ISM Fellowships: Entering the Second Decade

October 6, 2020

The idea for the ISM Fellowships in sacred music, worship, and the arts sprang from faculty conversations in the early years of this millennium, building on an annual fellowship in ethnomusicology instituted by former ISM director Margot Fassler. Until then, our work had been rooted solidly in the Christian West, and we focused most of our energies on preparing our students for work in Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant congregations. When I began as director in 2005, we were still living in the wake of  9/11 and asking ourselves how we might contribute to understanding and cooperation across religious borders. It seems that the ISM’s founding benefactors had anticipated this need in 1973 when they wrote, “It is our intent … that all valid expressions of religious insight …  be within the compass of this undertaking.”

After receiving Yale’s blessing, in 2010 we welcomed our first class of three: ethnomusicologists Franck Bernède and Ruth Davis and writer/historian Lauren Winner. Since then, over eighty scholars and artists have joined our community to write, teach, interact, and share their wealth of experience and knowledge with students, staff, and faculty at Yale. Each year, they typically spend between one month and a year researching in the Yale collections, lecturing, teaching courses, and curating events that add to the diverse tapestry of cultures that exist here.

The newly mounted Fellows Bookshelf shares some of the fruits of these labors through documenting many of the articles and books that have resulted from the time that ISM Fellows have spent in our midst. A sample of a few recently published books illustrates the diverse publications found in this new resource. For example, Afro-Catholic Festivals in the Americas: Performance, Representation, and the Making of Black Atlantic Tradition by Cécile Fromont (2013–14 fellow and current Yale faculty member) grew out of a 2015 conference hosted by the ISM, and explores how Christian-derived celebrations became spaces for expression, social organization, and political empowerment in the Americas.  Remapping Sound Studies, co-edited by James Sykes (2016–17 fellow) re-examines current trends and practices in the interdisciplinary field of sound studies to rethink how this area of research interacts with the global South. Another example is found in the book Island Gospel: Pentecostal Music and Identity in Jamaica and the United States, where Melvin Butler (2012–13 fellow) uses ethnography to study the musical interchange between congregations in Jamaica and the U.S. Finally, in another study of congregational music, Singing the Congregation: How Contemporary Worship Music Forms Evangelical Community, Monique Ingalls (2014–15 fellow) considers how participatory forms of worship music create new social connections in contemporary congregational worship. These are only a few examples from the new Fellows’ Bookshelf resource, which will only grow as other fellows’ projects move to completion, so please check back often for updates.

Fully 75% of our fellows’ work has explored issues and practices beyond our historic roots of white Western Christianity. Their work has been rooted in religious cultures from across the world in multiple artistic media; it has formed a deep network with the many at Yale and beyond who have benefited from their presence here.

These brief residencies allow for a kind of nimbleness that the slowly evolving nature of university faculties do not, enabling the ISM to respond to the needs of today, as reflected in the commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion we made in July:

Beginning with the application cycle for the 2021–2022 year, [the ISM will] prioritize applicants for our annual fellowships whose teaching and research focus on African American, Africana, Latinx, and/or Indigenous studies in sacred arts and ritual studies, until we have built tenure-track faculty lines, curricula, and programming in these areas with our many partners. We will allow for these post-docs to be multiyear appointments. 

While the current pandemic has forced us to put a temporary hold on our collections-based short-term fellowships, we hope to reopen these in 2021–2022, or when university policies allow. We also hope to add a more robust artist-in-residence program to host practicing artists for a sustained period. We look forward to all that the coming decade will bring for the ISM fellowships and for all the associated programs they create.  |  Read about the 2020–2021 fellows

—Martin Jean, director