Religious Studies
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Turner wins Fenwick Fellowship

by Kristin Leonato

Turner photo 2012
John Turner, Associate Professor, Religious Studies

John Turner, associate professor of religious studies, has been selected as one of two Fenwick Fellows for this academic year. The Fenwick Fellowship is awarded annually to a Mason faculty member(s) to “pursue a research project that uses and enhances the University Libraries’ resources while advancing knowledge in his or her field.” First awarded in 1983, faculty from the college have repeatedly been selected for this honor and we are proud to see the trend continuing. Turner succeeds Kristina Olson, assistant professor of Italian, who served as the Fenwick Fellow in the 2015-16 academic year.

Turner teaches and writes about the role of religion in American history. His winning Fenwick Fellows proposal represents a new area of inquiry: the English separatists who fled persecution, crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower, and became renowned as "the pilgrims."

Turner is looking forward to the unique opportunity the Fenwick Fellowship provides to work in collaboration with the University Libraries to select and purchase books and other materials that will become a permanent part of the University Library collections for future use by students and faculty. The funding associated with the Fellowship will also allow Turner to complete a one-week study trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts and to procure documents and scans from archives in the United Kingdom.

Turner’s year as a Fenwick Fellow will provide the foundation for a book to be published by Yale University Press in 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower crossing. Turner says the book, They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Making of American Liberty, will not only answer the neglected question of “what happened after the first Thanksgiving,” but will cover the entire 100-year journey of this very small band of religious separatists, who embarked on what Turner describes as a “desperate and fool-hardy” voyage of no return across the Atlantic.  

Fenwick Library, Main Campus

Turner also hopes his research can breath life into the stoic image of the pilgrims that many of us remember from elementary school plays. They were completely unprepared as colonizers and endured grave circumstances because of it. Yet, a large part of what interests Turner in these early settlers is how they managed joyful worship, harvest festivals, and a deeply intellectual pursuit of their religious beliefs despite their many challenges.

The Fenwick Fellowship provides a fully-equipped office situated in the newly renovated and expanded Fenwick Library to facilitate study in the University Libraries and coordinate with library staff. Turner plans to spend a lot of time there this year in between teaching and advising students majoring in religious studies. So next time you’re in Fenwick, stop by and ask him what he’s found. There’s a lot more to this story.  

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