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Colleen Carpenter named Endowed Chair of the Humanities

Associate Professor of Theology Colleen Carpenter.
Associate Professor of Theology Colleen Carpenter.
Photo by Rebecca McDonald '07, bfreshproductions

Associate Professor of Theology Colleen Carpenter is the new Sister Mona Riley Endowed Chair of the Humanities for 2014–2017 at St. Catherine University. Colleen Hegranes, executive vice president and provost, made the announcement May 6 at a faculty meeting.

Carpenter succeeds Cecilia Konchar Farr, professor of English and women’s studies, who held the position from 2011–2014.

One of the University’s most distinguished faculty development awards, the endowed chair offers major support for significant scholarly work and related campus programming in the humanities. “This is a very big deal,” Hegranes said as she thumbed through the five-page curriculum vita and three-page application letter from Carpenter, the newly named endowed chair.

Hegranes praised the work of Cecilia Konchar Farr, professor of English and women’s studies, for her contributions as the Sister Mona Riley Endowed Chair of the Humanities from 2011 through the current academic year.

She cited four distinct areas where Konchar Farr has excelled:

  1. Nurturing the intellectual climate of St. Kate’s. Konchar Farr used some of the grant money to buy books and invited faculty and staff to read them together. “I like to think of a university as a community of scholars and intellectually curious people,” Konchar Farr says.
  2. Cecilia Konchar FarrSupporting outreach efforts of the Alumnae Relations office. “Cecilia has joined the esteemed panel of Conversation with Books,” Hegranes explains, “a program established 50 years ago by three distinguished alumnae and Professor Emerita Catherine Lupori.” Konchar Farr also has taken one-day core courses focusing on “The Reflective Woman” and “The Global Search for Justice" to alumnae chapters across the country.
  3. Advancing her scholarship. In collaboration with a team of undergraduate students, Konchar Farr completed an edited collection, A Wizard of Their Age: Essays from the Harry Potter Generation, which SUNY Press will publish this fall. She also co-edited a collection (with Jaime Harker, associate professor of English at the University of Mississippi) called This Book Is an Action: Feminist Print Culture and Activist Aesthetics. The book is being considered by the University of Illinois Press. And she is “within pages of completing” a book of literary criticism and theory about the American novel: We Have Your Novel: Ransoming a Reading Nation.
  4. Honoring the University’s Denny Prize. Calling it “a project dear to my own heart,” Hegranes cited Konchar Farr’s work on a publication that will mark next year’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Mary McCahill Denny Prize for Excellence in Writing. Konchar Farr is collaborating with Professor Emeritus of Philosophy William Meyer, who is designing the layout and artwork.

Meet Colleen Carpenter

A former adjunct instructor at nearby Augsburg College and the University of St. Thomas, Colleen Carpenter has focused her scholarship and community work on the intersection of theology with ecology and environmental issues — what she calls ecotheology. She plans to organize her research and campus programming for the endowed chair around the theme “Earthkeeping: Knowing and Tending our Planetary Home.”

Carpenter served as a community theologian at Earthrise Farm in Madison, Minn., prior to joining the faculty of St. Catherine in 2006. Earthrise Farm is a retreat and educational center run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

She holds an A.B. in English and American languages and literatures from Harvard University (which uses the Latin abbreviation for Bachelor of Arts); an M.A. in English literature from the University of Wisconsin–Madison; and both an M.A. and a Ph.D. (in religion and literature) from the University of Chicago Divinity School.

In announcing the new endowed humanities chair, Executive Vice President Hegranes noted Carpenter’s numerous scholarly accomplishments in her seven years at St. Kate’s, including: winning the Denny Prize for Distinction in Writing twice; presenting more than a dozen academic papers and presentations; earning tenure and promotion to associate professor; and publishing 10 articles and four book reviews.

During her three years as Sister Mona Riley Endowed Chair of the Humanities, Carpenter hopes to:

  • Complete an undergraduate textbook in ecotheology, called Is the Earth Holy?;
  • Participate in the development of the environmental studies major, connecting the contributions of Catholic theology and Catholic social teaching to the curriculum; and
  • Involve honors students in campus programming that explores the questions of ecotheology and earthkeeping.

Her compelling letter of application issued a wake-up call about the devastation of human-wrought climate change: “Honeybees are dying by the millions; half the world’s wetlands have disappeared in the past century; there is a ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ covering thousands of square miles of ocean; and climate change is disrupting ecosystems across the globe,” Carpenter wrote.

“Obviously the sciences have much to contribute to understanding and solving these problems, but other disciplinies within the humanities are necessary as well. . . . Complex global problems never have a single, simple solution: there is no easy technological ‘fix’ for the situation in which we find ourselves.”

About the humanities endowed chair

The Sister Mona Riley Endowed Chair of the Humanities was established during the 1980s capital campaign with a National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant. It is intended for an outstanding faculty member and scholar in the humanities at St. Catherine University.

Eligible applicants are tenured faculty members in art, art history, classics, English, history, languages, music, philosophy, theater and theology. The University has two ambitious expectations for the holder of the endowed professorship:

  1. Produce scholarly research or creative work that is published or publicly recognized.
  2. Organize University-sponsored lectures or public forums in the humanities and present at least one lecture per year to the University community.
May 6, 2014 by Amy Gage

See also: Faculty, Leadership, Liberal Arts