Christopher L. Schwenk receives Bess H. Ward Honors Thesis Award

Tue, 12/13/16

Christopher L. Schwenk has received the Bess H. Ward Honors Thesis Award for his project titled “Notions of Nature and Society in Waiãpi Cosmology.” Chris is completing a double major in Religious Studies and Spanish with a minor in Portuguese. His thesis committee includes two faculty members in the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics, Peggy Sharpe and Juan Carlos Galeano, and Joseph Helweg from the Department of Religion. 

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Chris studied at the University of Brasília during Fall 2016, where he took classes in Portuguese language, Guarani Indigenous Languages, and Brazilian Cultural Studies while carrying out preliminary research for his thesis. In early December, he visited the city of Macapá in the far north of the country’s Amazonian region before making the trip into a remote area of the state to spend two weeks with the Waiãpi community in the Waiãpi Indigenous Reserve. He was joined by a member of the Waiãpi community, who speaks Portuguese and was able to serve as his translator while he conducted his research. 

Schwenk’s thesis examines the internal organization and external interactions of the Waiãpi with greater Brazil in an attempt to account for the Waiãpi people’s ideas of personhood, marriage patterns, housing arrangements, political organization, and familial activity, among other patterns. Through face-to-face interviews with the Waiãpi, Chris examined interactions among the Waiãpi and between the Waiãpi and other external indigenous cultures to analyze the ways in which fractal interactions or “subjectivities” enlightened Waiãpi conceptions of modernity.

Chris plans to complete his undergraduate studies in May 2017 and hopes to attend graduate school immediately thereafter to earn a Master’s degree in Theology with an emphasis on ethics and culture.