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CSA Day 2021: Student Spotlights in Religious & Ethical Studies

Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Elena standing smiling at the camera
Photo courtesy of Elena Blackwelder

Elena Blackwelder

Project title: “The Effects of an Affective Education”

Please describe your research.

I reviewed literature on affect theory, a newer ethical field that focuses on the development of emotional connections to certain phrases, symbols, ideas, etc. After completing this foundational research, I began looking at literature regarding social studies curriculums in public education and how the methods used to teach history, civics and government have encouraged certain affective bonds to political parties. Ultimately, I wanted to investigate how public schools are or are not creating engaged, informed U.S. citizens.

What inspired your topic?

I’m really interested in education policy, and with 2020 being an election year, I was intrigued by what kinds of voters and citizens are being produced by public education. I wanted to know if civics and social studies curriculums as they’re currently taught are creating the impact they were intended to and what kind of change or growth needs to occur. Understanding how our education influences our opinions and values is essential to making informed decisions about our country and our leadership, and my research was deeply influenced by these questions.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

Since my research did not require the use of lab space or in-person contact, I think it was very easy to transition the process to be completed during the pandemic. I met with my advisor over Zoom, and the workshops for research participants were virtual, as well, but I don’t think that COVID-19 had as large of an impact on my research process as it did on other aspects of life and school. It was really nice to be productive and complete a project that I was invested in despite the other challenges of this past year.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

Completing research has helped me improve my writing and communication in ways that I think benefit me in my classes. I intend to go to graduate school, and participating in undergraduate research has helped prepare me for the work that I will do in the future. I am setting myself up to be a better student and a strong applicant for jobs in the future. Whether it be in the academic or the working world, the skills that I have gained and will continue to improve are ones that I will use in any future endeavors.

Scout sitting in the grass
Photo courtesy of Scout Burch

Scout Burch

Project title: “You Give Love a Bad Name: Making Sense of the White-Washed Philosophy of Love”

Please describe your research.

My research focuses on the representation of interracial relationships in media. I am focusing on two reality TV shows, Love is Blind and The Bachelor, and how these specific shows approach the topic of interracial relationships and the challenges that individuals face within those connections. I explore the social, economic and power issues that influence these relationships. I use the philosophies and research from the works of Helen Fisher and bell hooks to establish a criteria in which to assess the effectiveness of these shows in their discussion of these important issues.

What inspired your topic?

I was inspired to explore this topic because of the lack of representation of interracial couples in media as well as the increased attention that The Bachelor was receiving for having the first Black bachelor in its history. I wanted to explore the social stigma around these relationships as well as the specific struggles that individuals who enter into these relationships face in their families, their own mind and in society.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

Because my research was mostly reading and analyzing television shows, I was fortunate enough to not be heavily affected by COVID-19.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

Yes, this research did not only help me in developing my critical thinking and comprehension skills, but it has also enabled me to expand my ability to empathize with various groups of people, which will help me throughout my future career.

Anne Katherine standing in front of a lake
Photo courtesy of Anne Katherine Edwards

Anne Katherine Edwards

Project titles: “One More Thing to Hate: Toxic Masculinity in 10 Things I Hate About You” and “Who’s in Charge Here? How Traditional and Feminist Scholars Explain the Story of Jesus and the Canaanite/Syrophoenician Woman”

Please describe your research.

I have two different research papers that I will be presenting, both in the Department of Religious and Ethical Studies. My first research project is titled “One More Thing to Hate: Toxic Masculinity in 10 Things I Hate About You” and it focuses more on ethical studies. In my paper, I compared Joey and Cameron’s contrasting masculinities in the movie. Joey is the typical macho bully, while Cameron is the sensitive and sweet, nice guy. Because Joey’s masculinity seems so obviously toxic, Cameron seems like the perfect romantic hero which causes the audience to root for him. However, I argue that Cameron’s masculinity is more toxic than Joey’s because he secretly believes that Bianca owes him her affection and becomes obsessed with asserting his masculinity over her.

My second research project is titled “Who’s in Charge Here? How Traditional and Feminist Scholars Explain the Story of Jesus and the Canaanite/Syrophoenician Woman” and it is more focused on religion. In this paper, I examine the oddities of the story of the Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman in the Bible and how different scholars have interpreted the story as a result. This story is especially strange because it is a demand story; in demand stories, someone other than Jesus takes initiative in the healing process. I argue that the conflicting theories are due to this story being a demand story. The first theory I examine is that Jesus was testing the woman’s faith. The second theory is that the woman challenged Jesus’s racial biases or that Jesus was exposing his disciples as being racist. The third theory is that the woman was wealthy, and Jesus challenged her privilege by denying her healing. The fourth theory is that the woman was speaking the form of a lament psalm which is used in the Old Testament. However, behind these theories, one can see that who biblical scholars focus on matters considerably.

What inspired your topics?

I’ve always enjoyed watching movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and seeing the cute love stories come together. We read many articles about toxic masculinity throughout the Religion and Moving Images class, and I began to realize that we mainly focused on a certain type of toxic masculinity—the obviously toxic macho bully form. However, the stereotype of someone being a “nice guy” is extremely prominent in our culture. When I began writing my paper, I wanted to argue that “nice guys” are just as toxic—if not more toxic—than bullying macho men. Cameron is the perfect example of this principle. My paper argues that 10 Things I Hate About You should be a cautionary tale because of Cameron’s toxic masculinity.

My paper about the Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman was a final research paper for the Jesus and the Gospels class. I loved learning more about all the stories about Jesus and women because Jesus primarily treated women with love and care. The story of the Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman is different than the other stories, and it did not make sense to me. I wanted to know why Jesus treated this woman differently than all the others, so I chose to focus my research paper on their interaction and the theories about why Jesus treated the woman this way.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

I would say that COVID-19 significantly affected my research process. I’ve always been a very hands-on learner, and this worked out fine for my online articles since I could print them. However, I have not lived on campus since the COVID-19 pandemic, and I live over an hour away from Meredith College. I could not easily pop in the library and find some books to use. The library workers were extremely helpful, and I filled out some forms online to have the books shipped to me or be sent chapters virtually. I really appreciated that Meredith allowed me to borrow books this way; it just required me to plan ahead so that I could get the books in time.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

I definitely think that I will use my new knowledge about toxic masculinity in movies in my personal and professional life. Toxic masculinity can be subtle, and I learned that the subtlest forms can be the most dangerous. 10 Things I Hate About You isn’t seen as an outdated and chauvinistic film; for the most part, it is seen as a feminist triumph. Analyzing it helped me to see how toxic masculinity can be hidden, and I plan to continue to examine how masculinity is portrayed in movies.

My paper on the Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman has absolutely changed my future! I loved learning more about the field of New Testament studies, and I’m majoring in religious and ethical studies now. I am also majoring in psychology, and my original plan was to go to graduate school to pursue that. However, I’m considering pursuing a master’s degree and PhD in New Testament Studies because I want to continue my research and teach one day as a professor.

Interviews compiled by Rachel Van Horne, News Editor


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