Macey’s Ashes; or, thinking about non-human animals

Amy Defibaugh and Maple

Amy Defibaugh earned her Religion PhD at Temple University in 2018 with a doctoral dissertation titled An Examination of the Death and Dying of Companion Animals. She now works in the College of Liberal Arts as the director of graduate affairs. She is the author of “Macey’s Ashes: After-Death Care of Companion Animals as Interspecies Family,” which appears as a chapter in the recently published anthology Feeling Animal Death: Being Host to Ghosts (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). In the words of editor Brianne Donaldson, the authors of Feeling Animal Death “explore feelings and emotions associated with animal death as catalysts for personal development, for professional and activist efforts, and generative of new linkages between ideas and ethics.” “Macey’s Ashes,” adapted from material in Defibaugh’s dissertation, examines contemporary methods of burial and memorialization of companion animals. 

For Defibaugh, the human-animal relationship is a personal as well as intellectual engagement. Having grown up on a Central Pennsylvania farm, non-human animals were always a big part of her life and they remained so as she made the transition to city life. In her doctoral program, her intellectual focus came in part from her graduate teaching of the popular religion course Death & Dying, where she decided to primarily address issues concerning the death and dying of non-human animals. In this course, she and her students…

discussed the destruction of animal habitats caused by human activity that resulted in the depletion of myriad species; [they] examined poaching, hunting, and deforestation. We studied the techniques and modes of animal death, particularly in factory farming, animal shelters, and veterinary clinics. [They] deliberated over the meanings of euthanasia.

But her students were far and away most engaged when discussing the deaths of companion animals (the household dog, cat, rabbit, turtle, or snake). This stimulated Defibaugh’s interest in understanding more about this very intimate relationship. There appears to be a vast untapped reservoir of emotion humans feel towards their non-human companions that is expressed in many different public and private ways and this is among the things that Defibaugh studies.

I spoke to Amy Defibaugh on October 17, 2019 in the Charles Library in Temple University.

—Fred Rowland

Reimagining Hagar: Blackness and Bible

Image of Professor Nyasha Junior, interviewee of this recording

Professor Nyasha Junior

How did Hagar become Black? That is the historical puzzle biblical scholar Professor Nyasha Junior of Temple University investigates in her new book, Reimagining Hagar: Blackness and Bible (Oxford, 2019). 

Hagar first appears in Genesis chapters 16 and 21 as the Egyptian slave of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Due to her inability to conceive with Abraham, Sarah offers Hagar to her husband as a surrogate and Ishmael is born. 

And Hagar bare Abram a son; and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.  (Genesis 16:15, King James Bible)

Later, Sarah miraculously gives birth to Isaac and commands Abraham to drive Hagar and Ishmael out of her home.  

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.  (Genesis 21:14, King James Bible)

We actually know little about Hagar’s origins from the biblical text other than the fact that she is an Egyptian. Over the course of her teaching at Howard University, a historically Black university, Professor Junior often encountered certainty among her students that Hagar was Black. On the other hand, she also met people to whom this was an entirely new idea. Professor Junior wanted to understand how this relatively obscure biblical character came to embody her contemporary identity, particularly among African Americans.

Reimagining Hagar is what scholars call a reception history, an investigation into the afterlife of the biblical character Hagar. After explaining Hagar in her ancient setting, Professor Junior leaps forward to the pre-Civil War period and the debates between pro- and anti-slavery forces. What she finds is surprising and begins the process of unravelling the mystery of how Hagar became Black. I spoke with Professor Nyasha Junior on October 2, 2019.

—Fred Rowland

So you’re writing a dissertation, Part 7…The End

The Religion Graduate Student (RGS) passed her dissertation defense and graduated “with distinction”. In the lead-up to her oral defense she reread her dissertation twice, came up with potential questions, and then performed a mock defense with some of her graduate student colleagues. It was a bit hectic bringing her committee members together on November 14, 2012 and one member skyped in, but in the end everything proceeded smoothly and at the conclusion attendees raised glasses of champagne mimosas to toast the newly minted PhD.

In our (bittersweet) concluding interview on February 22, 2013, RGS had just graduated and I had read her dissertation beginning to end. First she filled me in on the details of her big defense day. Then we discussed the content of her dissertation, the writing process, her thoughts about graduate education, and her immediate post-graduation life. In contrast to my medieval notions, the defense did not resemble an inquisition. RGS was satisfied with what she had accomplished but identified a few areas of her dissertation that needed work. She had some trouble describing the writing process and she mourned the many dozens of pages she had written that never made it into her dissertation. The routine she tried to establish at the start never quite came together. In the end it was “tasty treats” that helped her to the finish line. Graduate education is definitely not sustainable and RGS was still struggling to balance her monthly budget, now on an adjunct’s wages. It’s tough to be a scholar in the twenty-first century.  

