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First Fellows: Summer in the Marian Library

By Maureen Schlangen

New fellowships made possible by a gift to the University of Dayton by the Marianist Province of the United States will support two innovative projects that draw upon the materials and expertise of the Marian Library — one in the modern use of the rosary, the other in viewing illness and disability in terms of religion and health communication. 

The Marian Library fellowships — one for a visiting scholar and one for a resident scholar — commemorate the recent incorporation of the International Marian Research Institute into the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Dayton.

Visiting Scholar Fellowship

Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada, an assistant professor of religion at Kalamazoo College and editor of the journal Material Religion, received the Marian Library Visiting Scholar Fellowship for the project “Reinventing the Rosary: Innovation and Catholic Prayer.”

The rosary has been a fixture of Catholic prayer life for centuries, Maldonado-Estrada says. Its most familiar form — a string of grouped beads with a separate strand ending in a crucifix, is familiar to the point of being iconic. But according to Maldonado-Estrada, the design of the rosary isn’t locked in. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the rosary has undergone marked transformations that appeal to modern needs, interests and lifestyles using new technology, materials, media and trends.

“My project will tell the story of the many inventors, devotees and marketers who remade the rosary as both a novelty and coveted consumer object — one that was technologically and spiritually advanced to fit into the lives of modern consumers.”

In the past century, these variations have included rosaries that speak, electronic rosaries, rosaries that attach to steering wheels, smartphone rosary apps and rosaries with secret compartments for relics and other sacred materials. She plans to use the Marian Library’s collections of rosaries, holy cards, pamphlets and other materials to study centuries of rosary devotion. 

The fellowship provides Maldonado-Estrada with $3,000 for travel, living and research expenses.

Resident Scholar Fellowship

Liz Hutter, an assistant professor of English at the University of Dayton, will receive the Marian Library Resident Scholar Fellowship for the project “Reading, Writing, and Seeing Health and Disability in Community at Lourdes Sanctuary.”

An account from the writer Flannery O’Connor, whose cousin suggested a pilgrimage to Lourdes as a healing intervention for a chronic illness, prompted Hutter’s interest in pursuing what she sees as a binary logic often associated with Lourdes, the shrine commemorating the 1858 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous.

O’Connor made a distinction clear to her cousin: “I am going as a pilgrim, not a patient.”

Religious beliefs and spiritual practices play a role in how many people understand their illnesses or disabilities, Hutter posits. At the same time, religious institutions and spiritual communities are commonly involved in health promotion and communication around illness and disability. These individual beliefs and institutional practices merge on the therapeutic and spiritual landscape of the Lourdes sanctuary. Using materials and expertise in the Marian Library, she plans to examine Lourdes from multiple disciplines as not only a place for individual reflection and healing, but also as a space for examining community relationships and access to community services for persons with neurological, physical, sensory and other disabilities. By employing a disability studies perspective, she says, she plans to destabilize the rigid distinction O’Connor articulated between pilgrim and patient.

The four- to eight-week summer residency carries a stipend of $3,000. Hutter will share highlights from her fellowship and a report on her ongoing project at a fall colloquium. 

Quality resources, quality scholarship

Jana Bennett, professor of moral theology and chair of the Department of Religious Studies, says the new awards will draw attention to some of the University of Dayton’s greatest assets and expertise.

“These research fellowships enable expansion of the College’s and Department of Religious Studies’ academic focus in Marian theology,” Bennett says. “In addition, having these scholars in residence whose focus is on Mary will foster awareness and dialogue about Marian theology and aspects of the Marian Library. That will bring a positive impact to students in our department's undergraduate and graduate programs in Marian theology.”

More information

More information about the Marian Library Fellowships is available on the Marian Library website.

Photo: Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada (left), Liz Hutter (right)

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