More than a year ago, many of you participated in the Department of Religious Studies search for a new faculty colleague. Many of our students heard a candidate teach in a section of 2001 or attended one of the candidates’ research presentations. Shortly after those campus visits, we offered the tenure-track position in Religion, Race, and Health to one of the candidates, who accepted. A couple of weeks later, we all found ourselves under stay-at-home restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The shock of the pandemic and its threat to many people’s lives and livelihoods was severe and has been ongoing.
Months later, the candidate who had accepted our initial offer needed to decline. Our faculty search committee set about reengaging in conversations with the remaining candidates. In our conversations as a faculty and with these candidates, we recognized that our department’s needs had shifted over the pandemic year. After thoughtful consideration and discussion, we offered a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor in Religion and Health to Dr. Andrew Walker-Cornetta. I am delighted to say that Dr. Walker-Cornetta has accepted. He will join the faculty in August and offer his first class this fall.
Dr. Walker-Cornetta’s academic training has prepared him to offer courses in religion and health, and his research focuses more specifically on religion and disability studies. He has also expressed interest in teaching theory and methods. Because of Dr. Walker-Cornetta’s strengths as a scholar of religions and health and out of our interest in being transparent with our new colleague, our students, and our community, the faculty revised the position description to more appropriately reflect the primary focus of his research and teaching. In Dr. Walker-Cornetta’s own words,
My research and teaching are oriented around questions about how societies imagine and distinguish people. In particular, I focus on how ideas about sickness and health, ability and disability, come to determine notions of the good life and who gets to have one.
At Georgia State, I plan to offer courses that include “Religion, Race, and Health in Modern America,” “The End of Life in the United States,” and “Religion and the Politics of Disability.” Each of these is aimed to showcase for students the rich resources Religious Studies provides for thinking about our bodies, their limits, and their relations with others. They also highlight a crucial argument that extends into other courses that I plan to teach: namely, that one cannot understand the histories of religion and health in the United States without careful attention to their entanglements with racism and resistance to it. Students will have further opportunities to explore these intersections in classes like “Whiteness and/as American Religion” and “Bad Religion: Race, Religious Outsiders, and the State.”
As for my research, I am working on two book projects that explore how religious communities and ideas have shaped cultural formations of disability in the United States. I hope these projects will recommend disability to scholars of religion as a generative site of religious practice within US history while also highlighting how attention to religion might enrich conversations currently taking place within disability studies.