The Collegian
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Two professors win $40,000 research fellowships

Two University of Richmond professors were among 161 recipients of $40,000 fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities for research projects during the 2007-08 school year.

Gary L. McDowell, Tyler Haynes Interdisciplinary Professor of leadership studies, political science and law, and Miranda E. Shaw, associate professor of the history of religions, Buddhism, religions of India and gender and religion, were among 1,507 researchers to apply last May. They were notified in December that they had received fellowships.

"You can never be optimistic because you have no idea what the applicant pool is going to look like," McDowell said of his expectations for receiving a fellowship. "I'm thrilled. I am very excited about the opportunity to finish a book I've long been working on."

Shaw, who received an NEH summer fellowship in 1993 and a yearlong fellowship for the 1994-95 school year, was more confident about the possibility of receiving the 2007-08 research award.

"I had high hopes to receive one," Shaw said. "It's difficult for me to put my finger on why that was, but I do feel the successful fruition of my previous project resulting in a book that had just come to publication was probably a factor in my favor."

Shaw has taught at Richmond since 1991, and she published her second book, "Buddhist Goddesses of India," in October 2006.

"They're really looking for people who can translate their material in ways that are meaningful to people in other fields and to the general population of interested readers," she said. "My first book has now been published in three different languages German, Russian and Swedish — and I think that confirmed my ability to communicate to a broad audience."

According to the NEH Web site, the fellowships support up to one year of full-time humanities work that contributes to scholarly knowledge conducted by faculty members of colleges, universities and primary or secondary schools, as well as independent writers and scholars.

Applicants are required to submit a resume, reference letters and a concise three-page narrative describing the research project. It is suggested that applicants use the narrative to answer questions such as how the project will contribute to the humanities and how the project will challenge relevant studies in the field, as well as to indicate the intended results of the study and a potential work plan if the fellowship is awarded.

McDowell, who was the director of the Institute of United States Studies at the University of London for 11 years before coming to Richmond in 2003, was awarded a fellowship for his project, "'The Most Sacred Rule of Interpretation:' The Language of Law and the Moral Foundations of Originalism."

"It is about the recourse to original intention in constitutional interpretation," McDowell said. "That is, to say, interpreting the Constitution in light of what the founders intended it to be."

McDowell, the 2005 recipient of the University of Richmond Distinguished Educator Award, has finished most of the research and is halfway through writing his book. He plans to spend next year finishing writing and revising the book.

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"The satisfaction of doing research is its own reward," McDowell said. "It is what I've done all of my life, so I will continue."

Shaw, who has already planned her next three books, is currently researching and writing "Buddhist Goddesses of Tibet and Nepal." She has spent four trips over two years completing field research in India and Nepal and has completed her first 600 pages. She expects an additional 350 pages to complete the book.

"We're raised in a culture in which God is primarily portrayed as masculine, and that tends to shape our understanding of God and of human males in ways of which we're not often aware," Shaw said. "I feel that it's tremendously beneficial in terms of expanding our imaginations regarding the divine when we consider cultures that have envisioned the divine in female form. This also sheds light on our understandings of women and female capacities."

Both McDowell and Shaw will spend the 2007-2008 school year finishing their projects but plan on returning to teaching once their fellowships have been completed.

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