Park, DeCaroli, among 2019 American Council of Learned Societies Fellows

by Anne Reynolds

Park, DeCaroli, among 2019 American Council of Learned Societies Fellows

Pre-Buddhist spirit cults in South Asia. Societal accommodations for disabled persons during a pivotal era in French history. This summer, two faculty members of the Department of History and Art History are pursuing these far-reaching projects, supported by fellowships with the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).

These fellowships, awarded to scholars based upon their projects’ potential to make significant and original contributions to understanding, are extremely competitive. According to the ACLS, its 81 2019 fellows were chosen from over 1,100 applicants. Selected by their peers, the fellows represent more than 60 colleges and universities and a vast diversity of research topics, disciplines, and methodologies, all tied by their contribution to humanistic scholarship.

Sun-Young Park is working on a book, The Architecture of Disability in Modern France, which explores the efforts made by French society between the years 1750-1950 to meet the needs of disabled persons in architecture and urban reform. As the society moved from monarchism to republicanism, Park argues, its conceptions of disability also moved from a moral to a scientific understanding. This shift is reflected in the environments created throughout this period to include disabled persons in a fuller participation in the community.

“Historians have begun to pay more attention to the built environment in recent years, but most have no expertise in architectural design,” said Brian Platt, chair, Department of History and Art History. “Dr. Park is an exception. She is a trained architect, having received her MA and PhD in architecture from Harvard’s School of Design. This training allows her to analyze the built environment for the disabled with an awareness of the technical aspects of architectural design that is mostly absent from other historians’ work.”

Robert DeCaroli’s project examines the intersection of geography, archaeology, and textual sources to understand the relationship between South Asian pre-Buddhist terrestrial gods and spirits and the early Buddhist community. The cults of these deities were typically tied to specific regions, and DeCaroli’s work will utilize inscriptions and pilgrims’ accounts to pinpoint their locations in India and Sri Lanka. Next, he traces the influence of these spirit cults upon the spread of Buddhism through South Asia.

He is a recipient of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies fellowship, a global competition aimed at expanding the understanding and interpretation of Buddhist thought through scholarship and in society. “Dr. Decaroli’s scholarship has been seminal to the study of the South Asian spirit cults that preceded the emergence of Buddhism,” noted Platt. “His first book was about the influence of those cults upon the early visual culture of Buddhism. After a second book which focused on the early history of the image of the Buddha, he has turned back to the study of regional spirit cults in South Asia. His work on this topic is truly pioneering, and has transformed our understanding of early South Asian religious imagery.”

These awards are quite remarkable, continued Platt. “The ACLS Award is one of only a small handful of the most competitive and prestigious fellowships for scholars in the humanities. This is a major achievement for Dr. Park and Dr. DeCaroli, one that provides evidence of the quality of their scholarship. This is also an achievement for the department, since we are the only department in the country to have received two ACLS fellowships in the same year.”