Students in Rome Experience History in the Making

By Melissa Greco Lopes
Univ. Communications

Over Spring break, five undergrads studying religion and classics under Professor Nick Gresens headed to Rome for a week full of visits to the ancient sites of Cicero and Caesar, where the group would read inscriptions and study the geography and history of locations where Rome’s leaders once convened and shaped the classical world. And, in the surprise of a lifetime, the group also experienced history in the making, as cardinals from around the world gathered in Vatican City to elect the next leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

At around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, Gresens, along with Peter Carlile ’13, Dan Gorman ’14, and Ryan Vogt ’13, made their way to St. Peter’s Square to see the results of the fifth rounding of voting. None of them expected to see white smoke billow from the Basilica.

“At first we weren’t sure if it was white or black smoke. The first puff was grey and then turned to white,” said Carlile, who was among more than 10,000 visitors awaiting the results. “The visceral, emotional response on the square was palpable.”

As the smoke signaled the selection of a new pope, Carlile and Gorman rushed to get as close to the steps of the Basilica as they could. “It was awe-inspiring,” says Gorman, a history and religion major, who took the opportunity to take as many photos as possible.

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Sasha Tharani ’14 Says Trip a ‘Defining Experience’

Amanda Budreau ’14, a studio arts major studying in Rome for the spring semester, also was able to witness Pope Benedict’s last papal audience. While the excitement was high, with members of the crowd chanting “Viva, Viva, Papa” to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” Budreau said comparing it to the selection of the new pope was akin to “comparing an elementary school’s talent show to a Beyonce concert.”

Like Carlile and Gorman, Budreau pushed through the crowd to get a closer glimpse of the new pope. All three were able to view members of the Swiss Guard and hear a formal announcement that Argentinean cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been selected the 266th pontiff.

Budreau also noted the reverence amid the celebration of the occasion. “When the Pope asked us to bow our heads, the entire square (which was completely full) was silent, you could hear the sound of the water splashing in the fountains,” she explained. “At the end of his speech, he said goodnight and told us that we could all relax now.”

On Thursday, Meredith Doubleday ’13, along with the other students in Gresens’ course, headed to the Vatican Museums, where they picked up copies of the souvenir newspaper. “It was nice to be in this quiet space,” she said, “reading the paper on the first day after the announcement.”

About the Photos: Pictures 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8 are courtesy of Amanda Budreau, who in addition to witnessing the election of new pope, saw CNN corespondent Anderson Cooper cover the story. Pictures 2, 5, and 7 are courtesy of Dan Gorman. Picture 9, a photo of Nick Gresens and students Meredith Doubleday ’13, Kate Hughes ’13, Ryan Vogt ’13, Peter Carlile ’13, and Dan Gorman ’14, is courtesy of Meredith Doubleday.

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New Class Explores Religion & Hip Hop

By Caitlin Mack
Univ. Communications

With the addition of the new class “Religion and Hip Hop Culture” this fall semester, the University of Rochester has begun to put academic investment into an important piece of Americana – hip hop – a phenomenon that is slowly but surely catching on at institutions of higher learning across the country.  However, the pairing of these two cultural topics, religion and hip hop, is an unconventional one.  Students posed an important question on the first day of class: how can a whole semester be spent studying the relationship between the two?

“It is the intersection of religion and hip hop that drew many of the students,” explains Associate Professor of Religion, Margarita Guillory, who instructs the class and is a recent addition to the Department of Religion and Classics at the University. “My hope with the class is to show that hip hop culture can serve as an interpretive framework to illustrate the religious views of the artist, including the different ways in which they view religion.”

Guillory’s active teaching style permits open and honest discussion and what she calls “reciprocity between the student and the professor.”  She wants the class to be a “safe space” for people to express their thoughts about religion.

“There is such a broad approach to religion in this course that all types of students can see how religion is illustrated. When you listen to the students, you can actually hear the personal connection with different functions of religion,” Guillory explains.

Students need not be religious or fluent in hip hop culture to take the class, which is designed for students of different backgrounds. Those who grew up without exposure to the music are “blank slates with no preconceived notions” who will “be a bit more open than the student with prior knowledge,” explains Guillory.

Guillory recently completed a doctoral degree in religious studies at Rice University in spring 2011.  Her specialties include American religious history, African American religion, and the intersection of African American religion and American culture, the latter of which is the foundation for “Religion and Hip Hop.”

Notably, there has been a recent increase in the study of hip hop culture in higher education, and Guillory hopes that the University of Rochester will follow suit.  Hip Hop archives were established at Harvard and Cornell universities in 2002 and 2007 respectively, and Cornell has amassed the largest hip hop archive pertaining to the early years of hip hop, called “Born in the Bronx,” in addition to enlisting “grandfather of hip hop” Afrika Bambaataa as a visiting professor for three years.

While completing her degree, Guillory helped teach a class at Rice called “Religion and Hip Hop Culture in America.”  The course, co-taught by visiting professor and rapper Bun B, grew from a roster of about 50 students in 2004 to over 200 students in 2011, becoming the largest humanities class offered at Rice.  This immense popularity is likely attributed to a roster of famed guest speakers, including Mike Epps and Russell Simmons, and a celebrity panel that included artists like Talib Kweli and Lupe Fiasco.

