Supporting Scholars

Tri Delta awards its annual National Humanities Center Fellowship

Each year since 1988, Tri Delta has awarded fellowships for two university professors to spend one year conducting research in their chosen fields at the National Humanities Center.  Thanks to the Fraternity's generous support of humanities scholarship, these Tri Delta Fellows have been able to make significant contributions to the intellectual world.

How the Fellowship Began

At the 75th Anniversary Convention in 1963, a select committee put forward an ambitious project to commemorate the future 100th anniversary of the Fraternity. They proposed the creation of a foundation to raise money over the next 24 years and beginning in 1988 "would make awards out of the income for scientific or educational purposes." In order to comply with certain government regulations, the initial foundation became a fund. The Delta Century Fund, as it was named, eventually raised more than $700,000 toward the centennial project, and intensive study and research was undertaken to select an appropriate recipient of the money.

The 1982 Convention voted to transfer the bulk of the assets of the Fund to the National Humanities Center located in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to endow a lifetime of Tri Delta Fellows beginning in 1988. Each year since the endowment, Tri Delta has been able to award two Fellowships to the National Humanities Center.

This year Dr. Michael Puri, associate professor of music at the University of Virginia, and Dr. Nora Fisher Onar, assistant professor of international relations at Bahcesehir University in Turkey, were chosen to receive the Tri Delta Fellowship. Here, they share more about their projects:

Puriweb.jpgDr. Michael Puri

What are you working on at the National Humanities Center?  

At the Center I have been working on a project that seeks to identify the transnational affiliations of the music of the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). These affiliations have long been overlooked and underheard, with the result that we have unnecessarily confined him within his national borders, instead of exploring the many ways in which his music was conversant with the music of other nations and participated in international artistic trends. The most contested border in various respects, especially over the last two centuries, has been the one that France shares with Germany. But if we set aside the notion that these two musical cultures are fundamentally opposed, we suddenly encounter a wealth of evidence of a broad and deep mutual influence. In particular, I have been working on the relationship between Ravel and the so-called New German School: composers like Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, all of whom experimented, like Ravel, with new compositional techniques in an attempt to expand not only the variety and complexity of musical form and content, but also the ability for music to convey meaning.  

How and when did you first become interested in your subject matter?

My first experience of Ravel's music was through his piano music, which I not only listened to but also performed. In fact, my favorite piece when I was 18 was the piano piece "Ondine," a piece whose harmonies and textures still seem wondrous to me. Later, as a graduate student in musicology, I attended an orchestral performance of Ravel's complete score to the ballet "Daphnis et Chloé," which was an epiphany. I was so taken by the depth and beauty of this music that I felt compelled to work on it as a scholar. Fortunately, I found that I had a lot to say about Ravel's music that had not been said — so much, in fact, that I wrote not only a dissertation about it but also many articles and a book, "Ravel the Decadent: Memory, Sublimation, and Desire," which situates Ravel within his French artistic context. My current project at the Center complements the book by linking the composer to international influences.   

What does this fellowship mean to you as a scholar?

Life as a university professor is wonderful, but you are pulled in so many different directions simultaneously by daily responsibilities that it becomes very difficult to clear time and space to do the reading and writing necessary to advance your scholarship. I simply cannot express how valuable it is to have a full year to devote to this work. I have not only made great progress with this project, but have also grown tremendously as a researcher and — just as important — as a musician. I am extremely grateful to Delta Delta Delta for its support of the Center through this fellowship — thank you all very, very much!

Fisherweb.jpgDr. Nora Fisher Onar

What are you working on at the National Humanities Center?  

I am working on "post-Western liberalism" in the Middle East. I use the term to refer to a sensibility and agenda that is crystallizing among vulnerable groups in the region and beyond the West in general, especially women activists. In effect, these groups are asking how to strike a balance between Western understandings of freedom, justice and empowerment, and approaches which emanate from their own cultural backgrounds. In so doing, they are forging a new synthesis which may enable some of the most laudable aspects of the Western tradition to resonate in a post-Western era.

How and when did you first become interested in your subject matter?

I have always been fascinated by the question and challenge of how to be true to oneself and demand that others respect who one is, while also respecting those who have very different viewpoints.

This question and challenge became a driving force behind my intellectual development when I had the opportunity to live in Turkey where I first moved as a Fulbright Scholar. Turkey, after all, is a diverse, dynamic country that is struggling to forge a common sense of destiny among its disparate peoples. My experiences in Turkey, in turn, informed my graduate studies at Johns Hopkins (SAIS) and Oxford (St Antony's), and endeavors as a teacher of international politics, as well as my evolving research agenda best epitomized in my current work on what I call "post-Western liberalism(s)."