Four College of the Liberal Arts faculty members recently received Fulbright Scholar Awards for the 2023-24 academic year: Gary Adler Jr.,associate professor of sociology; Jennifer E. Glick, associate director of the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) and Arnold S. and Bette G. Hoffman professor of sociology and criminology/demography; Burleigh Hendrickson, assistant professor of French and Francophone studies; and Kidane Mengisteab, professor of African studies and political science.
Through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, the U.S. government's flagship international educational exchange program, University faculty members, staff, and administrators have the opportunity to travel abroad for an extended period and conduct advanced research, teach, attend seminars, interact with their host communities, and contribute to finding solutions to timely international problems. Since its inception in 1946, more than 400,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals have participated in the program, with Penn State recognized as the top U.S. producer of faculty Fulbright Scholars for the 2022-23 academic yearby the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Adler will use his Fulbright to travel to Croatia in March 2024. There, he’ll collaborate with Siniša Zrinščak, a sociologist at the University of Zagreb, on a project modeled on Adler’s current National Science Foundation-funded research study exploring how local government entities throughout the United States handle religious matters.
Over a three-month period, Adler and Zrinščak will travel throughout Croatia and conduct about three dozen interviews with local government officials, then collaborate on an article comparing the two countries’ respective approaches to church-state matters.
“There are some interesting differences between the United States and Croatia that make them ripe for comparison,” Adler said. “Croatia is overwhelmingly Catholic, and religious identity became hugely important in the 1990s as they were coming out of the Balkan wars. That contrasts to the U.S., because in the ’90s is when the politicization of religion and the downtrend in religious affiliation started.
“In Croatia’s constitutional document, they say they have separation of church and state, but that’s not how things work in practice,” Adler continued. “It’s similar to the U.S. in that way, in that a lot of people use the phrase separation of church and state, but that doesn’t really reflect what’s happening on the ground. For instance, in Croatia, kids in public schools can at lunchtime go down the street to the Catholic church and get religious education — which used to happen in the U.S. in some communities decades ago. It’s a model that overtly privileges certain religious groups, and a number of people think the United States is heading towards that model again. We want to pay attention to how people in urban versus rural communities navigate these areas and see if some of the same tensions happening in the United States are happening there.”
Adler said he’s grateful for the chance to travel abroad, given the fresh perspective it will bring to his work.
“I think it’s extremely helpful to think about another place, because it will help my research on the U.S. make a little more sense,” he said. “I can think about patterns that are similar and different, whereas if I’m just thinking about the United States, there might be some blind spots in my thinking. So, I’m excited about the partnership and about how it sticks in my brain and helps me think about the rest of my project.”
In the spring, Glick will use her first Fulbright to travel to Kyrgyzstan. Based primarily at American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, she’ll conduct research on the children of migrants living within the Central Asian country.
“I will spend around five months in Kyrgyzstan, with much of the research happening in late spring and early summer, when it is easier to travel to rural highland areas,” Glick said.
A social demographer whose work largely focuses on migration and family processes, Glick has spent recent years working with colleagues to better understand how migration shapes the opportunities, aspirations, and activities of children and adolescents in several other countries around the world, among them Mexico and Nepal.
“Many families in rural Kyrgyzstan rely on migration for economic support. My project considers how migration and remittances to these families may change the way children spend their time, their engagement in education, and their aspirations,” Glick said. “I am looking forward to learning from other researchers and developing collaborative research with families of migrants. I’m also looking forward to returning to Penn State and sharing what I’ve learned with my students.”
This is Hendrickson’s second Fulbright — as a graduate student back in 2011, he received the Fulbright-Hays dissertation fellowship to conduct research in Tunisia and Senegal. The award comes on the heels of the publication of Hendrickson’s first book, “Decolonizing 1968: Transnational Student Activism in Tunis, Paris, and Dakar” (Cornell Press, 2022), which recently received the Alf Andrew Heggoy Prize from the French Colonial Historical Society for best book about the French colonial experience from 1815 to present.
“Given that my new project is in its early stages of development, I did not have high hopes of success. So, I was honestly shocked that my application was selected, especially given that France is a particularly competitive region,” Hendrickson said.
The Fulbright will allow Hendrickson to spend six months in France working on his next book project, which is tentatively entitled “Losing Empire: Dignity and Indignation from the Enlightenment to the Arab Spring.”
He’ll spend four of those months at the Panthéon-Sorbonne University, working with the National Archives at Pierrefitte and the French National Library to research how French colonial planters sought reparations for lost property (including formerly enslaved peoples) after France’s military defeat in colonial Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) at the turn of the 19th century. In addition, he’ll be examining the role human dignity and indignation may have played in inspiring Haiti’s enslaved population to revolt.
For the other two months, he’ll be in Aix-en-Provence at the National Overseas Archives, continuing his research on Haiti while comparing his findings to France’s territorial loss in Algeria during the early 1960s.
“I will be curious to learn how invocations of dignity may have shifted over time with each loss, and how the French began to treat former colonial subjects in each of these territories,” said Hendrickson, who prior to his Fulbright will travel to Tunisia via a Penn State Center for Global Studies International Research Award that will allow him to investigate similar questions surrounding dignity within the context of Tunisia’s Arab Spring.
“I’m really excited to have the time and resources to properly get this next project off the ground, and the Fulbright has given me added confidence to tackle new material and new sets of archives,” Hendrickson added. “It’s also just a great feeling to be able to thank all the wonderful colleagues who helped me with proposal drafts and tedious letters. Likewise, it was an amazing learning experience to read new secondary research alongside graduate students in my seminar on Dignity in French Empire who were instrumental in crafting the idea for this new book. … I can’t wait to dig in!”
This was Mengisteab’s first time applying for a Fulbright. In January, he’ll travel to Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University to conduct at least six months of research.
Specifically, he’ll be examining the extent that environmental degradation is playing in the escalating conflicts between farming and cattle herding communities in the drier eastern and southeastern parts of Ethiopia, which like other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly seeing the ill effects of climate change.
“These conflicts between farming and pastoral communities are over land and water issues and so on. The logic is that environmental degradation creates scarcity, and that scarcity engenders conflict — at least that’s the assumption,” said Mengisteab, who grew up in the African nation of Eritrea. “Cattle herders and farming communities have always had an easily combustible relationship. Until recently, the violence was limited, but now people are armed. Instead of carrying sticks, they’re carrying AK-47s — and because of that, the conflict can turn violent and spread very quickly.
“What I want to do is examine to what extent these conflicts are being triggered by environmental degradation, and why the traditional conflict management systems are failing, and if there is adaptation mechanism developing in these communities,” he added. “Basically, I have these three questions, which I’ll investigate in Ethiopia, and then maybe perhaps after the Fulbright ends expand it to other countries. I plan to write an article, and then if it expands to other countries, perhaps a book.”
Mengisteab said the Fulbright provides the ideal conditions to engage in the type of focused, sustained research that all scholars need.
“The financial support is good. And they have a great support system, from what I understand from the orientation,” he said. “It gives me plenty of time to do research, and the chance to make close ties with the faculty at Addis Ababa University.”