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Student of the Month: Lisa Beyeler-Yvarra

Lisa Beyeler-Yvarra (she/her) is a landscape designer and PhD candidate pursuing a combined degree in the Department of Religious Studies and the School of Architecture at Yale University. Her research interrogates religious and racial formations in space, with special interest in transpacific religious and colonial architectures and infrastructures. Her work has been supported by the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, the MacMillan Center, the Richard U. Light Foundation, and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.


What are you studying and why? How do you imagine yourself using that in your call?

My scholastic focus at the nexus of religion, race, and architecture was kindled over a decade ago when I was working as a designer of public park systems and urban development projects across the United States. As I was researching urban planning initiatives for an economic development plan, I began to question the religious and racialized commitments inherent in notions of “highest and best use,” “vacant land,” and public versus private property. These concerns led me to pursue graduate studies at Duke Divinity School, where I examined the religious roots of racially restrictive zoning strategies and affirmed my conviction to unravel the entanglements between religion, race, and architecture. I am continuing my studies at Yale University as the first doctoral student in its history to combine a degree in the humanities and architecture. My dissertation on Catholic infrastructures in the Asia-Pacific reflects my personal and professional experiences, research interests, and desired scholastic interventions in the fields of religious and architectural history. After completing the PhD program, I hope to teach at a university that is invested in interdisciplinary collaborations between religious and architectural studies. In this way, I see my unique contribution to the academy as illuminating the interplay of movements between religion, race, and architecture.


What has been your biggest learning experiences?

In Dear Science and Other Stories, Katherine McKittrick repeats the phrase, “Description is not liberation.” It is a phrase that I often churn in my mind. I’m still thinking through the lessons of McKittrick’s statement, but it is a reminder to ground myself in embodied knowledges and relational, interdisciplinary methods of knowledge production. As a second career student, I sometimes feel out of place, but the further I progress in my studies, the more grateful I am for my time working as a design practitioner in public involvement projects. I learned early on about the limits of disembodied theory and design—and the limits of my own expertise—and the profound value of continually expanding my perceptions by learning and living with others.


What has your experience been with PANAAWTM?

In 2019, I attended PANAAWTM’s annual conference at Columbia Theological Seminary with a group of friends from Duke Divinity School. I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop with Angie Hong (PANAAWTM Annual Conference Committee member) on teaching transpacific artistic practices and met Kai Ngu (PANAAWTM Board member), whose work so inspired our group that we raised funds to invite them to present a guest lecture at Duke a few weeks after the annual conference. At the annual conference, I also participated in PANAAWTM’s mentoring session for students applying to doctoral program. The session provided a wealth of practical counsel on the application process. Following the conference, I joined PANAAWTM’s virtual mentoring program and was partnered with Dr. Grace Yia-Hei Kao (PANAAWTM Board member) who provided invaluable feedback and steadfast support as I prepared my application materials. Since 2019, I have attended subsequent annual conferences, events, and shared my application materials with PANAAWTM’s mentoring program in the hope that future students aspiring to doctoral studies might benefit from the same counsel and shared knowledge that I received. I’m grateful for the space PANAAWTM has created for conversation and community.


What brings you hope and joy?

Art and art-making practices continue to call me to community and solidarity: from Hiba Abu Nada’s poetry to Simone Leigh’s sculptures and films, even my own grandmother’s woodblock prints to my mother’s sumi-e paintings.

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