OIRP Administrative Assistant Presents Paper at Conference in Germany
November 28, 2011
Jennifer Skinnon was en route to Logan Airport to catch a flight to Heidelberg, Germany, when mild panic set in.
Skinnon, a UMass Boston American studies MA alumna and administrative assistant for the Office of Institutional Research and Policy Studies, had been invited to present her master’s thesis at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies’ conference “Religion and the Marketplace in the United States.”
She’d revised her thesis and submitted it after seeing a call for papers on the American Studies Association’s website, she says, without really expecting it to be accepted. When it was, as a first-time presenter, she was having serious second thoughts.
“I was almost regretting going. I was asking myself, ‘What am I doing?’” she says.
But when she arrived at the three-day conference at the University of Heidelberg, she realized she was in the right place.
“It was totally worth it. The conference was a wonderful way to connect with people,” she says.
Skinnon joined the staff of OIRP in 2007, and decided to pursue her master’s degree in American studies because, she says, she’s always been interested in cultural studies. She completed the program in 2010. In Heidelberg, she presented her thesis, “Blessed Is Thy Womb: Redemptive Motherhood in Some Contemporary Apocalyptic Films,” as part of a three-person panel on religion and popular culture.
“I was looking at the religious themes of redemption and apocalypse in the subtext of the films, and determined that women's bodies absorb society's debt in these films — debt for sins of the post-modern world,” she says. “My broad claim is that we're seeing more such narratives in post-9/11 and post-Katrina film.”
Skinnon’s co-panelists presented on Mormonism as represented on television, and religious visual culture and economics.
“Usually, at conferences, people present simultaneously,” Skinnon says. “But this [conference] was different – everyone went to everyone else’s talk. It was initially intimidating.”
From the audience gathered to hear her presentation, Skinnon says she received some helpful feedback – including two potential future collaborators, also American studies scholars.
“I spoke with a visiting fellow at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, who’s since asked me to let him know if I continue to do research in this area,” she says. “And I met a woman from California who’s interested in studying Burning Man as a religious pilgrimage; our approach [to research] is similar.”
Skinnon says that meeting her colleagues and hearing from those interested in her research more than made up for the trepidation she felt going into the conference.
“It was nice to know [my thesis] spoke to somebody. I’m glad I went,” she says.