On the occasion of 70 years of academic exchange between the U.S. and Belgium, the Fulbright Commission in Brussels and Ghent University celebrated their partnership by hosting a conference in the afternoon of Tuesday, June 18 to highlight the achievements and future of the Fulbright-Ghent University partnership.
Several years ago the Fulbright Commission in Brussels and Ghent University began their partnership with a shared desire to promote educational exchange and mutual understanding between the United States and Belgium by supporting top-ranked Belgian Fulbright candidates to the United States who are affiliated with Ghent University and American Fulbright candidates to Belgium who are hosted at Ghent University. In the last five years, Ghent University has supported more than 30 Fulbright grantees from and to the United States. To celebrate this partnership and many years to come, Fulbright and Ghent University invited alumni and stakeholders of the program for a series of research presentations given by former Fulbright grantees in which they shared their U.S. experiences and knowledge on a very specific topic related to their research in the U.S. The event concluded with a brief update on the Fulbright Program and a cocktail reception.
Fulbright alumni sharing their research
In the early afternoon at 2 PM, we kicked off our conference hosted at ‘Het Pand’, which is the culture and congress center of Ghent University, a former Dominican friary that was beautifully restored and now belongs to the University of Ghent. After brief introductions by Frederick De Decker, Head of the International Relations Office at Ghent University and Elisabeth Bloxam, Director of Programs at Fulbright in Brussels, our first speaker Br. John Glasenapp was introduced.
Br. John Glasenapp (U.S. Fulbright Student in 2018-19 to Ghent University)
Br. John Glasenapp has recently completed his research program at the Henri Pirenne Institute for Medieval Studies at Ghent University as a Fulbright student for the 2018-2019 academic year. His dissertation research in historical musicology at Columbia University focuses on a multivolume liturgical manuscript known as the Beaupré Antiphoner (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, W. 759-762) which was used, revised, and supplemented by the Cistercian nuns of Beaupré for over five hundred years (1290-1796).
Brother Glasenapp’s presentation began with a comparison of the mission of the Fulbright program to the “Rule of St. Benedict”, the rule which caused the Christian order he focuses his study on (Cistercians) to branch off from the Benedictines. The rule of St. Benedict asks for Monasteries to accept strangers, and house them graciously, and asks the stranger to not be afraid or too courteous to politely point out the flaws of his hosts. Glasenapp’s point was that sometimes people become too accustomed to their society to realize where it can be improved, so educational exchanges are necessary to move society forward. Glasenapp continued the presentation by analyzing illustrations from the Beaupré Antiphoner, many of which were comical or even lewd. These images were included in the Antiphoner because they depict the decadent effect music has on people if not ordered correctly: “Devils thrive on chaos, and cringe at [religiously-arranged] music”. He then talked about the history of the book, as it was collected by John Ruskin, nearly destroyed in the World Wars, and has ended up in the hands of a private collector. The Antiphoner has allowed Brother Glasenapp to study the liturgical theology and historical ontology of the 12th century Cistercians, and led him to the theory that the religious changes which were taking place in northern Germany at the time were also likely transforming the Christianity of the low countries.
Dr. Mieke Vandenbroucke (Belgian Fulbright Student in 2016-17 to UC Berkeley)
Mieke Vandenbroucke is currently a postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University. After defending her Ph.D. at Ghent University in 2016, she was a Fulbright scholar at UC Berkeley. Her research interests lie at the intersection of sociolinguistics and urban geography with a particular interest in the impact of globalization and migration on multilingual urban settings in Europe, language policy, nationalist ideologies and histories of conflict, inner-city gentrification, and socio-economic stratification. She is currently working on an ethnographic project on discourse and multilingualism in marriage fraud investigations in Belgium.
Dr. Vandenbroucke began her presentation by discussing her own history of research in linguistic ethnography, particularly how her Fulbright experience helped her change course from studying the semiotics of constructed landscapes, to the more-specific research she now conducts. This research considers how the institutional structure of marriage fraud investigations can discriminate against minorities, and is part of a discursive formation which allows the state to define and normalize the conditions of a “proper” marriage.
