Friday, January 13, 2017

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Sharleen Mondal

Dr. Sharleen Mondal, Assistant Professor of English

Q: How many years have you taught at Ashland?

A: 5.5 years 

Q: What are some of the courses that you teach?

ENG 101: Composition I 

ENG 102: Composition II 
ENG 314: Literature and Gender 
ENG 316: Postcolonial Literature 
ENG 330: African Literature 
ENG 411: Victorian Period

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being a professor?

A: I enjoy participating in the scholarly community in my fields of expertise. This includes both producing scholarship and teaching in those fields. Scholars in Victorian, South Asia, and Gender Studies in particular have created vibrant intellectual hubs through various societies and associations and it is a pleasure to partake in the exchange of ideas in those circles, and to cross-pollinate those spheres of my thinking with the classroom teaching that I do at AU. I also derive deep satisfaction from assisting my faculty colleagues and College of Arts and Sciences undergraduates in improving their research/writing productivity and work/life balance through my role as the Director of the Ashland University Research and Writing Community (AURWC). Together, these various strands have given me the opportunity to form very close relationships with fellow faculty and students with whom I exchange manuscripts-in-progress, brainstorm future projects, and collaborate on the construction of exciting new scholarship.

Q: What made you decide to become a professor?

A: My father is a retired chemistry professor who had a long and fruitful career. While his encouragement led me to entertain the idea of becoming a professor, it is my parents’ example that fuels my choice to do this every single day. My father’s humble beginnings in a village without running water or electricity in Bogra, Bangladesh; both of my parents’ survival of the 1947 independence and partition of India and Pakistan; their survival of the 1971 genocide and liberation war in present-day Bangladesh (and the horrendous loss of family members and friends in that conflict); their immigration to Australia and later the U.S. and the blatant, extraordinary racism they survived in both places; and the fact that they began their lives all over again in the U.S. at the age of 40 in a country halfway around the world in which they knew no one, cut off from all of their family and friends, are remarkable enough. Yet their response to these challenges is even more extraordinary, including my father devoting his life to scientific inquiry and mentoring promising, underrepresented students, and my mother being an obstetrician and gynecologist, especially significant because she first practiced in a country in which rape had been a weapon of torture during the genocide. 

For my parents, pursuing an education and doing everything in their power to help others through their teaching and training became their way of enacting the sacred work of justice in the world, even in the bleakest of circumstances. They are the strongest examples I have ever seen of Nelson Mandela’s famous statement that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Every day that I sit down to write or set foot in a classroom, I know that I am here because of the enormous sacrifices of these two amazing individuals, to whom I owe a debt that I can never repay. I feel heavily the gravity of the fact that I continue to be entrusted with the same sacred work of education to which they have devoted their lives. My practice of this work is of course imperfect and I have much room for growth. But in those precious moments in which a student finds in a text or a class discussion a deeper meaning that helps them recognize something about their own ethical commitments or their own sense of responsibility in the world, I often remember my parents’ faces and send them a quiet word of thanks for modeling what it means to do this work—and then I choose to do it another day.

Q: What scholarly projects are you working on?

A: I have a lot of “back burner” projects, but my most immediate project is a book about a late nineteenth-century Indian feminist, Pandita Ramabai, who converted to Christianity and sought to improve the plight of much-oppressed high-caste Hindu widows (of which she herself was one) through her own brand of proto-feminism. I contend that some of her most critical work has not received fair scholarly attention because of various methodological and theoretical quandaries in the disciplines of gender studies and religion. New work in the area of post-secularism helps scholars to seriously consider how feminism and Christianity need not be opposed, especially in colonial contexts, and I am using a post-secular framework to reread both well-known and lesser-known writings by Ramabai and other social reformers of the period.

This book project has had a few related articles that I have published, are under consideration, or will be submitted in the next year or so. This project has many connections to my teaching, particularly Literature and Gender and Postcolonial Literature. Because the project is interdisciplinary, it has taken quite awhile, as I have had to read widely in multiple disciplines outside of my primary fields in order to treat the material fairly.

Q: What else would you like to share with the readers of this blog?

A: Producing scholarship, teaching, and participating in service to one’s colleagues and students has been an extraordinary experience at Ashland University, where not only students but also faculty are encouraged to proceed with a sense of purpose and a commitment to their local and global responsibilities. The English Department in particular offers an incredible community of readers, writers, and thinkers who seek to bring out the highest caliber of work in every individual, which means encouraging each person to proceed with a deep sense of purpose. I encourage any student interested in the majors or minors offered in the department to speak one-on-one with one of the faculty.