Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Directions

One of the more exciting developments here of late has been the fact that our own Feisal Mohamed was awarded a Mellon New Directions Fellowship. The goal of these highly-competitive awards is to foster serious, well-informed, and innovative interdisciplinary humanities scholarship.

Here is the stated objective of the fellowship program, pasted in from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation website:

Serious interdisciplinary research often requires established scholar-teachers to pursue formal substantive and methodological training in addition to the PhD. New Directions Fellowships assist faculty members in the humanities, broadly understood to include the arts, history, languages, area studies, and zones of such fields as anthropology and geography that bridge the humanities and social sciences, who seek to acquire systematic training outside their own areas of special interest. The program is intended to enable strong scholars in the humanities to work on problems that interest them most, at an appropriately advanced level of sophistication. In addition to facilitating the work of individual faculty members, these awards should benefit humanistic scholarship more generally by encouraging the highest standards in cross-disciplinary research.

The university and the recipient's department should understand that New Directions Fellowships are primarily for advanced training in pursuit of a specific research agenda. Unlike other fellowship awards, this program does not aim to facilitate short-term outcomes, such as completion of a book. Rather, New Directions Fellowships are meant to be viewed as longer-term investments in scholars' intellectual range and productivity.

Mohamed is using this award to study law this year and next, with the ultimate goal of mastering the legal matters pertaining to his ongoing interest in the controversial nature of religious toleration.

Those of you who have already seen his recent book, Milton and the Post-Secular Present, will understand how legal study marks an appropriate new direction for Mohamed's scholarly concerns. Mohamed is a trained specialist, above all, in seventeenth-century literature and the poetry and prose of John Milton. But Milton was in his own right a sophisticated social and political thinker whose complex and sometimes conflicted writings on liberty (understood in a variety of contexts) continue to be relevant in our own era. Mohamed--committed above all to the idea that rigorous humanistic scholarship should yield insight about politics, civics, and ethics--has never been shy about carrying his historical and literary expertise into the arenas of of current debate. And in addition to his peer-reviewed scholarship, he regularly writes about current events from the perspective of a scholar, in venues such as Dissent and the New York Times. Because conflicts about religious liberty and toleration so frequently imply knotty issues of law, legal study is an apt new direction for Mohamed's multi-faceted, ongoing, scholarly research.

In addition to being a great opportunity for Feisal, this award reflects very well on the University of Illinois and on our department: Mellon-funded research opportunities are highly competitive.

I probably should have reported on this several months ago. I was not sure, when I first learned about the award, when the announcement would be made public, and then other items of good news seem to have crowded in upon me. Still, this is a very big deal, and I'm happy now to be able to offer public congratulations here to go with the private congratulations I offered Feisal earlier. Belatedly, then: congratulations!

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