This interview occurred almost three years to the day from the first time RGS and I spoke about the journey awaiting her. In my first blog post of this series, I described the dissertation as a “ritual initiation in which the student is dropped deep into an unfamiliar wilderness area with nothing but a compass and asked to find her way out.” Having now completed my seventh and final interview with RGS, I am thrilled to know that RGS found her way out of the wilderness. She has now entered the world of scholars. I congratulate RGS on her achievement and thank her for allowing me to share in the journey.     

(Listen to previous interviews: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

—Fred Rowland  

So you’re writing a dissertation, Part 6

Good news! The Religion Graduate Student (RGS) handed her committee the final rough draft of her dissertation! We met on October 17, 2012 for our sixth interview (and, boy, was I relieved to hear about this). Her defense was set for November 14. I was surprised to learn that she felt “one part relieved and nine parts nervous” because she was not exactly sure as to what constitutes a dissertation. Hers contained some personal narrative and first-person usage and she wondered whether this was consistent with the stereotyped notion of scholarly objectivity. This highlighted the ambiguous and solitary nature of dissertation research and writing.

Since we met in February, she explained that she had been doing nothing but writing. Her reader-friend, Susan, kept telling her to stop working on the introduction! You’re stalling! Plough ahead, write, write, write. In addition to the archival sources from the AFSC’s Nationwide Women’s Program (NWP), most of her other sources came from previous course readings and recommendations from advisors and committee members. With the exception of family life, she emphasized that she had ZERO social life during this latest interval. Did I mention that she had ZERO social life? 

Surprisingly, RGS wrote her chapter 4 on religion, which had been causing her the most anxiety, faster than any other chapter. She argues that Quaker positions on authority and personal testimony infused the NWP long after its early Quaker members had been succeeded by more secular feminist ones. This Quaker perspective allowed the NWP to register the voices of women in far off places (South Korea, South Africa, Taiwan, Mexico, Philippines) who were subjected to the early phases of globalization.

Finally entering the last mile of her dissertation run, we talked about the alchemical nature of the writing process and the fragile nature of memory as one moves through the confusing and foggy middle part of the journey.

(Listen to previous interviews: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

—Fred Rowland

So you’re writing a dissertation, Part 5

The Religion Graduate Student (RGS) and I got together on February 24, 2012 for our fifth interview. She was now entering the third year of her project and she appeared a bit more upbeat than the last time we met. During the fall break she had written productively every day and she subsequently sent advisor John Raines some work that he liked. RGS spent a lot of time reworking her introduction so she could properly frame her second chapter on globalization and her third on the sources at the Nationwide Women’s Program (NWP). She worried that this might not be the best way to go about writing (according to some advice that had filtered through to her) but she now accepted that this was the way that she worked.

Among her sources RGS was struck by the disconnect between masculinist and feminist narratives of globalization. From a masculinist (economic) perspective, it’s all about corporations, institutions, trade agreements, and finance, while the feminist perspective produces primarily ethnographies, highlighting the effects of globalization on women’s bodies. The NWP, as RGS was now seeing, served to bring together these universal and local perspectives, functioning as a clearinghouse of sorts. It’s a reminder that international communications did not start with the Internet. She would be handing in her third chapter a few days after our interview.

As is inevitable, life intervened as RGS was writing in the fall. The Occupy movement broke out spontaneously in September 2011 and Occupy Philly grew up around Dilworth Plaza. When RGS attended a few Occupy Philly general assemblies, she was surprised by the ahistorical nature of the conversations. She realized that her work provided historical context to the issues discussed at Occupy Philly and this strengthened her sense of purpose. References to Occupy Philly would find their way into her dissertation.

Though tempted to do more reading — always more reading — she was now focused on writing, writing, writing. We talked about emotional blocks, the struggle to establish a routine, the messy details of life, and the way the dissertation just hangs around her neck and, according to a friend, is like an abusive relationship. Sounds like fun, huh?

(Listen to previous interviews: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

—Fred Rowland

 

So you’re writing a dissertation, Part 3

 

On Feb 24 2011 I spoke to the Religion Graduate Student (RGS) for the third time. She has now been working on her dissertation for approximately one year. She explained that it was going well but in “fits and starts,” more than she had anticipated. Though it was a little unconventional, she began writing the introduction first because, as she explained, she was having trouble with the overall argument. When she received feedback from her women’s studies group, it was clear that her introduction was not a genuine introduction but different pieces of the chapters she intended to write.

