April 1, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 13

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    Emeritus faculty earn three Mellon fellowships

    By William Harms and Seth Sanders
    News Office

    Three emeritus professors from the University have received Mellon Emeritus Fellowships. Recipients are: W. Ralph Johnson, Bernard McGinn and Tetsuo Najita.

    The Emeritus Fellowship program is intended to support the research activities of outstanding scholars in the humanities and humanistic social sciences who, at the time of taking up the fellowships, will be officially retired but continue to be active in research.

    In this inaugural year of the program, the fellowships were awarded to 16 scholars nationally and include funds for research and other expenses.

    Johnson, the John Matthews Manly Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Classical Languages & Literatures, Comparative Literature and the College, will use his Mellon Emeritus Fellowship for research on his book, Propertius: the Growth of a Poet’s Mind. The book’s theme is Propertius’ “insistence on the sovereignty of the individual, especially when it is threatened by autocratic ideology.”

    It will discuss the “evolution of erotic ideology in Republican Rome,” where “lovers began behaving like the love poems they read, and the poems kept mirroring the way glamorous lovers performed their amative styles: life imitates art imitates life.”

    Ultimately, Johnson will address what occurs “when this sort of poet collides with a society he has come to find restrictive. The poet takes on more than he can handle, he overestimates his strength and his influence, he ends up beaten but out of this collision the poems survive and flourish as a testament to the idea of freedom, so the poet is not exactly vanquished after all,” Johnson explained.

    Johnson has examined the technique and meaning of the great Latin poets and has asked fundamental questions about what poetry is and does. His book, The Idea of Lyric: Lyric Modes in Ancient and Modern Poetry, was praised for “its chiseled brevity, its beauty of style, its critical intelligence and its infectious love for all Western literature.” His book, Darkness Visible: A Study of Vergil’s Aeneid, explores the ironic art of an epic poem in praise of a morally ambivalent empire.

    Johnson earned his Ph.D. in classics at the University of California at Berkeley and taught at Berkeley and Cornell University before joining the Chicago faculty in 1981.

    Bernard McGinn, the Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology and the History of Christianity in the Divinity School, has received a Mellon Emeritus Fellowship, which will support the completion of his research on the fourth volume of The Presence of God, an ongoing history of Western Christian mysticism.

    McGinn wrote that the past quarter century has seen “an unprecedented surge of interest in mysticism and spirituality,” but there was no “really adequate and theologically informed history of Christian mysticism.”

    This volume, The Harvest of Mysticism, describes a “new mysticism” that arose in Europe around 1200, involving “novel experiments in religious life, increased participation of women, a move into the nascent European vernacular languages and the development of more radical views of mystical contact with God.”

    Toward the end of this period, Christian mysticism influenced such major Renaissance thinkers as Nichols of Cusa, who wrote major treatises on the subject, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who drew heavily on Kabbalah.

    McGinn has written extensively on the history of apocalyptic thought, spirituality and mysticism and has recently edited The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, vol. 2: Apocalypticism in Western History and Culture. He also has written “The Man from Whom God Hid Nothing:” Meister Eckhart’s Mystical Thought, among many others.

    McGinn has been involved in Paulist Press’ best-selling Classics of Western Spirituality series since its inception in 1978, and Editor-in-Chief since 1988.

    McGinn, who earned his Ph.D. from Brandeis University, has taught at Chicago since 1969.

    Tetsuo Najita, an expert on the history of Japan, has received a Mellon Foundation Emeritus Fellowship to continue his research.

    Najita, the Robert S. Ingersoll Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in History and the College, has been a faculty member at Chicago since 1969.

    He is the author of a number of important books, including Hara Kei in the Politics of Compromise (1967), which was awarded the John King Fairbank Prize in East Asian History by the American Historical Association. He also is the author of Japan, the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Japanese Politics (1974 and 1980), and Visions of Virtue in Tokugawa Japan: The Kaitokudo Merchant Academy of Osaka (1987 and 1997), for which he was awarded the Yamagata Banto Prize from the Prefecture of Osaka in 1989. In 1998, he published Tokugawa Political Writings.

    Najita will use his Mellon Emeritus Fellowship to do further research and to complete a manuscript for Ordinary Economic Thought and Practice in Modern Japan—1800-1950, an extension of his previous work, Visions of Virtue in Tokugawa Japan. The project will provide the perspective of commoners thinking about commerce, writing about it, and devising strategies with which to reconstruct villages and also enter into profit-oriented ventures.