[Last Updated: September 13, 2014]
My research in literature, theology, and culture falls within the area of trauma and affect studies, as I investigate literature and its production as a vehicle for communicating experiences of suffering, and for healing the spiritual and psychological effects of violence and conflict. My research pivots on the question of how contemporary culture approaches evil and trauma in our ordinary, everyday lives. I am also interested in the way theologies of peace are used to explicate and reduce instances of violence, for example, how cultures approach fear through narrative, and how women’s religious experience informs their encounters with violence and peacebuilding. My work is not limited to the field of theology and literature, but functions as part of a wider interdisciplinary collaboration with scholars in theology, religious studies, comparative literature, American studies, Russian studies, and women’s studies.
My manuscript, To Hell and Back: Mikhail Bulgakov’s Wounded Psyche & the Journey of The Master and Margarita (currently under review), employs the archetypal theory of C.G. Jung, and the Russian Orthodox theology and philosophy of Sergei Bulgakov and Nikolai Berdiaev, to investigate Bulgakov’s final novel as a restorative work that addressed the consequences of persecution the author suffered during the Stalinist era. Previous scholarship has examined The Master and Margarita as an external response to Soviet censorship and persecution. My investigation explores the narrative as a personal, internal response to artistic oppression driven by a psychological and spiritual need to overcome the circumstances that led Bulgakov to declare his annihilation as a writer. In other words, I investigate Bulgakov’s theological experience of writing his novel as theodicy induced by social and artistic persecution. My study contributes to the fields of theology and religious studies as it explores the struggle to maintain creative individuality in the midst of trauma as an archetypal and theological experience founded on a return to the familiar past while simultaneously moving towards the unknown future.
My forthcoming article “Reimagining Woland: the Shadow Archetype and the Paradox of Evil in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita” (2015) examines the character Woland as an archetypal shadow figure and as an emblem of evil. I argue that Woland personified Bulgakov’s shadow archetype and assisted his journey into, and out of, the depths of psychological despair (i.e., hell). My second article, “Personifying the Unconscious: The Archetypal Significance of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Title Characters in The Master and Margarita” (under review), explores the question: Why did Bulgakov name his novel for two secondary characters? I suggest that the title and the title characters portray archetypes integral to the process of psychological and spiritual restoration, and that Bulgakov’s choice of title hints that the novel served a private, internal function for the author as he dealt with the consequences of his artistic persecution.
Authors might use their compositions as a means of artistic therapy that helps regenerate psychological and spiritual balance. This does not necessarily mean that writers sit down and think “I’m going to fictionalize my latest personal issue today!” Rather, it draws on a phenomenon Carl Jung observed in his analytical psychology, namely that an individual’s unconscious material wants to become known, wants to be seen, wants to be understood, so that an individual can deal with whatever problems and obstacles appear in life. For Jung, the unconscious primarily became known through dreams, which speak to us in symbols and archetypes (i.e., personifications). Jung referred to this as the process of individuation, meaning a means of psychologically adapting to the crisis at hand so as to maintain one’s individuality while being able to function in the new situation. Jung may be “out of fashion” but I believe he has been given short shrift and needs revisiting because of the seriousness with which he approached our ability to heal our psychic dis-ease.
I am currently developing an article on Hannibal Lecter (“‘We’re Just Alike’: Locating Likeness between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon” [working title]) that uses the mimetic theory of René Girard to explore the phenomenon of doubling in the Lecter narrative. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the psychological and theological significance of ignoring the human aspect of the monster, which, Girard argues, mirrors the human being. I suggest that neglect of the monstrous participates in cultural approaches to fear and violence, and informs social understandings of how we interpret the heroic. Given the appearance of Hannibal on NBC’s Thursday night line-up, there is still a public fascination with what makes Lecter tick. In addition, the show focuses on the backstory that sets up Red Dragon, and in so doing, explores the relationship between Dr. Lecter and FBI special investigator Will Graham. This association between Lecter and Graham (whose job is to track serial killers) poses an interesting Girardian problem in the context of mimetic imitation, doubling, and ultimately, sacrifice.
I am also continuing a project on Oprah’s Book Club in which I examine the Club’s emphasis on social sharing of personal trauma among women as a means of overcoming suffering and creating solidarity, thereby developing a foundation on which to build an interreligious dialogue centered on feminine communication and religious experience. I am looking at the literary experience of Oprah’s Book Club as a religious and sacred experience. [See Oprah’s Book Club as a New Religious Movement.] My work towards GWU’s Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies aims to develop my investigation of women’s literature as an experience that (1) heals spiritual and psychological consequences of trauma, (2) allows women to build a dialogue based in the ethics of mutual care, and (3) establishes a community of solidarity among women from diverse backgrounds. One aim of my certificate work is to develop a book-length treatment focused on women’s writing of memoir as an act of spiritual cleansing, healing, and transcendence. I wish to investigate women’s writing as an affective exercise that transforms everyday writing into a vehicle for social sharing of trauma. While the Women’s Studies certificate will broaden and strengthen my research focus, the certificate also will enhance my ability to teach, and develop, courses geared toward women’s religious experience.
See Short C.V. for a list of works in progress.