To investigate if a marriage is ‘authentic’, Dr. Vandenbroucke explained, the Belgian government uses 13 indicators; however, it is left undefined how many, or how severely, such indicators must be breached for a marriage to be considered ‘inauthentic’. Furthermore, most of these indicators rely on each spouse having an inconsistent account of their relationship to be triggered, while the interviewer often uses leading questions and communicates in an unfamiliar language to the interviewee, which is often what creates these discrepancies. Through her analysis, Dr. Vandenbroucke was able to show that important details are often lost in translation (sometimes literally), and small details such as having Dutch posters in the waiting room can have an immense impact on the outcome of the investigation.
Prof. Dr. Kristiaan Versluys (Belgian Fulbright Student in 1973-74 to Harvard University and Fulbright Scholar in 1989 at Fordham University)
Kristiaan Versluys holds a Ph. D.-degree in Comparative Literature from Harvard University (1979). He is Professor of American literature and culture at Ghent University (Belgium) and the founding director of the Ghent Urban Studies Team (GUST). He published a study on city poetry and some sixty scholarly (book) articles in international journals and collections. His book, entitled Out of the Blue. September 11 and the Novel, was published by Columbia University Press in the fall of 2009. His specialties are urban literature (especially the literature of New York) and Jewish-American fiction. Versluys was president of the Belgian Luxembourg American Studies Association (1989-1992) and secretary of the European Association for American Studies (1992-1994). He was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in 2004-2005. He taught at Fordham University as a Fulbright Lecturer in the spring semester of 1989 and he was a regular guest professor at Columbia University between 1989 and 2008. In 2001 he was elected as a member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium. In 2007-8 he was educational director of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy. Since October 2008 he is the Director of Education of Ghent University.
Prof. Versluys’ presentation explored how American ideology was constructed, and how it creates a political discourse dramatically different from what is seen in Belgian politics. As the professor exemplified by showing speeches from direct opposites Donald Trump and Former President Obama, both sides of the American political spectrum’s dialogue centers on the “actions of heroes”, and individualistic struggle and triumph. The inner core of which, he argued, originates from the project of colonizing the frontiers, and the need to quickly build up an entire country from scratch. Prof. Versluys spent the majority of his presentation explaining how ideology functions in America today and added that American academics “land on ideas we could never come up with” through their interdisciplinary approach and openness to exploring new frontiers.
Dr. Eveline Seghers (Belgian Fulbright Scholar in 2017-18 at the University of New Mexico)
Eveline Seghers is a fellow of the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) and a Fulbright alumna of 2017-2018 at the University of New Mexico. She holds degrees in art history, world art studies, and cultural anthropology (BA & MA, Ghent University), biological anthropology (MSc, University College London) and completed her Ph.D. at Ghent University which focused on methodological and conceptual issues and questions in the evolutionary study of visual art. She has written on the relationship between evolutionary and philosophical aesthetics, the current state of evolutionary psychological research on art, and the use of cross-species comparison. Her current research focuses on the cognitive foundations of various kinds of prehistoric art, and on non-adaptationist approaches to the origins of art.
Seghers’ presentation, “Shadows of Divine Perfection: An Evolutionary Exploration of Religious Imagery”, documented her time and new experiences in New Mexico, and analyzed the methodology she used to explore how religious imagery leaves impressions in human memory. Aimed at the Belgians who are unfamiliar with the state, Dr. Seghers showed pictures of the white sands, petroglyphs, and spoke about the uniquely endemic history of Catholic and indigenous art in the area. She also thanked the Fulbright Commission for allowing her to explore a topic which according to herself was a bit quirkier than most, and had often been criticized by fellow scholars. After giving an overview of the major differences in typical Judaic, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and smaller-scale religious art, Seghers pondered on how her experience in evolutionary biology could help explain the cultural transmission of art styles. In New Mexico, she had 1,700 people participate in a survey (only 400 people finished the survey because of its length), which showed religious images with differing levels of abstraction, and then showed the same image later, but asked the participants whether the image had been reversed. Her results were fairly inconclusive at this point, but indicated that images of moderate abstraction are most reliably memorable.
We want to thank Ghent University for hosting us at this beautiful venue and for supporting the Fulbright Program! At the Fulbright Commission in Brussels, we are looking forward to continuing our partnership in helping Belgian and American Fulbright grantees fund their educational journey for many years to come.