Weber Scholars 2021 Overview

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The 20 students who comprise the inaugural cohort of Weber Scholars represent 15 different academic disciplines at St. Olaf College. Click below on their profiles to read more about their individual research projects.

Keerthana Babu ’23

Major: Economics, French, Religion
Concentration: N/A
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Over the past several decades, many American Christians have left behind Christianity for Neopaganism. The spiritual freedom and lack of systematization in Neopaganism draws many frustrated Christians away from the Church. My research aims to learn more about this cultural phenomenon and to discover how to create a Comparative Theology between conservative Christianity and Neopaganism in order to help the Church stay relevant and spiritually satisfying. I studied the history of Neopaganism and read several first-person accounts from ‘Exvangelicals’ who left their conservative churches for Neopagan communities. Using techniques from Anthropology of Religion and Comparative Theology, I was able to figure out why Neopaganism is so alluring and if/how Christians can learn from and adopt aspects of Neopagan practice. I discovered that synthesizing practices from Christianity and Neopaganism is not only possible, but also can be incredibly spiritually helpful for unsatisfied Christians who desire more spiritual autonomy in their faith lives. I conclude that conservative Church leaders will retain more congregants if they allow their congregants more creative freedom to explore non-Christian spiritual practices and learn from Neopaganism in order to deepen their Christian faiths and understanding of God. Some Christian leaders on social media have already started advocating for the addition of foreign spiritual practices to supplement Christian religious life. In order to see large-scale change, Christian leaders should teach about Neopaganism and advocate for Comparative Theology not only on social media, but also directly from the church pulpit.

Alissa Bidwell ’22

Major: Theater, Religion
Concentration: Media & Management
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Have you ever found yourself concerned with the egocentric tendencies of charity models? Do you think that giving should ultimately be aimed at solidarity and respect? Then you may be familiar with a common source of discourse in both the Weber program and in larger academic circles: The intersection of markets and morality. In a more specific analysis of this topic, my paper looks at how Christian ethics are practiced in the nonprofit world. Using a sociological and theological framework, my research aims to offer a more productive, ethical and religiously supported alternative to charity models. By looking at the concept of Agape as a comparative model for what Charity should look like in Christian practice and how current non-profit models fall short of this expectation, my research offers a solution that actively works to incorporate agapic parameters while embracing a system that separates self-interest from the act of giving.

Ben Borchard ’23

Majors: Economics, Psychology
Concentration: Neuroscience
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Do Markets Corrupt our Morals? This was the question posed by Virgil Storr and Ginny Choi in their book of the same name. The book challenged prima facie acceptance of markets as morally-deleterious monsters, promoting instead a reopening of discourse surrounding the title question. Storr and Choi encouraged empirical analysis, claiming that the parochial scope of an existing body of literature almost exclusively based on philosophical argumentation and deontological claims has hamstrung our ability to understand fully how free markets and morality interact. My paper responds directly to this call to action. I employ an econometric method of measuring treatment effect in comparative case studies – the synthetic control method – in order to determine the causal impact of economic liberalization on trust. This method uses a weighted average of control units drawn from a pool of donor regions to generate a counterfactual, or “alternate reality” version, of a treatment group wherein the treatment was never administered. Comparing the post-treatment trajectories of the treatment group and counterfactual reveals a causal relationship.

Lily Braafladt ’22

Major: Political Science, French
Concentration: N/A
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For my project, I investigated the function of the character Monsieur Homais in Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel Madame Bovary. My time in the Weber Seminar encouraged me to think more critically about how honest dialogue can be formed, and why attempts to engage in rational, civil debate sometimes fail. As I reflected on the seminar, I began to read Homais in a new light, and saw an opportunity for a case study on obstacles to dialogue. Homais is the apothecary in the rural town of Yonville, where heroine Emma Bovary engages in several affairs while married to her husband Charles, culminating in her tragic suicide. By considering how Homais functions as a foil for Emma, I was able to better understand how Homais’ vanity and political motivations become an impediment to his scientific pursuits. This corruption of his methods is especially clear in his attempts at debate with the town vicar, Bournisien. Ultimately, I argue that Flaubert utilizes Homais in order to warn his readers of a future of scholarship that is driven by political motives rather than rigorous study.

Max Bradley ’22

Major: Philosophy, Political Science
Concentration: N/A
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The ability to successfully navigate interpersonal disagreement is a prerequisite for participation in the contentious political, ethical, and philosophical debates which animate our communal lives. The Weber Scholars program engages with some of the most pressing of the many disagreements which are now raging on college campuses and beyond, thereby offering participants an excellent opportunity to study both the concept of disagreement and its practical manifestations. My paper contributes to the study of disagreement by exploring the way in which individuals should respond to disagreement centering around their ultimate values. I maintain that it is only possible to establish an ultimate value by making a non-rational intuitive leap beyond what the available evidence supports. Ultimate values are therefore beyond the reach of rational argumentation and cannot be overturned simply on the basis of a disagreement over the relevant evidence. I thus contend that a second non-rational movement is needed to abandon or modify an ultimate value and consequently that disagreement concerning ultimate values can only be resolved when an individual moves beyond the evidence and employs personal intuition to challenge their ultimate value. My research thus moves towards a richer and more complete understanding of the theoretical nature of disagreement.

