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Meet the Fellows: 2017 Newcombe Fellow Craig Iffland

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values. The 2017 class of Fellows includes Craig Iffland, a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of Notre Dame. Here, Mr. Iffland shares how he came to his dissertation topic:

The attack on the World Trade Center, and the “war on terror” it provoked, took place when I was sixteen years old. Sixteen years later, the towers have been rebuilt, but we are still at war. In a way, this war has been one of the few constants in my life, which has seen a lot of changes since that day. The most significant change was my conversion to the Catholic faith, which happened while I was studying at the University of Virginia. Seen through the eyes of faith, I had to acknowledge that the war exacted a massive human toll, enabling injustices and bloodshed that “cried out to heaven for vengeance.”

This was brought home to me when I read a story about a refugee camp besieged by an epidemic of sexual assault and looting. Knowing that the camp’s law enforcement officials were indifferent to his people’s plight, even perpetrating such crimes themselves, the local Imam called on God to punish those responsible for the crimes. Here was a cry for vengeance to be sure, but more than that, it was a cry for a heavenly law in the midst of an increasingly lawless world. When I started my degree in theology at the University of Notre Dame, I had the opportunity to assist in the production of a documentary about Archishop Óscar Romero, who made a similar impassioned appeal to the law of God just one day before he was assassinated. I decided that I wanted to write about this aspect of religious faith: the idea that certain kinds of actions are “criminal,” regardless of circumstance, because they violate the “law,” the order of justice that finds its origin in the wisdom of God.

Mr. Iffland’s dissertation title is Following and Not-Following the Divine Law. For more information on the 2017 Newcombe Fellows and to see a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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