Why Scholars Come to CUA:
Four Foreign Professors Seek World-Class Resources
By Richard Wilkinson
Every year, foreign scholars choose to come to Catholic University because of its unique, world-class experts and resources. CUA’s own faculty members, in turn, go abroad as visiting scholars and lecturers to pursue their own research needs and to experience other cultures. Here is a look at this year’s Fulbright and other visiting scholars who are making the most of their time at CUA and abroad.
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When Michael Sokoloff, a professor of Semitic languages at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, decided to translate into English a key 1928 dictionary of the ancient Syriac language, he found that his own country’s resources were insufficient.
His task: The dictionary includes 85,000 references to texts in which particular Syriac words are used but it doesn’t quote the referenced phrases so that readers can get a feel for the meaning of the word in context. To add those 85,000 phrases to his new edition of the dictionary, Sokoloff needed to find the 800 primary Syriac documents in which the phrases appear.
Visiting scholar Michael Sokoloff in CUA's Semitics/Institute of Christian Oriental Research Library.
The problem: Although Israel is a Middle Eastern country and Syriac is a Middle Eastern language (which is still being used by Eastern Christian churches), Israel contains only 200 to 300 of the 800 books Sokoloff needed.
“When I thought about which institutions in the world have a critical mass of the Syriac books I needed to complete this project, I thought that Catholic University is the place,” he says. In CUA’s Semitics/Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR) Library located in the basement of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library, he has found all but 10 to 15 of the 800 texts he was searching for.
“I can’t say that there is no other library in the world with the same number of [Syriac] books, but Catholic University is the only place I know where all these books are gathered in one library,” he says. The collections of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania might rival that of CUA, he adds, but they are scattered throughout different libraries, requiring greater effort to search for books. Sokoloff concluded that the only way he could finish the project in time was to come to CUA.
Catholic University’s Semitics/ICOR Library is a world-class, invaluable resource, says the professor who traveled to CUA in November and will return to Israel at the end of March. “My expectations were exceeded by the results of my research here.”
His work on the dictionary is funded by a three-year grant from Israel’s Basic Research Foundation, an entity that Sokoloff calls “the National Endowment for the Humanities of Israel.” He says he could not have made the progress he has at CUA without the assistance of Catholic University doctoral student Jonathan Loopstra, who is acting as his personal assistant, and Monica Blanchard, the curator of CUA’s Semitics/ICOR Library.
“Michael Sokoloff's work in making available dictionaries of important Aramaic dialects from late antiquity is a tremendous service to the scholarly and religious communities,” says Professor Michael Patrick O’Connor, chair of CUA’s Department of Semitics. As for CUA’s impressive resources, O’Connor says, “Our collection is itself a testimony to the foresight of Father Henri Hyvernat, the founder of the department, who was hired by correspondence from his native France. Before he crossed the ocean to the barren New World he made sure to buy hundreds of books that he knew his department would need in the coming decades.”
They Also Come for the People
In addition to being attracted to CUA for its world-class resources, visiting scholars may come to the university because of ties with a CUA faculty member. Two of the three Fulbright scholars at CUA this academic year are here because of their contact with George McLean, a CUA professor emeritus of philosophy and the director of the university’s Center for the Study of Culture and Values. They are Liubov Chetyrova, a professor of philosophy at Samara State University in Russia (who will be here until early April), and Paata Chkheidze, chair of the Department of English Language and Literature at Gori State University in the country of Georgia (who will be here until late May).
McLean could be called a world-class networker. His CUA center has published 175 books by scholars from dozens of countries and, at the age of 76, the professor emeritus is planning to lead 2006 conferences on different topics in Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, Ukraine, Iran, India and Indonesia. During the fall 2005 semester, both Chetyrova and Chkheidze participated in McLean’s 10-week-long seminar titled Symbols in Cultures and Identities in a Time of Global Interaction, which met two days a week on campus.
Chetyrova is ethnically a member of a Mongolian people — the Kalmyks — who lived just north of the Caspian Sea until Stalin deported them to Siberia in 1943. In the early 1950s, several hundred Kalmyks immigrated to the Philadelphia area. Chetyrova is in America to study these groups and how living in the United States has affected their Buddhist culture and attitude toward work.
“The Fulbright coordinator in Moscow warned us that American university advisers usually don’t give much attention to Fulbrighters and that we would probably only see our adviser twice,” says Chetyrova. That hasn’t been the case with her adviser — George McLean — however. “He is a very, very kind person and a very great adviser,” she says.
Her impression before coming was that Americans were ethnocentric and not interested in other cultures. That image has been modified by her time in the States. She is especially impressed with the American experience of dealing with its racial and ethnic problems. “Russia contains more than 100 ethnicities, and the main problems of Russian culture now are racial and ethnic,” she says. “The ethnic policy of the Russian government is not good. The U.S. experience of overcoming racial and ethnic problems is helpful for Russia.”
