Meet the Fellows: 2018 Newcombe Fellow Reyhan Durmaz

The Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship fosters the original and significant study of ethical or religious values in all fields of the humanities and social sciences. The 2018 class, announced by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, includes Reyhan Durmaz, a doctoral candidate in religious studies at Brown University. Reyhan ‘s dissertation, titled Stories, Saints, and Sanctity between Christianity and Islam, analyzes encounters, conversations and cultural transmission between Christianity and Islam in the Middle Ages through the lens of saints’ stories, their textual and oral narrators, and audiences.

Reyhan shares the journey she’s taken coming to her research:

I cannot point to a date, place, or an inspirational event as the origin of my research, but to routes and paths. I walked through Byzantine monuments in Istanbul, and spent days among ruins of ancient churches in southeast Turkey. I surveyed a small church in Mardin, delighted to listen to its care-taker, Abuna Yakub, embellishing the history of his church with stories of fire worshipers and Alexander the Great. I learned Syriac in Budapest. I read the Life of Saint Aho, who founded three monasteries on the hills in northern Mesopotamia; the story written around the 11th century, nearthe same time Saint Gellert was thrown off a hill into the Danube by pagans.

The stories I read, listened to, and collected became parts of my own story, which led me to my research at Brown University, where I have studied Christian and Islamic hagiography. For my dissertation I ask: How did communities share stories in the past, making meaning out of the same landscapes, memories, and future possibilities? How did stories change, live, and die across geographical, linguistic, and confessional boundaries? More specifically, through which mechanisms were some Christian saints’ stories integrated into the Islamic tradition, and what semiotic purposes did they serve? I try to meet the ancient storytellers, travelers, ascetics, and others with whom stories traveled and found new audiences and meanings. I aim at contributing to our understanding of Christian-Muslim interaction and conversations in the Middle Ages through the lens of hagiography.

For more information about the 2018 Newcombe Fellows and a list of their dissertation titles, click here.


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