For Katharine Batlan, the post-doctoral Fellow position with the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life felt like it was made for her.
“It’s actually ideal,” Batlan beams, at once passionate about her research and concerned that she’s coming off as nerdy. But it is in that attention to detail that she finds herself living and researching with such passion and verve—and likely one of the things that got her the position, which centers around organizing a conference to connect public intellectuals with the campus and greater community, discussing issues of religion and public life.
Batlan comes to Augustana after just completing her PhD in religious studies with a specialization in American religions and politics.
“When I found out you could study and not become a rabbi or a minister or an imam, I was very excited,” Batlan remembers from her undergraduate studies at Texas Christian University all the way to her postdoc. “I studied religion the whole way through; it’s just a subject that fascinates me.”
Although well-mannered and soft-spoken, Batlan isn’t afraid to tackle the tough subjects.
“There’s a saying in the South: ‘In polite company, you never talk about religion or politics.’ I do both.”
Her PhD dissertation focused on people arguing for and against adding Jesus to the constitution from the mid-1800s to the mid-twentieth century. And while court cases often show the interplay between religion and law, Batlan found the discussions surrounding the constitution a new and interesting way to think about the same issues. The arguments on both sides of the discussion sparked grand—either in terms of being great, or disastrous, Batlan pointed out—ideas about what would happen if changes were to be made, and the US constitution was in the name of Jesus Christ.
And these conversations didn’t just come to an abrupt end in 1975. Although they may not be as pointed as they once were, the tensions between religion and law still exist, and today, senators and representatives continually argue about whether not the US is a Christian nation. Though the first amendment in the US constitution doesn’t allow for an established church and allows free exercise of religion, the lines aren’t so black and white.
“In the US when I ask students if God is in the constitution, they all tell me yes, God is in the constitution,” says Batlan. She hopes to continue to poke at these conversations and ideas that are still so relevant today.
The position at the Ronning Centre will allow her to do just that. Along with having time to study the history of the Canadian law system, Batlan will begin planning the International Fellows Conference centered on religion and law issues in Canada and the US.
Ian Wilson, the Director of the Ronning Centre, is excited to have Batlan aboard and looks forward to the conference as a timely endeavor. “Her area of research is a pressing concern in Alberta and across Canada,” Wilson said. “Just recently the Supreme Court has heard cases concerning Christian educational institutions, membership disputes in religious communities and other issues that have a direct bearing on religion and public life in our society.”
Batlan is excited to discuss these issues as part of the conference and as part of the Augustana campus and Camrose communities in general.
“It’s pretty unique to have the opportunity to do this—to work at a centre for religious study, and put on a conference that I dreamed up myself—I feel very lucky to have one.”