Guillory knew that the “context was right” in her decision to create a similar class at Rochester after her arrival last year.  The religion department was very supportive of her pursuit and aware that she had taught a similar class at Rice.  Furthermore, given the strong music education opportunities associated with the Eastman School of Music and the College’s strong music department, she knew there was a sizeable student population that would be interested in the topic.

Rochester’s academic environment, specifically the open curriculum and the students’ ability to create their own major, also inspired Guillory.  She explains that the academic freedom and the interdisciplinary nature associated with student-crafted majors “creates a space for a class like ‘Religion and Hip Hop Culture’ to exist on this campus.”

Guillory is focused on making the class at Rochester “more robust” by broadening the conception of what religion really is in the context of the “diverse terrain of hip hop culture.”  She hopes the class will show how hip-hop culture can offer an “interpretive lens” for students to analyze artists interpretations of religion and their own environment, including the “humanistically-centered ways” in which people view religion.

Guillory emphasizes that she would like the class to impact the Rochester community, and intends to “bridge the community and the U of R campus” by bringing in a local artist.

According to Guillory, “the class will not analyze ‘every dimension’ of hip hop because there are some parts of the culture that lack religious sensibility.” She acknowledges that there is “definitely a hierarchy of what is publicly displayed” in hip hop; often, popular songs capitalize on the commercialization of “braggadocious” (those who brag about the fame and wealth) artists like Jay-Z or Rick Ross.  Guillory explains, “I’m not arguing that hip hop is religious, but rather that there are certain dimensions of hip hop culture that we can tap into in a very broad way,” such as existential or socially-conscious hip hop.

Guillory was interested in religion at a young age and says she is a “product of the hip hop movement.”  In addition to teaching, she is part a collaborative writing group, “CERCL,” that is currently writing a book called “Breaking Bread, Breaking Beats,” which combines conversation with hip hop artists and the Church about common topics like sexuality and globalization.  She currently serves as co-editor of the Religious Studies Review, and has published several articles and book chapters on various aspects of religion, women studies, and hip-hop. Before pursuing her doctoral degree in 2011 and a master’s degree in theological studies in 2005, Guillory was a high school science teacher for 10 years.

Article and photo provided by Caitlin Mack, an intern in University Communications.

Rochester Launches American Studies Major

Univ. Communications – Starting this fall, University of Rochester students have had the opportunity to blend together a variety of disciplines that focus on the history and culture of the United States through the newly developed American Studies major, now offered through Arts, Sciences and Engineering’s undergraduate College. Through the major, which was approved by the New York State Department of Education in July, students will master skills including critical reading, thinking, and writing, which will prepare them for careers in law, social service, teaching, art, and business, among other fields.

“The American Studies major will contribute greatly to the intellectual life of the campus,” said Richard Feldman, dean of the College at Rochester. “From the enriching activities associated with the program to the expert faculty members coming from across disciplines to teach the courses, we believe this will be an appealing major to many students.”

Joan Rubin, professor of history and program director of the new major, noted that for years students have created similar courses of study through the Individualized Interdepartmental Majors program.

“Now, with a formal major, we are able to provide students with a wide range of courses, giving them the opportunity to look at the experiences and values of Americans through many different disciplines,” Rubin explained. “It is our hope that this major will create a conversation throughout the College about what it has meant to be an American, both in the past and today.”

The program, which will be managed by the Multidisciplinary Studies Center in the College, requires students to take ten courses throughout the Humanities and Social Sciences. Introductory courses focus on American literature and American culture or thought, while a new course to be offered in the 2012-2013 academic year, The Idea of America, will be a required seminar. Students also will choose among three tracks: The Arts in American Culture, Identity and the American Nation, and American Thought and Institutions. There also is an international component to the major, which gives students the opportunity to select one course that examines the interaction of Americans with other cultures. Students who complete this major will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from the College.

The major will be supervised by a steering committee of faculty, who will monitor the program’s enrollment numbers and course offerings, and oversee internships, special lectures, and other opportunities that can enhance the student experience.

While the major is only several months old, the committee already has sponsored a three-part series titled Popular Music in America. In the first two installments, Daniel Beaumont, associate professor of Arabic Language and Literature, lectured on blues music in America, while John Covach discussed The Beatles and the British Invasion in America. In the last installment, Paul Burgett, University vice president and professor of music, will give his lecture, Black Nightingales: Lady Day, Ella & Sassy, at 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, in Dewey 1101.

Additionally, the committee plans to host a lecture delivered by David Reynolds, distinguished professor of English at the City University of New York, in April. Reynolds, a prominent author, recently wrote Mightier than the Sword: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and the Battle for America, which was included in the Christian Science Monitor’s “The 20 Smartest Nonfiction Reads for the Summer” list.

Members of the major’s steering committee include Rubin, John Covach, chair of the College Music Department and professor of Music; Margarita Guillory, assistant professor of Religion and Classics; John Michael, chair of the English Department and professor of English and of Visual and Cultural Studies; Claudia Schaefer, professor of Spanish; Ezra Tawil, associate professor of English; Allen Topolski, chair of the Department of Art and Art History and associate professor of Art ; and Sharon Willis, director of Film and Media Studies and professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies.

For more information about the American Studies major, visit http://www.rochester.edu/college/msc/americanstudies.html.

Photo courtesy of Billy Alexander, via www.stock.xchng.com – http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1351206