Rethinking Buddhism and Socrates With NEH Support
by Hanna Merzbach BA ’20
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded 2019 Summer Stipends to two Lewis & Clark faculty members: James F. Miller Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy Nicholas Smith and recently tenured Associate Professor of Religious Studies Jessica Starling. They are two of four faculty members in Oregon to secure this very competitive $6,000 award, which averages a nine percent funding rate. Each institution may nominate only two faculty a year and both of L&C’s nominees received the award.
The NEH Summer Stipend program concentrates on stimulating new research in the humanities by supporting individuals whose work is of value to both scholars and the wider public. Recipients must work on their project for at least two months and produce articles, monographs, books, digital materials, translations, editions, or other scholarly tools.
Starling is conducting research for two articles this summer that will ultimately culminate in a full-length monograph titled Leprosy, Social Work, and Ethical Praxis in Contemporary Japanese Buddhism. Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy, has historically been stigmatized in Japan and victims of the disease were quarantined in asylums called leprosaria. Starling’s research focuses on Buddhist social work at a number of Japan’s leprosaria, where a number of elderly leprosy survivors still reside today.
“Having studied Buddhism in graduate school, we mostly focused on the textual aspects of Buddhism, the philosophy attached to it, and a little bit about the practice that’s done in the monastery setting. I am really interested to see how Buddhism appears and how it impacts people outside of the things we first think of when we think of Buddhism, in the monastic setting,” Starling said.
Along with the NEH award, Starling’s summer travel is being funded by grants from the Association for Asian Studies and the American Academy of Religion. She is conducting ethnographic research at several leprosaria in Okayama, Tokyo, and Okinawa.
Smith is spending the summer completing a full draft of his book, Socrates on Knowledge, Virtue, and Happiness. Smith aims to recharacterize Socrates’ model of knowledge, which he argues can be compared to “know-how” or “skill” rather than pure “fact knowledge.” His book will explore how Socrates connects knowledge with virtue and happiness in this light.
Although he has completed much of the theoretical work for his book, the NEH award will fund the final push this summer and allow him to submit his book—his 24th—to a major academic publisher in the fall.
“The grant allows me to focus on the work with less distraction from other projects, and also allows me greater access in travel to give pieces of the project to professional audiences for criticisms and clarifications,” Smith said.