In the Fall of 2010, the Office of Research and Graduate Studies worked with the American Studies Department to launch a project aimed at improving graduate student's time-to-degree. The fellowship offered Graduate Research (GRA) positions to allow graduate students who were ABD and making timely progress toward the PhD one semester free of other working responsibilities to focus on completing the dissertation. In fall 2010, the fellowship was awarded to Ruben Afagla, Rebecca Barett-Fox and Elizabeth Yeager.
The completion of this dissertation would not have been possible without the support and contributions of many people and Institutions. Especially important has been the help from the KU American Studies Program for offering me a Graduate Research Assistantship in the fall 2010 semester. This work is an intellectual history and cultural study of Cook-Lynn's scholarship and other writings. Cook-Lynn deploys a resistance discourse to the U.S. culture of imperialism to strategize Indian empowerment and advocate for the sovereignty of tribal governance. This dissertation examines her political theories on Indian sovereignty and her focus on the effects of U.S. colonialism on land dispossession, oppression, silenced voices, the devaluation of tribal cultures, and the struggle for Indian self-determination.
Thanks to funding provided through a GRA Fellowship in Fall 2010, I completed the writing of a dissertation about Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka, Kansas-based congregation pastored by Fred Phelps that has gained national attention because of its pickets of the funerals of gay people and fallen servicemen and -women and at sites of national disaster, such as shooting rampages and mining explosions. After intensive ethnographic research from January to October 2010, including attendance at Sunday services, pickets of other churches, and military funeral pickets, plus a trip to hear the church argue for its right to free speech near military funerals at the Supreme Court in Snyder v. Phelps, I completed a dissertation that examines the history, organization, theology, rhetoric, and in-your-face tactics of the church. I placed the church within the context of historic American Calvinist thought and within the anti-gay teachings and activism of the contemporary Religious Right, applying radical flank theory to illustrate the benefits and challenges that Westboro Baptist Church delivers to other anti-gay religious groups and to prove that, while the church is certainly unpopular, its teachings are not without precedent or peers. Finally, the dissertation considered the creation of American heroes through military service, comparing public and political responses to Westboro Baptist Church's military funeral pickets to the public and political responses to the church's pickets of the funerals of gay and lesbian people, concluding that, for many Americans, "heroism" assumes heterosexuality and belief in a Christian God. "'Pray Not for this People for Their Good': Westboro Baptist Church, the Religious Right, and American Nationalism" received unanimous honors at its November 2010 defense. Since then, I have been busily preparing article submissions, a book proposal, and a conference proposal for the 2011 ASA on Snyder v. Phelps, which will be decided sometime in 2011.
With almost all five chapters of my dissertation complete I received a GRA Fellowship for the Fall 2010 semester. Under the direction of my advisor, Sherrie Tucker, I completed and defended my dissertation, "Understanding 'It': Affective Authenticity, Space, and the Phish Scene" last December. I spent the summer months of last year, thanks in large part to a Summer Research Fellowship from KU's Office of Research & Graduate Studies, working full-time on my dissertation and ethnographic study of "scene identity" around the contemporary jam-band Phish. After more than three years of fieldwork across the U.S. and countless hours transcribing formal interviews and informal conversations I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to write all day, every day about what the band members and fans refer to as "it" and I call the spatial articulation of affective authenticity.