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Student of the Month: Rosy Kandathil

Rosy Kandathil (she/her) is a doctoral candidate in Hebrew Bible at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Her dissertation, titled “Seriously Funny: Comedy and Violence in the Narrative Traditions of Esther,” is a comparative literary investigation of humor and violence in the Hebrew and Greek versions of Esther. Drawing on postcolonial and feminist approaches, her project argues that these literary dynamics provide a witness to an ethical and political discourse on the use of violence, the notion of “holy war” in the history of the Israelite people, and a struggle to define Jewish identity among multi-generational geographically-dispersed diaspora communities. Her writing has appeared in the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law and Tjurunga Australasian Benedictine Review. Prior to her doctoral studies, she worked as a trial attorney in the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society in New York City. Rosy Kandathil received her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College, her J.D. from Temple University Beasley School of Law, and her M.A. and Th.M. in Sacred Scripture from Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.

What are you studying and why? How will you use that in your call?

I study the Hebrew Bible because I am endlessly fascinated by its stories and characters. The more I work with the biblical stories in their original languages and in translation, the more I discover about the world I am reading and about myself. From the earliest roots of society, people have used stories to connect to one another, to explain the world of their experiences, to pass down and preserve knowledge. Stories—with all their subtexts—are telling. Collected over time by a community of speakers, writers, editors, and readers, the stories of the Hebrew Bible reflect an array of perspectives on the relationship between Israel and its God. The story of this relationship is not straightforward, but requires careful participation from those who listen.

As someone who worked as a trial lawyer in criminal defense for many years before taking up religion, I know the power of crafting a persuasive story. My clients had stories they would tell me as their attorney. The prosecutor, on behalf of the state, often had a very different version of that story to tell. Taking both of these into consideration, I also had a story to present—one that I hoped would garner the best possible outcome for my client in front of a judge and jury. Although these stories all shared a set of facts, they reflected the interests and goals of their respective authors. Each story was attentive to its audience and communicated in different registers. My approach to the stories of the Hebrew Bible is shaped by my work in courtrooms, listening to the testimony of different witnesses while trying to expose biases and prejudices for judge and jury to assess.

When I teach from the Hebrew Bible, I try to draw out the ambiguities and silences in the stories of the Hebrew Bible. Every storyteller must decide what to tell and what to leave out. I seek to empower students to ask questions and listen for the interests of those represented in these texts, and those who are obscured or suppressed.

What is the joy you find in teaching?

It has been a meaningful challenge to accompany students navigating their education in the midst of a pandemic. These have not been easy years to be starting out in a classroom, but I am grateful for the good examples of caring teachers I have had throughout my life. It has been tremendously affirming to teach from the Hebrew Bible at the same time as our global society and institutions reflect on the ultimate questions of life and death, community and moral responsibility. These ancient texts offer rich reflection points for our modern world, and I am excited to grow in the craft and skill of teaching from the Bible well. It is good to feel that these long years of observation and training will not go to waste!

As a new mother, what are your challenges in balancing work and parenting?

I became a new mother in March of 2020 toward the end of my coursework, and on the cusp of my comprehensive exams. As a result of that experience, I joined student government at Emory as a representative for graduate student parents. Until I became a parent myself, I was not fully aware of the kinds of challenges graduate student parents face. The decision to have a child in graduate school has physical, emotional, and financial costs that are can be difficult to predict entirely and impact a student’s ability to finish a doctoral program successfully. Women, and women of color in particular, face additional challenges in graduate school and need reliable information to navigate these decisions well. Institutions are not always receptive to the needs of students, but I’ve learned a lot about collective power and allying with other minoritized groups on campus to raise awareness and secure assistance. From parental leave, to navigating the costs of health insurance on a graduate stipend, to the need for lactating spaces on campus, I’ve been able to help advocate for other graduate students with my own story alongside colleagues. I’m proud that my time at Emory might ease the road for other graduate students considering parenthood.

How would you describe yourself?

Whenever I have free time, you will find me looking up recipes and experimenting in the kitchen. It is deeply satisfying to use good ingredients and develop a nourishing, tasty dish to share with people I care about. The process of cooking has a definite start and an end product—which is something I relish more now that I’ve started writing a dissertation! Research and writing and editing can feel hard and endless; days pass quickly without great progress. Cooking offers me calm and direction. The time and attention involved in cooking help me relax and remember that life is good at its core, even when things seem bleak.

What has been your greatest success so far? Your biggest learning experiences?

My biggest academic success was getting through written and oral exams, as well as my dissertation proposal and defense in 2021 – all with a newborn at home and a pandemic raging. While battling the sleeplessness of a new parent, I had moments of elation and joy as I was preparing, along with crushing doubt and fear. If I had not had a supportive advisor and other professors (including Dr. Kwok Pui-lan!) who helped guide and encourage me throughout the examination and proposal season, I would not have made it through that tough season. I’ve learned that the picture of a scholar happily working alone at a desk piled with books for hours on end is not complete without its background. Behind her work stands a host of others: family, friends, advisors, mentors, professors, pastors, babysitters, kind neighbors. I have come to learn in new ways how essential that network of support is for a doctoral student. The pandemic has only enhanced and emphasized who is in that circle of friends, and filled me with gratitude for their presence in my life.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, I am looking forward to a little more travel and seeing friends and colleagues in person this summer. We have an unvaccinated toddler at home, so we will still need to stay cautious. But she is also becoming more independent and excited about the world. With longer days and warmer weather ahead, I look forward to feeding her curiosity and following her around as we explore more in the outdoors. I have been teaching my own courses this year at Emory College and in the Theology School, so I am also looking forward to the summer months and being able to focus more on my own dissertation research and writing.

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