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Wendy Cadge '97

Cadge is an associate professor of sociology at Brandeis University and the author of Heartwood: the First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America (University of Chicago Press, 2005). During the 2008-2009 academic year, she was a Susan Young Murray Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, working on a book to be titled Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine.
I was oblivious to the lilacs blooming at Swarthmore in the spring of 1997. I was engrossed in preparing for my honors exams. I was taking three exams in religion and one in sociology and anthropology based on the thesis I wrote about congregations that publicly welcome gay and lesbian people in the United Methodist Church. R. Stephen Warner, a sociologist at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a colleague of my adviser, Joy Charlton, would be examining my thesis, and I was nervous. I referenced his research throughout my thesis, had read most of the other articles he had written, and could not believe I was going to spend an hour talking with him about my work.

The day of the exam arrived, and as I talked with Warner, I scribbled notes on yellow pieces of lined paper. He offered some praise and asked a number of hard questions. I carried those pieces of yellow paper through my next five years in graduate school, a reminder that a scholar I admired had engaged with my research, taken me seriously, and thought I could be a "real" sociologist.

In 2006, I returned to campus to examine Thomas Showalter's thesis "'Politics is Not My Game:' Evangelical Pastors and Political Participation." I had since finished a Ph.D. at Princeton University, taught at Bowdoin College, and completed a two-year fellowship through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars in Health Policy Research Program. I read Showalter's thesis carefully, came prepared with a list of questions, and aimed to show him the same kind of intellectual engagement that Warner had shown to me. We spoke about his field research, his conceptual approach, and the strengths and weaknesses of the project as it had developed. I learned from his thesis - something I had not imagined possible for an honors examiner when I was a student. As I walked down to Sharples Dining Hall to join the other honors examiners for lunch, past the students on Parrish Beach who had just completed their exams, I thought again about the intellectual respect and engagement that is at the heart of the Honors Program. This kind of serious engagement with colleagues, faculty, and examiners has and continues to model for me the best of academic life. I was and remain grateful for the opportunity to participate, as a student and examiner.