Interview with Valerie Wirtschafter '12
1. Tell us a bit about the general focus of your research. What questions did you initially set out to answer?
As a history major focused on 20th century America, I will be looking into the role of religious rhetoric in politics during the Cold War, particularly through the lens of Jimmy Carter, the first evangelical president to take office.
2. How did your interest in this topic develop?
My interest actually developed out of a book that I was reading this summer. I began to think about the decline of religious faith Post WWII and how that seems to be out of sequence with where we are today (i.e. Westboro Baptist Church etc.). I began to think about potential answers to this paradox, and ultimately settled on examining the Cold War for possible solutions.
3. Have you faced any challenges in the course of your research? How have these difficulties affected your project?
As with any contemporary American history assignment, the most challenging aspect is finding your own “angle” or “intervention” to address the subject. Because so much has been written about 20th century history, finding a unique avenue to examine a particular topic of interest can be very difficult because a lot of scholarship is already out there.
4. What sorts of methods and sources have you utilized in researching your topic?
Recently, there has been a flurry of secondary sources released on the rise of the Religious Right as it pertains to our current political situation. I have also examined quite a bit of scholarship from the 80s on Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and the Religious Right. One of my favorite sources that I read very thoroughly and enjoyed so much was Jerry Falwell’s “Listen, America!” It is such a great combination of domestic and foreign issues that weave together to form a really incredible apocalyptic narrative of the 80s. Highly recommended reading!
5. Do you have any advice for fellow students who are thinking about undertaking an independent research project?
If you have a subject that you are passionate about do not hesitate to take on an independent research project. Don’t feel academic pressure to engage in independent research if you do not have something you are dying to explore more thoroughly. Research early, and research a lot, and by the end, you will be really proud of what you have accomplished.