Seven Stanford faculty members were named 2021 Guggenheim Fellows last month. This honor recognizes those who have “demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” The fellowship is highly competitive: Approximately 3,000 applications are submitted each year, spanning various disciplines, and only about 175 individuals are ultimately selected by experts in each field. This article is part of a three-part series profiling the Stanford scholars honored with this award for 2021.
R. Lanier Anderson
There’s a lot to learn from 16th century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, according to philosophy professor and Senior Associate Dean for Humanities and Arts R. Lanier Anderson.
Anderson was named a Guggenheim Fellow for his work on the history of late modern philosophy.
As a fellow, Anderson will write a book on Montaigne, whose writing helped popularize the essay as a new literary genre. According to Anderson, Montaigne, who lived during a period of intense social turmoil, can teach people today how to cope with adversity and maintain happiness.
“I think people could benefit from a more thoughtful focus on themselves and what their needs are and from taking a more active and reflective approach toward shaping their life in the direction they want it to go or in the way they want it to be,” Anderson said.
Anderson will step away from his deanship next year to focus on writing his book, in the spirit of how Montaigne pursued his writing.
“Montaigne thinks of himself as producing a self portrait by trying his mind out on all these different topics,” he said. “And it matters to him a lot less what the true answer about the topic is than what it does to him to think it through and try out his mind against this problem.”
Anderson will also work at the Stanford Humanities Center, which he hopes will keep him “engaged with Stanford colleagues but at a more relaxed pace.”
His colleagues highlight Anderson’s commitment to Stanford and the community.
“He is always striving to lift people up, to create programs that encourage our talents, and to bring us together,” wrote English professor Blakey Vermuele. “Lanier lives up to the very ideals he writes about: he is consistently devoted to truth-seeking, problem solving, compassion and justice.”
French and comparative literature professor Joshua Landy shared a similar sentiment. Landy has known Anderson since 1996, when the two arrived at Stanford. Landy and Anderson worked together to develop the Program in Philosophy and Literature, which brings together faculty from over 10 departments to examine questions at the intersection of these two disciplines.
“He is somehow able to do all of his administrative work but also teach great classes and write great articles and books,” Landy said. “It’s been a pleasure to work with him all these years — I’ve learned so much from him.”
Although associate professor of comparative literature and Iberian and Latin American cultures Vincent Barletta’s research focuses on the past, the themes he probes have modern-day parallels to the struggles of minority communities across the globe.
Barletta’s work centers on medieval and early modern Iberian literature, and he was awarded the Guggenheim fellowship in medieval and renaissance history.
“Telling these stories is a responsibility academics all share, no matter our training or discipline,” Barletta wrote in an email. “To do otherwise is to perpetuate the forms of privilege that created these dangers in the first place.”
Barletta has spent the past 20 years studying crypto-Muslim communities — people who secretly adhere to Islam while publicly professing to be of another faith — with a focus on Iberia. He plans to use the funds awarded through the fellowship to expand his research in this area and write a book focused on the culture in the crypto-Muslim communities of early modern Spain and Portugal.
Amir Eshel, professor and director of comparative literature at Stanford, has known Barletta for over a decade and said that Barletta’s work has been critical in helping people better understand the global South and the religion of Islam.
“I think his project is really important to allow us to be more attentive and better grasp the world, not just to focus on the affluent North, but to understand that the planet we are living on is much more complex and diverse and many of its inhabitants are not well off and underrepresented,” Eshel said.
Barletta’s historical work ties to the modern day status of Islam in Europe. He feels that people have a vision of Europe as a progressive “fantasy,” when in many countries in Europe, including Spain, regional and municipal governments often exploit the former presence of Muslims and crypto-Muslims to draw in tourist revenue.
“It seems cynical to me to harass and expel people only to turn around later and use them to generate tourist income and present Spain as somehow multicultural avant la lettre,” Barletta added.
Eshel said that he is “absolutely delighted” that Barletta received the Guggenheim, adding that Barletta is a “very good citizen of the [comparative literature] department.”
“I’m sure a great book will come out of this,” Eshel said.
“Enrique showed me a different way to see Mexican Art in the United States,” said Guillermo Galindo, a longtime friend and colleague of art and art history professor Enrique Chagoya, who was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in the field of fine arts.
Chagoya’s previous projects include a book on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and his pieces have been featured in numerous museums across the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“I don’t think art by itself changes the world. The world changes through civic actions,” said Chagoya, “but art can create dialogues, exchanges of ideas.”
Originally from Mexico City, Galindo said that Chagoya also provided him with a unique perspective on “otherness” and how to approach art from the point of view of the “other,” as both Galindo and Chagoya are outsiders in the United States away from their native countries of Mexico.
In September, Chagoya will have an exhibition at the Sonoma Valley Museum. Chagoya enjoys having his art featured in museums outside of cities, since he believes this is where the most interesting conversations happen.
“In cities, I feel like I’m speaking to the already converted,” he said.
The exhibit will focus on immigration, specifically on human rights violations among immigrants from Latin and Central America, Mexico, as well as people from Africa and the Caribbean that come to Mexico.
“The border between Mexico and the United States is more like a border between the west and south, the border between developed and developing worlds,” Chagoya said.
Chagoya will work alongside artists Sergio de la Torre and his wife Kara Maria on the exhibition.