Meet the Fellows: 2019 Newcombe Fellow Sarah Riccardi-Swartz

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 2019 class of Fellows includes Sarah Riccardi-Swartz, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at New York University. Sarah shares the experiences that helped shape her research:

“Where did you grow up?” was an introductory question posed to me numerous times throughout my fieldwork in Appalachia. In a small town of 1,000 people, I was a different face at the local shops. Once I replied that I grew up in the Ozarks, I was welcomed like a long-lost cousin of the region. Place, especially where we come from, often is vital in forging social relationships while conducting ethnographic fieldwork. For me, growing up in the Ozarks meant that my research community could and did accept me as one of their own. While we might have had different outlooks of social issues, I was always welcomed at the table. I often found myself talking about Russian politics, coal mining, or environmental toxicity with locals over homemade kulich or a glass of moonshine. “Where did you grow up?” slowly transformed into “You’re one of us.” This importance of place during the ethnographic process helped shed some light on why members of the community, many of whom are converts to the Russian Orthodox Church, might align themselves with Russia as their adopted spiritual homeland. Place is part of social identity development. For members of my field site, Russia as a place becomes a haven of spiritual conservatism in what they see as the declining, liberal Western world.

Sarah’s dissertation, titled East of Appalachia: The New Russian Turn in American Christianity, explores religious conversion and transnational politics in Appalachia. For more information on the 2019 Newcombe Fellows, click here.



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