Reflections on the Resident Scholar Fellowship Program

The idea was daring,“ said the first participant in SAR's resident scholar program, Edwin L. Wade, reflecting on his experience in 1973. "I entered a program that was innovative and exciting but had yet to prove the internationally celebrated forum for discovery it is known as today. It was a remarkable concept—to establish an anthropological 'think tank' intended to invite visionary exploration at the boundaries of anthropology, social science, and the arts.”

This “daring idea” originated as a part of then SAR president Douglas Schwartz’s invigorating vision for the School’s future at the pivotal transition period in 1967, when he was hired as the new director. To create a center for advanced studies that would foster leading-edge research in anthropology and archaeology, Schwartz imagined six major programs, now familiar to supporters and participants of SAR—advanced seminars, publications, Indian arts research, archaeology, membership, and resident scholars.

Since the resident scholar program’s inception in 1973, a total of 140 participants have come to the School for the academic year. The immediate and most obvious results of the program are in the accomplishments of the participating scholars. Flourishing in the tranquil environment devoted to concentration, synthesis, and writing, past SAR resident scholars have published fifty-five books, completed thirty-five dissertations, and written professional papers too numerous to count. “For some, SAR is a ’think tank,’” said Hsain Ilahiane, who completed and defended his dissertation faster than he expected during his 1998 residency, “but for me, it was more ’think-write-done’!”

Funded by the Weatherhead Foundation, the Katrin H. Lamon Endowment for Native American Art and Education, and the Social Science Research Council, the resident scholar program is designed to support individuals—from doctoral candidates writing their dissertations to full professors synthesizing years of research—whose work promises to advance the understanding of human culture, behavior, and evolution.

Over the years, the scope of the resident scholars' studies has reflected the School's role, in Schwartz's words, "as a national laboratory dedicated to the study of the human condition." Topics have ranged from women's ritual among the Warlpiri Aborigines of Australia to new interpretations of the Aztec calendar, from performing dreams among the Xavante Indians of central Brazil to the revival of Euskara—the ancient tongue of the Basque people—and from a new model of colonialism in ancient Anatolia to spirit channeling and the American religious imagination.

In addition, the resident scholar program has provided the School with a constant stream of new ideas, approaches, and questions at the forefront of anthropology and interdisciplinary studies—not only during the residencies themselves but also through the years as former scholars-in-residence return to direct and participate in advanced seminars or to present colloquia on emerging work.

Another subtle but profound impact of the resident scholar program is its effect on the scholars themselves and how they choose to reengage in the world after their residencies. Scholars often report returning to their institutions with a renewed vitality, ready to take more active leadership roles in administration, professional associations, and mentoring programs. Combined with a clearer sense of purpose and accomplishment about their work, this energy of renewal enriches the broad intellectual community served by the School. "The greatest value of the year has been the exploration and reassessment of my career and a renewed trajectory of my future," said Robert R. Alvarez of his 1996 residency.

"The impressions I took away from that year of intense professional study and self-exploration would support, enrich, and help develop my research attitudes, my understanding of the nature of discipline in academic pursuit, and my respect for the inner courage needed to pursue genuine discoveries, for the next twenty years," reflected Edwin Wade. "In a sense I have never stopped reappraising the experiences of that vivid year, and perennially I find in them valuable insights to be integrated as they become appropriate to the newest stage of my professional growth."

Now at the Museum of Northern Arizona, where he helps direct a research institute himself, SAR's first resident scholar "looks to the School's model and its visionary leadership as he searches for ways to provide a nurturing environment for group and individual discovery. In the explorations that are the foundation and the legacy of such institutions, this civilization, our civilization, will flourish."

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