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Meet the Fellows: 2017 Newcombe Fellow Daniel Cochran

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 Daniel Cochran, a doctoral candidate in art history at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Mr. Cochran’s research stems from an intersection of personal experiences and interests:

The various strands of my academic and vocational life converge as I stand beneath the triumphal arch of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, pointing to the glistening mosaics above and whispering to the fourteen Protestant pilgrims under my care about how the fifth-century artist chose to present the nativity of Christ. They lean in to hear and strain to see, evidence for me that they too have been struck by the power of this art as an expression of both an ancient civilization and a living faith tradition. The building, meanwhile, has quietly succeeded in accomplishing its ancient task—influencing the mind and the body of anyone who enters. My dissertation explores this agency of monumental religious art and architecture, focusing specifically on the role of early Christian churches in the social, political, and religious transformation of the ancient world. My approach to these sites stems from the multiple perspectives I have developed as both a student trained in the theories and methods of religious studies and art history and as a provisional minister in the United Methodist Church. I am deeply interested in early Christian conceptions of sacred space and how, in turn, space was manipulated to shape individual and communal religious experience. While historians have long assumed early Christians rejected the visual arts, I explore the various ways these communities skillfully employed architectural space and iconographic programs to present compelling models of selfhood that embedded the individual within a universal Christian cosmology and a local church community. Through architectural design and artistic programs these spaces appealed to the physical senses, complimenting sermonic literature, liturgy, and ritual, as a form of persuasion that encouraged individuals to adopt and embrace alternative religious and social identities consistent with emerging notions of orthodoxy.

Mr. Cochran’s dissertation title is Building the Body of Christ: Art, Architecture, and the Formation of Early Christian Identities. For more information on the 2017 Newcombe Fellows and to see a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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