Summer Seminar Takes Students Abroad to Oxford University

Dockham2By Katy Shenk

Student Life Editor

For two weeks in June, seven Washington College students walked in the footsteps of great minds like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien through the libraries and grounds of Oxford University.

Their experience was made possible through a partnership between Oxford University and WC’s Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture, founded by Dr. Joseph Prud’homme, associate professor of political science. In its eighth year, Dr. Prud’homme said he considers the seminar a core aspect of the Institute’s activities.

Under the instruction of Oxford faculty, students conducted independent studies into research topics of their choice.

“Students learn in depth about a range of topics related to the intersection of religion, politics and culture, and sharpen their research and writing skills, ideally empowering them with abilities essential to a highly successful senior thesis,” Dr. Prud’homme said.

Sophomore Sarah Dockham arrived at Oxford intending to study changes in church conduct from 1800 to present day in both the United States and the United Kingdom. After hearing lectures from the Oxford professors, however, she changed her focus.

“My experience at Oxford enlightened me on the cultural differences to be seen when traveling abroad, and it opened my eyes to the value of knowledge. My paper now discusses how religion influences many of our day-to-day tasks and thought processes,” she said.

Junior Jillian Horaneck was also fascinated by the seminar’s morning lectures regarding religion and education, specifically featuring author C.S. Lewis and his notable fantasy series, “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Like Dockham, Horaneck narrowed her research topic during her time at the University. Under the tutelage of scholar Dr. Robin Gibbons, she investigated how religious and cultural beliefs influence the way Iranian women participate in politics.

Students had access to Oxford’s vast Bodleian Library system, the largest UK university library system, with over 12 million items. Oxford’s libraries contain other literary treasures such as Weston Library’s J.R.R. Tolkien holdings, including his rough maps of Middle Earth and their original watercolors.

When they weren’t working on their research papers, students navigated the grounds of Oxford and the surrounding city. Dockham noted that the freedom to explore and her visit to C.S. Lewis’s frequented pub, “The Eagle and Child,” made the trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Students continued their sightseeing adventures in London, with stops at Buckingham Palace and the Globe Theatre, where they attended a performance of Shakespeare’s “The Tale of Two Kinsmen.”

Horaneck and Junior Savannah Masterson also toured Paddington Station and Abbey Road Studios. A final highlight for Horaneck was experiencing the intersection of music and history on the famous crosswalk.

Also participating in the seminar were Seniors Anne Harra and Lori Wysong, and Juniors Todd Woljeck and Hailey Dornon.

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