Abdul Muqeet Faraz ’23

Major: Quantitative Economics (Finance)
Concentration: Statistics & Data Science
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Inspired by the Storr/Choi and Pluckrose/Lindsay readings during the June portion of the seminar, my research explores the impact of income inequality on social trust and the way economic freedom plays an imperative role in the background. My paper assesses how morality and overall well-being are affected by changes of inequality after liberalization. I use the technique of panel data regression analysis by utilizing data from three different sources (World Values Survey, World Bank World Development Indicators, and the Fraser Institute). Through my regression results, I find evidence that liberalization policy can have both beneficial and adverse impacts on trust through income inequality depending on the initial level of economic freedom. To address the certain drawbacks of liberalization, I propose a policy to simultaneously foster economic growth and protect social trust by aiming at reducing inequality.

Zoe Golden ’22

Major: History, Psychology
Concentration: Women & Gender Studies
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The life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln have inspired over 15,000 books, 200 statues, and six full feature movies. As a nation, we are captivated by the president who united the country during its most fractured moment. Since his death, scholars, artists, and everyday people alike have tried to understand Lincoln’s characteristics, attitudes and beliefs. In a moment when the United States becomes increasingly divided on social, cultural, and political issues, we again turn to Lincoln. My research explores the various ways in which the legacy of Abraham Lincoln is characterized and understood through sites of public history and collective memory. Students participating in the Weber Scholars summer research program studied one of the most contemporary examples of competing Lincoln imagery. In the seminar portion of the project, we read parts of the 1619 project and Peter Wood’s critical response. The intense emotions associated with a President who lived over 150 years ago were fascinating to me; I wanted to explore the ways Lincoln’s representation has transformed and what that shift says about modern historical discourse.

Logan Graham ’22

Major: Philosophy
Concentration: N/A
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My research project explores an oft-unappreciated, frequently ridiculed segment of the work of 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza: his doctrine of the “intellectual love of God”, or ILG. I contend that ILG, based on the system already in place in the Ethics (Spinoza’s magnum opus) implies an ideal sort of relationship we ought to have towards other people. This materializes as a sort of universal love which I argue has 5 main traits. 1: It arises inevitably from truly understanding people. 2: It disallows moral judgement. 3: It is unconditional. 4: It produces joy. And, finally, 5: it is a disposition that we can cultivate. The hope is that this work can make a small step in incorporating ILG into the intellectual tradition of Spinozist-Marxism (that is, thought which grounds Socialism philosophically in Spinoza rather than Hegel). In all, the project, by virtue of being an argument for a challenging and unconventional political conception, fits snugly within the mission of the IFC. More specifically, Spinoza offers us a framework for a politics that implores us to live together despite our stark differences. Similarly, the project, for those who choose to accept its conclusions, offers a framework (without an obvious conclusion) for analyzing the debate over who should be invited to speak on college campuses.

Sean Griswold ’23

Major: Music (Music Theory), Mathematics
Concentration: N/A
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One of the central tenets of the Weber Scholars program is that we would, in Max Weber’s words, confront “uncomfortable ideas.” In my project, I engaged with two sources that aligned in spirit with Max Weber’s precept. The first of these is the writings of Mark Fisher, a socialist author who identifies a phenomenon that he calls “capitalist realism,” where contemporary culture has accepted capitalism as the only viable economic (and to some extent political) system. Fisher argues that we must break through capitalist realism in order to establish a better alternative (i.e. socialism). Socialism has always been a controversial and uncomfortable idea for many, and Fisher’s framing of capitalist realism makes it doubly so. The other major source I contended with is the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a post-rock band with an aggressively anti-establishment bent (for example, one of their recent albums contains a three-part suite entitled “Bosses Hang”) which certainly constitutes discomfort. The main goal of my project, then, was to synthesize these two deeply controversial sources. I argued that Godspeed You! Black Emperor acts in ways that subvert capitalist realism, and in doing so they are able to create effective anti-capitalist music.

Emmie Head ’22

Major: Music
Concentration: N/A
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After the Blurred Lines decision, a copyright infringement case that determined certain elements of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ song “Blurred Lines” were substantially similar to Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” scholars and musicians alike more explicitly began considering copyright’s implications on artistic creation. This paper examines the role that expert musicological testimony plays in developing conceptions of musical ownership by synthesizing expert witness testimony from prominent copyright infringement cases with answers to questions about music’s role as property and what kinds of freedoms are necessary for artists. I ultimately argue that the legal copyright of music cannot accommodate necessary artistic freedom despite supportive testimony from expert musicologists. My research reveals what I believe to be an irreconcilability between the law and musical practice; the values inherent to legal practice and the values inherent to musical practices are so fundamentally distinct that they cannot be reconciled.

