Sabbatical Sojourns: Jennifer Hevelone-Harper

Over the course of the spring 2018 semester, five faculty members took sabbaticals to engage their fields. We spoke with each professor to learn more about their undertakings to share in The Bell and the upcoming fall 2018 issue of STILLPOINT. This is the first installment of “Sabbatical Sojourns.”

Any student who has taken a course with Jennifer Hevelone-Harper (history) knows she is passionate about her field of expertise: early and medieval Christian history. The main objective of her spring sabbatical was to turn a dream into a reality by beginning to write a book about medieval spirituality.

From the persecution of early Christians to female mystics of the Late Middle Ages, Hevelone-Harper’s book, Cloud of Witnesses: Spiritual Parents from the Early and Medieval Church, tells the stories of many eclectic Christians throughout history, and expounds upon the significance and influence of their eras—Augustine of North Africa, ascetics of the desert and Celtic monks, to name just a few.

“The vision of the church universal—the body of Christ, comprised of believers dispersed both throughout time and across the globe—must be reclaimed by contemporary Christians,” she writes. “If we struggle with something, it is quite likely that Christians before us have asked the same questions.”

Because a number of her chapters focus on figures and events in Italy, Hevelone-Harper tested her work on a key constituency: students at Gordon in Orvieto. There, she taught a four-week course, Art and Spirituality in Medieval Italy, teaching the content of her four “Italy chapters.” Delving into the worlds of Francis of Assisi, Benedict of Nursia, Catherine of Siena and the development of early Christian art and iconography in Rome, the students previewed her book, paired with primary sources, and visited the sites related to each topic.

“I think [teaching in Orvieto] is a great of example of when your scholarship informs your teaching, and when your teaching informs your scholarship,” Hevelone-Harper said.

Another era her book explores is the early Christian response to Islam. Translating this conversation into a modern-day context, Hevelone-Harper also developed a presentation for the Conference on Faith and History’s 50th anniversary, hosted at Calvin College in the fall. She formed a panel on teaching Islam that consists of Cana Short ’17, a student in Notre Dame’s Early Christian Studies program, and faculty members from other schools.

Hevelone-Harper will build on content collected when Gordon held the Conference on Faith and History on “Islam in the Classroom” in 2012. She is still collecting and editing the conference papers for a volume, but Hevelone-Harper says, “It’s a topic we have not exhausted, and the more I work on it, the more important work I realize there is to do.”