UIC doctoral candidate named Newcombe Fellow

Sarah Buchmeier

Sarah Buchmeier, a UIC doctoral candidate in English, has been named a Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow for 2019 by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

The fellowship, which was granted to 23 doctoral candidates nationwide, features a 12-month award of $25,000 to complete writing a dissertation that addresses ethical and religious questions in the humanities and social sciences.

Buchmeier’s dissertation, titled “Quarrels without God: Nineteenth-Century American Literature in the Age of Secularism,” explores shifting literary values in 19th-century America in order to illuminate secularism’s expanding influence on the way we view the relationship between religion and knowledge.

“We are accustomed to think of secularism as a position of neutrality, but when we investigate secularism’s claims to neutrality, it comes to look more and more like a disciplinary force, warranting certain values, laws, social institutions, and forms of religiosity as appropriately modern based on their alignment with secularist principles,” she said. “This makes a difference in the way we understand not just religion but a whole spectrum of categories that shape our world, including literature and the way we study it.”

Buchmeier, who is advised by Walter Benn Michaels, UIC professor of English, examines works by authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Wilson, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps and Herman Melville that reflect the tension between realism and romance as a way of thinking about secularism’s rise in American culture. 

“I also explore how literary critics in the 20th century have read these texts through a secularist lens, which has only served to reproduce and reinforce the secularization narrative in our literary history,” she said.

Buchmeier, a native of Beecher, Illinois, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary teacher certification from Beloit College, and a master’s degree in literature from Northwestern University.

Funded by the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation and administered by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Newcombe Fellowship has supported nearly 1,300 doctoral candidates since 1981.

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