Rara Dzikrina Istifadah ’24

Major: Quantitative Economics
Concentration: Environmental Studies
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The New Urban Agenda (NUA) is a global document that explores various elements of urban areas, particularly the integrated urban governance (IUG) concept, as a means to support the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Upon its publication, various criticisms were levied against the report by many urban scholars. My research examines scholarly discussion of IUG using the NUA and its illustrated version as a guide. Contrary to the report’s perceived shortcomings, I show how the agenda has succeeded in highlighting the urgency faced by cities across the world. The agenda is still the best international standard in maintaining the diverse elements of urban governance beyond borders.

Finn Johnson ’22

Major: Philosophy, Political Science
Concentration: N/A
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In recent years social media has become an incredibly powerful social institution. It has, on one hand, toppled and called-out injustices both in the US and around the globe leading, in many instances, to the furthering of humanitarian values. Unfortunately, social media has also been a forum for ideological indoctrination, political outrage and conflict. In this vein, social media has attracted critical attention due to its ability to ‘cancel’–socially ostracise and villainize–individuals at the hands of viral mobs. All that being said, the particular power of social media, and whether it is something good or bad, is not completely clear. I found myself, multiple times in discussions of intellectual freedom and unfreedom and their relationship to social media, drawn back to the writings of Alexis De Tocqueville. My paper is an examination of social media, and the effect it has on intellectual freedom, through the lens of social tyranny pioneered by Tocqueville. Like the focus of the Weber Scholars, I’ve spent the past month examining the danger and power of social media and its effects on intellectual freedom and democracy by using the framework of one of the giants in the American political thought tradition. .

Dhesel Khando ’24

Major: Computer Science, Economics
Concentration: Data Science
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The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in a tragic loss of life as well as a catastrophic impact on the country’s economy. However, one group of people has suffered differently during the pandemic: the Asian American community has historically been associated with deadly viruses and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the rebirth of the idea of a “Yellow Peril.” My research provides a review of scholarly literature for determining the intersectional discrimination faced by Asian women in the United States as a result of pandemic conditions. My research indicates that pandemic has increased anti-Asian sentiment, leading to numerous hate crimes around the country. Moreover, Asian women have faced a more devastating impact than men, as they reported two-thirds of the hate crimes and faced a greater increase in unemployment.

Grace Klinefelter ’23

Grace Klinefelter

Major: Political Science, Spanish
Concentration: N/A
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My research project examines the relationship between civil religion and capitalism in modern American politics. The central ideas with which I engage are two of the most important theories to emerge in American political and religious theory in recent decades. However, the historical and theoretical relationship between the two ideas has not received sufficient attention in existing scholarship. I propose a new way of understanding the relationship: I treat civil religion as a framework under which sacralized capitalism can be best understood, which makes possible new critiques of capitalism as a faith. There are two central connections to the June portion of the Weber scholars program. The first is quite simply the consideration of complicated components of the American political zeitgeist. Civil religion is a contentious issue in modern American political science and religion scholarship; capitalism is a contentious issue in both academia and in contemporary politics. The second is the centrality of the program’s titular thinker, Max Weber, to my paper. Weber plays a central role in the underlying theory of capitalism that I use to construct my argument. As such, the reading and analysis of Weber and his theories that we did in June was invaluable to my research.

Hannah Lepper ’22

Major: Political Science
Concentration: International Relations
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For this project I established the American alt-right as a social movement and specifically focused on the group called the Oath Keepers. I wanted to analyze the alt-right and Oath Keepers in a similar manner as other social movements, such as the abolitionist movement, the women’s rights movement, and democratic resistance to the Soviet Union. As Westerners, those are movements we generally think of as virtuous and righteous, yet they share many structural and tactical similarities with today’s alt-right. During this analysis, I purposefully avoided social scientific research that focuses on statistical analysis of demographic and political surveys, because I believe doing so allows for a nuanced understanding of the alt-right that strives to have a similar perspective of the movement to a member of the alt-right. Two core values of the Institute and broad themes during our June seminar are free inquiry and intellectual freedom. It is incredibly uncomfortable to take a sympathetic view of movements that we view as unethical and amoral. Yet those beliefs are held fervently by others, and in the pursuit of a better understanding of our world and those around us it is imperative that we take their perspectives seriously, even if they are antithetical to our own identities and experiences.

