My research examines agency as well as sources of action. As part of this work, I study American democracy at the intersection of race and citizenship. I take an interdisciplinary approach to my scholarship in political science. I highlight cases that challenge students of politics to imagine the possibilities of action in political life. My dissertation addresses these themes in the context of twentieth-century totalitarianism, while my second project turns to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s appraisal of American democracy.
My dissertation, Accountable Actors: Politics and Poetic Imagination in Huxley, Lewis, and Orwell, is a study of identity and the sources of action. I employ critical analysis to show what characters in Brave New World, That Hideous Strength, and Nineteen Eighty-Four teach readers about acting in the face of totalizing uses of power. My analysis takes these texts as phenomenological artifacts in a theoretical context informed by Eric Voegelin and Hannah Arendt. Chapter One introduces the value of Brave New World, That Hideous Strength, and Nineteen Eighty-Four for imagining a the limits as well as the possibilities of citizens’ agency. In Chapter Two, I identify Lewis’s theory of human beings as poetical animals, which in turn informs my analysis of Huxley, Lewis, and Orwell’s novels. I argue that these authors direct our attention to three themes they find essential to the exercise of agency: language, integrity, and power. Chapter Three deals with language by explaining key characters’ struggle to understand the manipulation of language in order to determine how they will act. Next, I address integrity in Chapter Four as I demonstrate why primary characters succeed or fail in developing a sense of their own individuality and what to do with it. Chapter Five, which surveys power, evaluates each how each story’s heroes challenge the aims of those in power. Finally, in Chapter Six, I draw conclusions about these novels as invitations to more seriously consider the ethical possibilities of political life.
Some scholars have argued that stories such as Brave New World, That Hideous Strength, and Nineteen Eighty-Four are reports on the inevitable victory of the powerful over ordinary citizens. My research shows instead that these works summon readers to envision the ethical possibilities of political life. Others view them as commentaries on the 20th century alone, and therefore defunct. I argue, however, that Brave New World, That Hideous Strength, and Nineteen Eighty-Four continue to merit attention from students of politics because they offer insight on resources that enable citizens to act. In support of this research, I received four years of fellowship funding from the Earhart Foundation.
SUNY Press editor Michael Rinella has invited me to submit the revised manuscript to SUNY Press for review. I will deliver the manuscript to SUNY Press in April 2018. I am also revising an article I presented at MPSA on C.S. Lewis’s theory of poetic imagination for submission to Perspectives on Politics in October 2017. The Oxford C.S. Lewis Society has invited me to present a chapter of this project in November 2017.
The American Journal of Political Science published my article on Alexis de Tocqueville’s philosophical anthropology in 2016. In 2015, the Journal of Church and State published my article on John Adams’s political science. My chapter on King and the prophetic voice won the Best Paper by a Female Political Scientist at the Northeastern Political Science Association 2016 Meeting. I have presented at the annual meetings of APSA, MPSA, SPSA, NPSA, and the Louisiana Political Science Association.
As a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University, I began a project on the sources of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s (1929-1968) political action. As racial tension becomes increasingly visible in American media, the civil rights movement, especially Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership, is a matter of growing public interest. Yet, while some scholars argue that King’s political thought aims at an unrealizable conception of justice, others contend that his work hinges on promoting respectable behavior instead of affirming inherent human worth. To date, however, little work has thoroughly examined Martin Luther King, Jr.’s identification with the prophetic tradition as the source of his political action. Consequently, scholarship that does not account for King’s political theology tends to view him either as an irrational idealist who calls into question the American political experiment or as a leader reluctant to press for an uncompromised recognition of human dignity. My project, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Political Theology, remedies the gap as it evaluates how King’s participation in the prophetic tradition shapes his politics. Through a close reading of his speeches, essays, letters, and books, I argue that King’s political theology defines his political aims and strategies. My chapter on King and the prophetic voice won the Best Paper by a Female Political Scientist at the Northeastern Political Science Association 2016 Meeting. In support of this project, the Department of Politics at Princeton University awarded me the position of 2016-2017 Thomas W. Smith Postdoctoral Research Associate in Religion and Public Life.
The significance of my research is that it demonstrates how King offers an approach to politics that, in its own right, remains a productive resource for thinking about ethics in social relations. Ultimately, my research shows that King is a practical thinker, committed to the Hebrew prophets’ sense of political possibility, who affirms the American project and aims not at colorblindness, but at community.
The insights my scholarship highlights regarding the possibilities of action also translate beyond the classroom. For example, my students who participated in protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during summer 2016 explained that they applied insights from my class on Civil Rights. In addition, I submitted a report on MLK for the Baton Rouge Diocesan Committee on Racial Reconciliation after summer 2016, as requested by the Rev. Joshua Johnson. In short, my research demonstrates how literature as well as experience provide insights for students of politics that can illuminate the possibilities of action in politics.