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English graduate student wins Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship

Author: Carrie Gates

César Soto English Irish Latino 500 César Soto

César Soto wants to know how the spark of political revolution can transform religious concepts of community and inclusion.

To better understand the issue, he’s turning to the literature of England, Ireland, and Mexico in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

Soto, a Ph.D. candidate in Notre Dame’s Department of English with a graduate minor in Irish studies, has been awarded a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for 2016-17 to support his project.

The fellowships recognize graduate students who have demonstrated superior academic achievement, show promise as future scholars and teachers at a college or university level, and are prepared to use diversity as a resource to enrich the education of all students.

Soto, who also won a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship at the start of his graduate work at Notre Dame, said the awards have encouraged him to produce the best work possible.

“To be able to say that I am a Ford Fellow twice over is truly humbling,” he said. “It is gratifying to see that my dissertation project has merit in the eyes of the Ford Foundation.”

Beginning with 1789—the start of the French Revolution—Soto’s research examines how revolutionary ideas circulated across the Atlantic between England, Ireland, and Mexico and how they impacted religious worldviews.

In particular, he explores how writers from different Christian backgrounds (who believed in radical change) appropriated these ideas and attempted to make rebellion into a virtue.

“In this contemporary moment when religious beliefs and practices are subject to divisive debate about their political meanings,” Soto said, “it is important to examine how a fusion of religion and revolution was once marshaled to imagine broader, more just, and inclusive communities.”

Soto said both the faculty and resources in the College of Arts and Letters have made Notre Dame an ideal place for his research—and prepared him to win the fellowship.

With funding from the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies and the Institute for Latino Studies, Soto has had the opportunity to conduct archival research abroad, attend conferences, and present his research at seminars.

“My department and the institutes I work with have been so supportive of my project and intellectual growth,” Soto said. “And my dissertation has become much more theoretically sophisticated and culturally nuanced because of my faculty advisers.”