.S.-Mexico] border as a physical place and theater of violence.” “Through a collaborative, immersive and ethnographic research-based process,” this project asks “How can we heal the cultural and emotional divides caused by the border?”

Alyssa Paylor’s dissertation in anthropology and peace studies draws from ethnographic research among Israelis and Palestinians to ask “what assumptions are made when practitioners of reconciliation encourage people who have experienced violence to heal or look towards the future.” Prof. Sophie White will conduct archival research in France and Mauritius to examine “extrajudicial violence against the enslaved” in historical French slave societies. White’s research shows “strategies used by enslaved individuals to heal themselves, but most especially, through community support, to help others heal.”

Political science faculty member Luis Schiumerini will research the causes of affective polarization or the reasons why “people of different political persuasions increasingly dislike and distrust each other at a personal level.” With a focus on Argentina, Schiumerini’s research has the potential to inform “cross-class bridges” that might “improve political tolerance” and heal social and political divides. Jacob Turner, a graduate student in political science, will study the relationship between citizens and the state locally in South Bend. Prof. Emilia Justyna Powell will also use ISLA funds for research in political science with a project focused on Islam in small communities throughout the United States. Powell’s research investigates the conditions for healing the pain caused by Islamophobia and “misunderstanding of Islamic law.”

Taken together, these projects show the multiple dimensions of healing and the various conditions that might move individuals and societies toward that goal. They also attest to the diversity and quality of research undertaken in the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame as well as ISLA’s continued status as a hub for scholarly activity.