Jimena Maida Colindres ’23

Jimena Maida Colindres

Major: Sociology and Anthropology, Art History
Concentration: N/A
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Public spaces are not arbitrary, they are a representation of the values and the identity of the communities that comprise them. Memorials are elements that contribute to defining the public space, to commemorate people or past events and to preserve history. My research explores the dynamics of the temporality of memorials, and their effects on healing (or perpetuating) cultural trauma. It is specifically focused on the case of the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis and its impact on the healing process of the community, and the role of the State to recognize his murder as cultural trauma. This topic is related to the Institute’s mission and to the summer seminar because it focuses on a relevant debate between various, at times opposing, viewpoints on who defines the public space and how they do it. In addition, it explores the recognition of an event as cultural trauma, therefore it contributes to conversations on inquiries about why and how an event becomes culturally traumatic.

Alyssa Medin ’24

Majors: Philosophy and Political Science
Concentration: N/A

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The topic for the Institute of Freedom and Community in Fall 2021 is capitalism, which is at the core of my research project. I sought to answer the question, how has market-driven development in Norway affected the social polarization of urban Oslo, the largest city in the country? I looked openly at the theory of Dual Cities, posed by Castells (1993) and Sassen (1997), in which a city is divided into two sections, the city that functions for the elite and the city that functions for the collapsed middle and lower classes, referred to as the new poor. This theory, while often discarded as reactionary and one-dimensional, refers to an important political-sociological phenomenon of different groups living within geographically close proximity yet living in drastically different conditions, such that it is as if they were in a different city. I apply and extend this concept to the contemporary case of Oslo, especially in reference to discrepancies in outcome for immigrant populations as they navigate class, ethnicity, and citizenship as some of the factors in their success or failure. Ultimately, I discuss the importance of the Dual City theory, updated to include characteristics beyond economic class, in understanding the globalized and interconnected cities of the modern world.

Markian Romanyshyn ’23

Major: Political Science, Philosophy
Concentration: International Relations
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In a world more interconnected than ever before, where difference is utterly inescapable, many of us look to the virtue of toleration for direction. But even as we hail toleration for its capacity to unite a diverse polis, the idea of toleration itself is fracturing under our noses. On college campuses, for instance, we see some argue for greater toleration of historically oppressed minorities, and others, positioning themselves at odds, argue for toleration of diverse ideas which are potentially anathema to social justice work per se. In both camps, questions like “Toleration of what?”, “Toleration for which reasons?” and, indeed, “What is toleration in the first place?” are overlooked. To uncover implied answers to these questions, and crucially, to uncover unspoken political implications, this article does three things: First, it highlights the importance of Rainer Forst’s “justifications of toleration” as we seek to understand contemporary discourses, second, it presents an original, three-tier understanding of popular justifications of toleration (which includes the liberal justification, the power-corrective justification and the ethical-corrective justification) and finally, third, it concludes by proposing that Forst’s work writ large, in light of insights gathered in the justification-oriented analysis original to this article, ought to be considered as a means of moving the toleration discourse foreword.

Luke Springer ’23

Major: History
Concentration: Race & Ethnic Studies
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The discipline of archaeology has come under increased scrutiny in the last few decades because of its entangled origins with the ideologies of colonialism and nationalism. Under the Institute’s mission to “encourage free inquiry and meaningful debate of important political and social issues,” my paper engages with the existing literature and extracts the idea that archaeology is inherently plural and does not have to perpetuate colonialist and nationalist ideology. My research takes the case of the Kennewick Man conflict as a jumping-off point for understanding the modern problems between indigenous people and archaeologists. This conflict developed along the same timeline as the conversation about how to make archaeology a more inclusive discipline. Some advocate for collaboration between indigenous people and archaeologists, and others argue that this is not possible. This paper intervenes in the discourse by claiming that if cultivated, archaeology’s inherent propensity for pluralism can be used to foster a mutual understanding between Western ways of knowing and indigenous ways of knowing.

Justin Vorndran ’23

Major: English
Concentration: Media Studies
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The environmental movement, attempting to address serious concerns of climate change, land use, and species conservation, consistently runs into roadblocks in the United States in the form of anti-environmentalist ideas. Scholarly research has focused on promising means of circumventing this entrenched resistance by changing messaging techniques in order to appeal more to conservative morals and sentiments. My research argues that focusing on conservatism alone is too broad a category, and that focusing on rural areas as hotbeds of anti-environmentalism can be more accurate and more effective. Rural resistance to environmentalism often offers more complex anti-environmentalist sentiments that do not fit easily under the broad umbrella category of conservatism. The history of progressive politics and environmentalism have attempted to work around rural anti-environmentalism, rather than with rural communities to understand solutions that might ease reflexive resistance to environmental legislation. Actively attempting to understand why certain groups think the way they do, despite disagreement with them, inevitably leads one to conclusions about the debate itself that can lead to real solutions, as is the case when examining environmentalism in the United States closely.