Student Research: Visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace to Study Religious Tolerance

Senior Jesse Abruzzi was one of 28 Norwich University undergraduates awarded a Summer Research Fellowship to investigate diverse topics across the arts, sciences and professional fields. Nurtured by the university’s Office of Academic Research, the competitive, six- and ten-week fellowships are entirely funded by university endowments dedicated to supporting student academic investigation.
Norwich University Office of Communications

August 20, 2015

Jesse Abruzzi, a senior history major, has long been fascinated by the intersection of religion and politics. So as a 10-week Norwich University Summer Research Fellow, he chose to study the lives of English Catholics during the Protestant Reformation in the second half the 16th century.

Abruzzi focused on the small English market town of Stratford-upon-Avon in the Catholic hotbed of Warwickshire. While practicing Catholicism could be a capital offense, a number of Catholics held seats of power in town government.

To conduct original research, Abruzzi used funds from his $4,000 fellowship stipend to visit two storied archives in England: the British Library in London, the world’s largest, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Record Trust Office in Stratford-upon-Avon.

In Stratford, Abruzzi spent days pouring over ancient manuscripts full of details about village life in the 1500 and 1600s. A main source was the Minutes and Accounts of the Stratford Corporation, or town government.

Notes recorded in the 16th century tome describe an array of ordinances that illuminate the concerns of the growing market town. Decrees ranged from efforts to control dogs, trade, and firearms to rules that sought to advert religious tensions or keep tavern owners from watering down their beer.

“Everything I was looking over slowly began to change the questions I was having,” Abruzzi says. “My question changed from a religious one to a more political one.”

He refocused his scholarship on the central issue of how Stratford-upon-Avon formed an autonomous government in such a religiously charged era.

Abruzzi found that despite anti-Catholic rhetoric and actions by the monarchy in London, religion took a back seat to political and economic interests in Stratford-upon-Avon. “[This] fostered an environment that allowed a stable town to form,” he says.

“What I just found really interesting was how a religious reformation that began in Europe resulted in a political reformation in this small English town. [One] that ultimately created, oddly, this religious diversity” imperfect though it was, he says.

Norwich University Assistant Professor of History Emily Fisher Gray advised Abruzzi on his project.

“This is a story that has been investigated by other historians relating to the larger rural county of Warwickshire, but Jesse [is] the first to ask these questions of the town of Stratford,” Gray says.

To help him with his project, Gray visited the British Library and the Shakespeare Birthplace Record Trust Office ahead of time to secure research access and canvas source material on his behalf.

“Jesse was interested in researching the experiences of ordinary people,” Gray says. “I was excited because the stories of regular folks rarely get told, and they are often the most interesting.”

Of his research, Abruzzi says, “I was doing work that I’ll probably be doing at the PhD level one day. So it was great practice actually being in the ‘field’ on my own and getting firsthand experience having to solve certain problems without help.”

He says his greatest takeaway from his fellowship experience this summer was a greater sense of personal and academic independence. “I had some help in the archives the first few days,” he says. “But after that, I was on my own.”

Related Stories on Norwich Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowships:
Photograph courtesy Emily Fisher Gray, PhD

Norwich professor selected to participate in special seminar on teaching interfaith understanding

Norwich University Assistant Professor Timothy Kent Parker, Ph.D., has been selected from a nationwide pool of nominees to participate in a faculty seminar on the teaching of interfaith understanding to be held in Boston later this month.

The seminar is offered by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), with support from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Twenty-five faculty members will participate in the five-day Teaching Interfaith Understanding seminar that will take place June 21–25, 2015, at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

Parker teaches history and theory of architecture and art in Norwich’s School of Architecture + Art. His interest in this topic stems from a desire to promote interfaith understanding at Norwich University and to connect several disparate efforts that support that goal.

Although Norwich has both military and civilian students and programs, Parker feels that, in particular, Norwich students planning on commissioning into the Armed Forces can benefit from these conversations.

“Given the presence of religion—however variously interpreted—in areas and events of conflict, military personnel and their leaders should be among those most aware of world religions,” he said.

Parker is a practicing architect with a graduate degree in philosophy, a brief stint at an Episcopal Seminary and a doctorate in Architectural History and Theory that includes a dissertation on modern Catholic churches in Rome. His doctoral work employed interdisciplinary methods to relate theological and architectural conceptions of modern identity, and his most current work focuses upon the art and architecture of religious pluralism.

“Professor Parker has ongoing teaching and research initiatives that will be enriched by the seminar, and Norwich University is ideally situated to embrace and nourish the results of this timely opportunity,” said Guiyou Huang, senior vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty. “This seminar will in turn benefit Professor Parker’s students.”