When I asked her to define her topic, it was interesting to hear her say that this used to cause her anxiety. Now she is comfortable in explaining that she is working with an archive, focusing on Nationwide Women’s Program (at the American Friends Service Committee) during 1970 and 1980s. These primary sources will tell us things about blending of the religious and secular in the women’s and the anti-globalization movements.

We talked about the major challenges she was facing, which can be summed up as “time and money.” Struggling to support herself, find time (and mental focus) for her research, while at the same time squeezing some enjoyment out of life takes great effort. We also talked about her various support networks and the roles they play in facilitating her research process and keeping her sane.

This was a fun interview. We laughed a lot. Unfortunately I had to cut some of the laughter due to static…I laugh loudly.

(Listen to previous interviews: Part 1, Part 2

—Fred Rowland

So you’re writing a dissertation, Part 2

So, the Religion Graduate Student (RGS) has had about seven months to dig into the archival materials of the Nationwide Women’s Program at the American Friends Service Committee. In addition to reading through the corpus of newsletters from the Nationwide Women’s Program, RGS spent much of the summer studying the secondary literature including a number of scholarly works that she plans to model in her writing.

Conscious of her physical and psychological health, RGS’s weekly routine includes running, biking, yoga, and meditation. Despite this level of physical activity, some anxiety creeped in and butterflies fluttered as she looked up at the road in front of her. As she began writing she had to “conjure up all the powers of the universe” just to punch out a few words on the keyboard.

One thing RGS thinks a lot about is identifying a unifying strand that runs through her story. A good story is not sufficient for a dissertation. On top of the story she has to tease out its meaning within the larger context of religious and women’s studies. That’s the challenge she faces and there is no clear road map. She has got to draw her own.

My first interview with RGS was on February 19, 2010. This second interview took place on September 10, 2010. Listen to what RGS has to say on her progress so far.

(Listen to previous interview: Part 1

—Fred Rowland

So you’re writing a dissertation, Part 1

 

In early 2010 I began interviewing a graduate student in the Religion Department about her PhD dissertation. I thought it would be interesting to listen to a graduate student as she navigated the dissertation process – which demands autonomy, originality, and a strong work ethic – from beginning to end. The dissertation is like a ritual initiation in which the student is dropped deep into an unfamiliar wilderness area with nothing but a compass and asked to find her way out. Though graduate departments, writing centers, colleagues, and friends lend whatever support they can, it is still an individual process and different from anything the emerging scholar has ever done before: produce an original contribution to her area of study and thus demonstrate that she is qualified to enter the academic profession. Likewise, the many hundreds of how-to books on completing the dissertation can only go so far. It is not surprising that many graduate students never make it all the way through. Perhaps interest in their topic wanes, or anxiety induces writer’s block, financial support vanishes, or other life opportunities arise.

In this first interview with my Religion Graduate Student (a.k.a. RGS), about two months have passed since she passed her preliminary exams. She is preparing herself emotionally, intellectually, and financially for the challenge ahead and has set herself an ambitious goal of completing her dissertation within one to one and a half years. She is working on a group of feminists from the American Friends Services Committee (AFSC) in Philadelphia in the 1970s that developed transnational networks to resist what later came to be known as globalization. She has to figure out how to tell this story, why it is important, how it relates to religion, and what it means.

I spoke with RGS for this interview on February 19, 2010.

—Fred Rowland

The Priest and the Prophetess, Part 2

Professor Terr Rey

Professor Terry Rey

 

In the second part of my interview with Professor Terry Rey on his new book, The Priest and the Prophetess: Abbe Ouviere, Romaine Riviere, and the Revolutionary Atlantic World, we leave Haiti and the Haitian Revolution behind. Romaine la Prophetess has disappeared and will soon perish in the flames of the revolution. That terrible conflict will continue alongside its European cousin, the French Revolution, until the early years of the next century. A hemisphere away, an exhausted Felix Alexander Pascalis Ouviere washes up on Philadelphia’s shores, having survived an attack on the British brig Catherine by a French privateer in Delaware Bay. Among his few possessions is a letter of introduction addressed to George Washington. Soon Dr. Pascalis will be treating yellow fever victims in that miasmic summer of 1793 in the company of such luminaries as Benjamin Rush. Abbe Ouviere is nowhere to be found.

Here is part two of my interview with Professor Rey. We spoke on September 25, 2017.

—Fred Rowland