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Kahn Scholars Research Marriage and Divorce

By Jessie Fredlund ’07

This year at the Louise W. and Edmund J. Khan Liberal Arts Institute, nine faculty fellows and nine student fellows have set aside syllabi and book-bags to interact as equals as they work together to research various aspects of marriage and divorce.

As a part of the Marriage and Divorce Project organized by Lois Dubin, associate professor of religion, and Alice Hearst, associate professor of government, the 18 fellows each work on a specific research project that relates to the overall theme. They exchange resources, questions and insights over a weekly breakfast.

The inspiration for the Marriage and Divorce Project arose out of the conference “Marriage and Divorce: Culture, Law and the State,” sponsored by the Khan Institute in 2004. Dubin, inspired by conversations arising at the symposium, approached Hearst about starting a longer-term project through the Khan Institute, where both had been fellows before.

“Working [at the Khan Institute] opened my eyes to the value of interdisciplinary work,” Dubin says.

The interdisciplinary aspect also drew many students into the project.

“I was considering writing a thesis, but I liked the group dynamic,” says Caroline Fox ’07 of the Kahn Institute. Her research is on changes in divorce in Spain before, during and after the Franco era.

However, Maureen Sarna ’07, who is researching the covenant-marriage movement in the United States, commented that working as professors’ equals has been a challenge for student fellows. “We struggled a bit in the beginning,” she says. “It was a hard role for us to fit into.”

“A lot of the faculty are in a different place with their research,” adds Fox, explaining that they were already involved in books or projects on the subject.

To help students prepare for this challenge, the Khan Institute (www.smith.edu/kahninstitute) held a weeklong workshop for student fellows over the summer. Students worked with graduate students from other institutions to develop their topics into concise questions. By the end of the year, each student fellow will have a final product, but that could take many forms—a paper, a film, a presentation or a play, for example.

Fellows’ research interests were selected to represent a range of topics, geographic focuses and time periods. Topics include views of marriage in African-American folklore; the relationship between nationalism and family law reform in Egypt; celebrity motherhood; and the relationship between family law, dependency and citizenship.

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