As for Professor Chkheidze, his main project at CUA is to select 10 to 15 American essays of the late 20th century and translate them into Georgian for publication as an anthology. In addition to choosing essays by literary writers such as Saul Bellow and Robert Penn Warren, he is including essays by CUA professors Stephen Schneck, Claes G. Ryn and Virgil Nemoianu. He is also including some well-known conservative writers, such as William F. Buckley. Conservative U.S. thinkers are not generally known in Georgia, he says.
Chkheidze’s adviser at CUA, Professor Virgil Nemoianu, is an expert on comparative literature who is well versed in the literatures of Western and Eastern Europe. In addition, Associate Professor Schneck, chair of the politics department, has provided “everything here for fruitful work — and hospitality and kindness first of all,” says the Georgian scholar.
Chkheidze also is writing a paper on the development of democracy in the former Soviet republics. He has expertise in electoral politics, having served as a member of Georgia’s parliament from 1990 to 1995 and as the major of Gori, a city of 60,000, from 2002 to 2004.
A Place to Study the Sacred
The third Fulbright scholar currently at CUA wanted to come to a U.S. university where she could pursue her main interest, contemporary sacred architecture. She searched through information on U.S. architecture schools and found that CUA’s school has a unique graduate concentration in sacred architecture.
This Fulbrighter, Andreea Mihalache, is an assistant professor at Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest, Romania. She’ll be here until April 30. Her research topic is contemporary funerary architecture and the contemporary aesthetics of death. She is studying, for example, a celebrated 15-year-old cemetery in Igualada, Spain, whose innovative design seeks to lessen the separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead. “The resources that I find in the United States are not available otherwise,” she says.
Mihalache also has pitched in as a visiting teacher at CUA. She has served as a guest critic at design reviews of student work, and this term is co-teaching a graduate design studio and supplementary class with faculty member Travis Price within the school’s sacred space concentration. In addition, the Romanian scholar is working on a forthcoming exhibition on contemporary sacred spaces in Latin America coordinated by Associate Dean George Martin and on a CUA symposium on “Spiritual Washington, D.C.” to be held in March 2007. She praises the help and support she has received from Dean Randall Ott and her academic adviser, Assistant Professor Adnan Morshed.
One of her most memorable experiences in the United States, she says, was going with the graduate design studio to visit a Washington, D.C., mosque, synagogue and church and talking to the imam, rabbi and priest. “The imam and rabbi were really great — peaceful and understanding, with a particular understanding for architecture,” she says. “It was one of my major revelations — that religious leaders can be so open-minded.”
CUA Professors Abroad
While CUA is a host of visiting scholars, its own professors also go abroad to study and teach. Two CUA professors are 2005-2006 Fulbright scholars/lecturers abroad: Professor of English Ernest Suarez is in southern China until July and Adjunct Professor of Law Shelby Quast was in India for a six-week sojourn ending in mid-February.
Ernest Suarez: An American literature expert in China.
Suarez is based in Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, from which he goes out to lecture on American literature and the poetry of the American South. Last fall he gave 17 lectures at universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hong Kong, Xian, Shanton, Macau, Nanjing and other places. He also traveled to England in January to lecture at the University of Oxford.
Suarez writes that he and his wife and two sons “have climbed mountains, rafted down the Li River, and eaten things you couldn't believe (at one point we had a plate with about 200 ducks' tongues set before us — they weren't bad).
“Perhaps the most unusual thing that's happened has to do with baseball,” he adds. “My 15-year-old and I practice whenever possible. The athletic director spotted us practicing, and we got to talking. The short of it is that I became Sun Yat-sen University's assistant baseball coach, and after some administrative juggling, my son Christopher was allowed to join the team. It has been quite a thrill for him, playing on a college team at the age of 15. In the fall, he played shortstop, pitched and was named team MVP!”
CUA’s other Fulbrighter, Shelby Quast, has been teaching International Business Transactions in CUA’s Columbus School of Law for six years. Having worked in the field of international business for 10 years before getting her law degree, she combines expertise in business and law. (She is also the director general of the U.S. office of the International Legal Assistance Consortium, which helps countries re-establish the rule of law after a period of conflict or war.)
In India, Quast was a Fulbright lecturer teaching her International Business Transactions course at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow. There she crammed in a semester’s worth of classes in less than six weeks. She also organized a Fulbright workshop that she says raised a few eyebrows. For it, she brought together lawyers, business leaders, government officials and professors at law and business schools, getting them all to think about how business people and lawyers can work together to improve international business initiatives.
Shelby Quast speaks to Indian lawyers and businessmen.
“They came to the workshop skeptical of why they were being brought together,” she say, “but when they left they were planning continuing monthly seminars on the same topic.”
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Last Revised 03-Mar-06 01:17 PM.