The seminar will be led by two leading scholars: Catherine Cornille, Newton College alumnae chair of western culture, chair of the department of theology, and professor of comparative theology at Boston College; and Noah Silverman, director of faculty partnerships at IFYC. Stephen Prothero, professor of religion at Boston University, will be a special guest speaker.

The program aims to broaden faculty members’ knowledge and strengthen their teaching of interfaith understanding with the development of new courses and resources.

“Strengthening the teaching of interfaith understanding at colleges and universities is a high priority at a time when college enrollment—and American society—is becoming more diverse. Strengthening participation in American life with greater understanding of the distinctive contributions of different faiths is a key to America’s future success,” said CIC President Richard Ekman. “The number of institutions that nominated faculty members to participate in the interfaith understanding seminar is most impressive.”

For more information, visit

The Council of Independent Colleges is an association of 750 nonprofit independent colleges and universities and higher education affiliates and organizations that has worked since 1956 to support college and university leadership, advance institutional excellence, and enhance public understanding of private higher education’s contributions to society. CIC is the major national organization that focuses on providing services to leaders of independent colleges and universities as well as conferences, seminars, and other programs that help institutions improve educational quality, administrative and financial performance, and institutional visibility. CIC conducts the largest annual conference of college and university presidents. CIC also provides support to state fundraising associations that organize programs and generate contributions for private colleges and universities. The Council is headquartered at One Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.

A Chicago-based nonprofit organization, Interfaith Youth Core’s (IFYC) mission is to make interfaith cooperation a social norm. Since its incorporation in 2002, IFYC has worked on five continents and with over 200 college and university campuses, trained thousands in the principles of interfaith leadership, and reached millions through the media. IFYC has worked with partners including the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the White House, and the Office of Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan. Eboo Patel is the founder and president of IFYC.

Emmy-Nominated Priest and Professor Will Lead 2015 Norwich Baccalaureate Service

Randall Balmer, PhD, a long-time friend of NU Chaplain William Wick and chair of the Department of Religion at Dartmouth University, will lead the 2015 Norwich Commencement weekend worship service on May 8, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. in White Chapel.
Norwich University Office of Communications

Updated May 6, 2015
Norwich University is proud to announce that this year’s Baccalaureate speaker will be Randall Balmer, PhD, the Mandel Family Professor in the Arts and Sciences and Chair, Department of Religion at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

A prolific writer, teacher and speaker, Balmer has taught at Columbia, Yale and Princeton and is the author of over 15 books. He has also served as an Emmy-nominated writer and host of several PBS documentaries, including a three-part series based on his book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America.

Balmer has been a personal friend of NU Chaplain William Wick since 1974. Born in 1954, Balmer earned a BA in history from Trinity College in Deerfield, Ill., an MA in church History from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, also in Deerfield, Ill., an AM and PhD in religion from Princeton University, and a MDiv in divinity from Union Theological Seminary.

Balmer taught previously at Barnard College of Columbia University, where he served as chair of the Department of Religion and the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Union Theological Seminary, Yale University Divinity School, Hartford Seminary, Northwestern University, Drew University, Princeton University and Rutgers University.

He is both an ordained Episcopal priest and a widely published author, serving as a weekly columnist for Religious News Service in the early 1990s and as a contributing writer and editor for Christianity Today from 1999 to 2013.

His numerous awards over his academic and religious career include the Gabriel Award from the National Catholic Association of Broadcasters and Communicators, the Distinguished Book Award from the Society of Colonial Wars, and the Sidney E. Mead Prize from the American Society of Church History. He was also nominated for a Emmy Award in 1993 in the category of Outstanding Individual Achievement: Informational Programming by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Balmer has delivered numerous national named lectures at a variety of institutions, including American University, Emory University, Lehigh University, Luther Seminary, Mercer University, Miami University (Ohio), Muskinghum University, North Park University, Pepperdine University, Samford University, University of Oklahoma, Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and Wheaton College. He has also presented academic lectures at over 60 colleges and universities.

Balmer is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Church History, and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He has authored over 15 books, most notably, God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, Grant Us Courage: Travels Along the Mainline of American Protestantism, and Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter. He is a prolific writer who has written op-ed pieces and extensive articles and chapters for encyclopedias.

On television, for PBS, he has been writer and host for three different programs/six episodes including the highly acclaimed three-part documentary, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. For ABC News, at least eight times he has been interviewed on World News Tonight, twice on 20/20, once on Nightline, and twice on Good Morning America. Other media opportunities span across such venues as Air America, Bloomberg, the BBC, CBC, CBS News, NBC News, CNN, and NPR.