Crossing borders, religious and political

Rachel Havrelock

Rachel Havrelock co-hosts a 2009 Discovery Channel documentary, “Who was Jesus?” on Jesus and life in the first century. Photo: Biblical Productions

This year, UIC honors 10 outstanding researchers with the Researcher of the Year Award, a $5,000 cash prize. Five established faculty members were named Distinguished Researchers and five early career scientists were honored as Rising Stars.

Rachel Havrelock
Rising Star, Humanities

Biblical scholar Rachel Havrelock does not shy away from controversial subjects, scholarly or cultural.

An example of her courage, as well as her growing reputation in academia, is her widely-acclaimed River Jordan: The Mythology of a Dividing Line (University of Chicago Press, 2011). In the book, she considers the Jordan River as a border in the Bible, Judaism, Christianity and the Jewish and Palestinian national movements.

“Writing and speaking about the borders, politics and national mythologies of the Middle East puts me in touch with much political opinion and emotional response, but I have been able to address the issues from the point of view of textual, historical and ethnographic research,” said Havrelock, associate professor of English and Jewish studies.

To study the river’s place in Palestinian and Israeli cultures, she conducted fieldwork in Jordan, the Palestinian West Bank and Israel.

“I became very good at crossing borders,” she said.

“Having an American passport certainly helped, as I saw many delays and a good deal of stress and suffering at these border points.”

Havrelock’s current research is likewise ambitious.

A Cambridge University fellowship allows her to make weekly visits to the British National Archive for research on a book project about an oil pipeline that transported petroleum from Kirkuk, in present day Iraq, to Haifa, in present day Israel.

So far, she said, the research reveals the degree to which the territory, government and economic systems of Middle Eastern countries were established by colonial powers to facilitate the mining and export of oil by multinational corporations.

The project explores local practices of water sharing and water management as a model for a new regionalism — a possible to key to “re-imagining” this area of the world.

After the Cambridge fellowship, Havrelock will do research in Israel for a monograph about the political interpretation and use of the biblical book of Joshua.

Other Researchers of the Year

Natasha Devroye: Rising Star, Natural Sciences & Engineering 

Xiaoping Du: Distinguished Researcher, Basic Life Sciences 

Leon Fink: Distinguished Researcher, Humanities 

Stacie Geller: Distinguished Researcher, Clinical Sciences 

Seungpyo Hong: Rising Star, Basic Life Sciences

Bing Liu: Distinguished Researcher, Natural Sciences & Engineering 

Ben Superfine: Rising Star, Social Sciences 

Krista Varady: Rising Star, Clinical Sciences 

Maria Varelas: Distinguished Researcher, Social Sciences 

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