We are excited to announce that four alumni of AVI’s postdoctoral fellowship program have published books in 2019 (read summaries of the books below). The diverse topics of these books—from an examination of the ways in which autobiographical writings might inform democratic politics to an analysis of religious leaders who sought to shape how Americans saw themselves and their country during the 20th century—reflect AVI’s commitment to methodological and ideologically diversity within American political theory and development.

Over the years, AVI has offered numerous competitive fellowships to early-career scholars. The purpose of these fellowships is to introduce Duke students to professors who are doing cutting edge research related to American ideas and institutions, while giving young academics an opportunity to either revise their dissertations for publication or begin new projects. While they are expected to teach two undergraduate courses a year, AVI fellows also have time to work on their own research.

According to Texas State University Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Faber, his book would not exist if AVI hadn’t given him two years to pursue his novel ideas about the American founding. Before starting his fellowship, Faber observes, “I had been teaching in visiting positions with a 4-4 teaching load, and it was very difficult to start new projects.” At Duke, however, he had time to pursue a question that had long interested him: “if the Anti-Federalists had the opportunity to get together and propose an alternative constitution, what would it look like?”  What began as an idea for an article quickly grew into a book manuscript. “By the time I finished my second year at Duke,” Faber recalls, “I had most of the initial draft completed.”

Rather than leaving young scholars completely to their own devices, AVI helps them negotiate the publishing process. All AVI postdocs attend a professional development workshop led by AVI Director Michael Gillespie. The workshop offers an opportunity for scholars to receive feedback on their work, as well as guidance about writing book proposals and responding to reviewer comments.

Ava Maria University Associate Professor of Politics James Patterson describes how AVI put him in touch with “leading scholars both at Duke as well as at the University of North Carolina who provided valuable advice for publishing my work. At one point, Professor Michael Munger was calling me late at night to provide feedback on an article manuscript because it was the only time the two of us could talk.”

Several of our fellowships were made possible by financial support from the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History and the Thomas W. Smith Foundation.

Recent Books by AVI Fellows

Nolan Bennett The Claims of Experience: Autobiography and American Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Why have so many Americans sought to confront political problems by sharing their life stories with others? In The Claims of Experience, Bennett shows how Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Henry Adams, Emma Goldman, and Whitaker Chambers used their autobiographies to exercise authority over their own experiences. Autobiographical writers, Bennett explains, not only draw on their own experiences in order to highlight what they regard as the injustices of American institutions but also to encourage their readers to remake and make meaning of their own lives. Since leaving Duke, Bennett has taught at Georgetown University, and is currently Assistant Professor of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay.

Michael J. Faber. An Anti-Federalist Constitution: The Development of Dissent in the Ratification of the Constitution. Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 2019.

In An Anti-Federalist Constitution, Faber offers a comprehensive analysis of the anti-federalists or the people who campaigned against the Constitution’s ratification. Faber identifies three distinct strands of anti-federalism—a strand that deemed the Constitution a threat to individual rights, a strand that objected to the weakening of state power, and a strand that wanted greater popular control of government. He also envisions what the Constitution would have looked like if it had been written by anti-federalists. The anti-federalists are important, Faber explains, because they gave an early voice to concerns about a strong central government that continue to play an important role in American politics. In contrast to scholars who argue that the American political system was eventually able to accommodate the concerns of its most vocal opponents, however, Faber describes the anti-federalists as having lost their battle to shape American political institutions. Moreover, he concludes that current citizens should be grateful that the anti-federalists lost.

Nora Hanagan. Democratic Responsibility: The Politics of Many Hands in America. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2019.

While American society is often described as one that celebrates self-reliance and personal responsibility, Hanagan observes that abolitionists, progressive reformers, civil rights activists and numerous others often held their fellow citizens responsible for shared problems such as economic exploitation and white supremacy. In Democratic Responsibility, she analyzes the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King Jr. and Audre Lorde. All four thinkers, she explains, believed that democracy goes hand and hand with shared responsibility. If we are committed to democratic ideals like equality and freedom, Hanagan concludes, we must accept responsibility for harms that result from social processes and institutions. We should also object to paternalistic endeavors in which elites solved problems on others’ behalf. Shared problems should instead be addressed in a democratic manner that empowers people who may not be accustomed to participating in political and economic life. Hanagan currently serves as Managing Director of AVI.

James M. Patterson. Religion in the Public Square: Sheen, King, Falwell. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019.

Patterson’s Religion in the Public Square explores twentieth century religious leaders—Ven. Fulton J. Sheen, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rev. Jerry Falwell— who developed public ministries that shaped American public opinion. According to Patterson, public ministries are an effective means of limiting state power so long as they remain above the partisan fray.  Religious leaders like Sheen and King encouraged their fellow citizens to embrace a more inclusive understanding of political community by appealing to a Judeo-Christian moral consensus but largely refrained from aligning themselves with either political party. Falwell’s decision to align his Moral Majority Movement with the Republican Party, however, led believers who did not share Falwell’s partisan commitments to abandon organized religion. This, in turn, has left American society without religious leaders capable of mobilizing bipartisan efforts to limit excessive or unjust uses of state power.