Wesselhoeft '06 awarded Fulbright to pursue her dissertation research

by University Communications,

Kirsten Wesselhoeft ’06 has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship from the U.S. Institute of International Education to pursue her dissertation research in France.

Wesselhoeft, a PhD student in religious studies at Harvard University, is writing a religious studies dissertation that focuses on Islamic education in France. Wesselhoeft says she’s interested in all the ways in which people are teaching and learning Islam there, especially related to ethics and spirituality.

“I work with a range of different field sites, including mosques, institutes of Islamic higher learning and independent study groups,” she says. “In all of these places, I’m trying to understand how ideas of the good life are taught and learned, and what it means for people to seek to change their lives through knowledge.”

Wesselhoeft is one of more than 1,700 U.S. citizens living abroad for the 2013-14 academic year through the Fulbright program. Recipients are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievements, as well as demonstrated leadership potential.

“I was delighted to receive the Fulbright to support my dissertation research,” Wesselhoeft says. “It’s a great chance to be part of a long tradition of intercultural exchange and a community of researchers.”

Discovering her Purpose

While at Willamette, Wesselhoeft majored in philosophy and worked as general manager of The Bistro. After she graduated, she earned her Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 2008. She then worked briefly in Amman, Jordan before conducting fieldwork for a year in France.

Wesselhoeft enrolled in Harvard’s PhD program in 2009. Through the Fulbright and other fellowships, she will live in France through early 2015 — splitting her time between Paris and either Marseille or Lyon.

Excited by the work in store for her, Wesselhoeft says she aspires to be a teacher and scholar of religion — focusing on the Islamic tradition, ethical thought and the ethnography of religion.

Willamette, she says, is where she discovered her calling.

“Willamette inspired in me a thirst and a love for teaching and learning, and also afforded me room for intellectual creativity and experimentation that were instrumental to my development as a scholar,” she says.

“The mentors I had at Willamette — including the late and very dear Bob Hawkinson — cultivated my developing interests but also supported me as a whole person in a way that I have since realized is very precious.”

For more information on Fulbright grants and similar opportunities, contact the Office of Student Academic Grants and Awards.