By Emma Bradley, Georgetown University ’22
Coming into college, I hoped to be able to conduct research, but it was not something I imagined having the opportunity to do until later in my time at Georgetown University. Three years later, I am so glad to have been mistaken!
During my very first week at Georgetown, while struggling to register for a freshman Biblical literature class, my peer advisor noticed my enthusiasm for theology and recommended a unique research opportunity to me. The John and Pat Figge Woodstock Undergraduate Student Research Fellowship, coordinated through the Catholic Studies program at Georgetown, provides undergraduate students of any class year with the opportunity to explore and analyze current social issues through the lens of Jesuit theological reflection.
Each Fellow chooses a faculty advisor to serve as a mentor throughout the research project, which culminates in a 30-page research paper presented to faculty at the end of the spring semester. In addition to each Fellow’s chosen faculty mentor, the Figge Fellowship advisors, Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J. and Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, mentor the group and offer advice on projects, as well as a good dose of wisdom from their wealth of academic experience.
My project proposal was inspired by the story of Jesus and the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt from the oppression of King Herod in the Gospel of Matthew. By applying a theological lens on a contemporary issue, I read the story in a new light: Jesus and his parents were refugees. From this initial inspiration, I further explored Old Testament biblical ethics on welcoming the stranger, New Testament parables, and ways that faith-based actors incorporate theological and ethical frameworks in their responses to the current refugee crisis across the world.
I was incredibly blessed to have Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J. as a faculty mentor for my project: he is the Pedro Arrupe Distinguished Research Professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service and a Senior Fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. I first got to know him as a professor by taking his course, “Human Rights, Humanitarian Crises & Refugees: Ethical & Religious Responses.”
Fr. Hollenbach’s expertise proved invaluable in guiding my research — in fact, I often referred to works and research he himself had conducted on religious ethics, and learned much from his personal experiences working with refugees. He also connected me to Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, through which I had the opportunity to interview Director of Operations Giulia McPherson, about the work that JRS/USA does in supporting refugee education, and how Jesuit values inform their mission, work and interaction with refugees.
I was particularly inspired by their focus on accompaniment, centering the agency of the displaced people they serve, and taking a holistic, interactive approach to empowering refugee communities. I learned about the importance of education for empowering refugees to integrate into their host societies, and rebuild their countries of origin if given the opportunity to return. My research emphasized a holistic Biblical ethic of humanitarian aid that centers accompanying and empowering displaced people, culminating in my final project: “Empowering Refugee Futures: A Biblical Christian Perspective and Human Theological Responses.”
Through the Figge Fellowship, my fellow students and I explored the theological reflection model in line with the Catholic Social Teaching of “See, Judge, Act”: observe a problem, understand and reflect on what needs to be done, and put that knowledge into action. One way that I put my research into action was participating in JRS/USA’s 2019 Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, along with other students from my class. We met with Congressional staff to advocate for policies that support the human dignity of refugees. In each meeting, I gladly emphasized our collective ask of Congress: signing onto a “Dear Colleague” letter on International Basic Education. Having learned from my research how integral education is in shaping the lives and affirming the human dignity of refugees, I was grateful for this opportunity to advocate in support of human rights for immigrants, refugees, and marginalized people.
Following the completion of my project, I had the opportunity to serve in Lesvos, Greece, alongside a Christian organization, Teach Beyond Borders, which uses educational programming to accompany displaced children and their families. Inspired by my research, this in-person experience (from July to August 2019) sparked a passion for sustainable peacebuilding and the role of education in building cultures of peace to preempt refugee crises. This experience led me to direct my subsequent years at Georgetown toward diplomacy and sustainable peacebuilding.
It is difficult to fully express the impact of my student-faculty research experience under Fr. Hollenbach. Not only did this experience guide my studies at Georgetown, but it has also impacted my future aspirations. In the two years since my Figge Fellowship, I have returned as a student coordinator to help facilitate experiences for other students and connect them with faculty mentors who can help them analyze contemporary issues through theological reflection from a variety of religious traditions. Having experienced firsthand the power of student-faculty collaborations, especially on a topic I was so passionate about, it has been an honor to facilitate the experience for others.
Emma Bradley is a junior majoring in Culture and Politics in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She currently serves as a Government Relations intern at AJCU.