For her theology dissertation, Fordham doctoral candidate Jennifer Illig's research took her all the way back to 14th-century England to study the sermons of John Wycliffe, who was branded a heretic.
And now that she has earned her degree, Illig, a native of Long Island who also earned her master's at Rose Hill, will strike out for the plains of the Midwest.
Illig was awarded one of three prestigious Lilly Fellowships in Humanities, and will teach and do research for two years at Valparaiso University, a Lutheran university in northern Indiana.
J. Patrick Hornbeck II, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the theology department and Illig's mentor, said the Lilly fellowship gives space to young scholars who want a career that blends academic success and rigor with commitment to faith and spirituality.
“The great thing about this is its mentorship not just in ones’ own career field, but it’s also mentorship in a particular way of doing higher education,” he said.
“In the Jesuit world, that’s about things like cura personalis."
For Illig, who earned her undergraduate degree at Malloy College in Rockville Centre, N.Y., it’s a big leap geographically, as it’ll be her first foray out of New York State. At the same time, she said the eight years she’s spent at Fordham have given her a lot of experience with faith in an academic setting.
“My faith is very important to me, and it’s very important to bring that out in my teaching, as well as to reflect on how that influences the work that I do as a theologian and a scholar of medieval history and medieval theology,” she said.
The fellowship will consist of teaching two classes at Valparaiso, including a high level seminar class on dissent and heresy in the early church, for which she’ll be able to rely on her dissertation “Through a Lens of Likeness: Reading English Wycliffite Sermons in Light of Contemporary Sermon Texts.”
She’ll also have time to develop of a database of the 269 sermons that Wycliffe delivered and that have thus far only been studied for their non-orthodox theological content. In fact, Illig discovered that the aspects of Wycliffe’s sermons that challenged the concept of Transubstantiation and Papal authority, were not the dominant content. For the most part, they lay out a program for how the hearers of the sermons can live a better and more authentic Christian life.
“As a sort of methodological move, Jennifer is saying that when we look at materials that have been looked at traditionally as heterodox or heretical, that there’s actually much more to them than just the particular places where they deny established doctrine,” Hornbeck said.
Illig will join Franklin Harkins, Ph.D., an associate professor of theology, as Fordham’s second Lilly fellow, although she’ll always be the University’s lone "home grown" one though. Harkins, who came to Fordham in 2007, studied at Valparaiso upon graduation from Notre Dame. As chance would have it, he was one of Illig’s readers, along with Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Ph.D., professor and Mullarkey Chair in the Department of English.