Scripps College Welcomes Two New Members of the Faculty
Sumita Pahwa, assistant professor of politics and international relations, joins the College by way of Cairo, where she lived with her husband and four-year-old child for nearly three years researching the Muslim Brotherhood. The shifting political realities of the region made it difficult to stay, so the family relocated this past summer to Claremont, where Pahwa was eager to familiarize herself with the community.
“It was a fascinating time to be there,” she says of her time in Egypt. “People started to be prosecuted for so much as interviewing Islamists, and researchers and journalists suddenly had to be cautious about openly criticizing the army. One was used to the old police state under Hosni Mubarak, which was predictable in whom it went after, but the new repression of the past year has cast a wider and more unpredictable net.”
Her interest in government stems from her upbringing. She grew up in India in the 1980s, amid that country’s political turbulence, where secessionist and religious movements engaged the public in their conversations on a regular basis. She studied the rise of Islam and Middle East politics in college, but the electoral success of a Hindu nationalist party in Indian elections motivated her to investigate the subject further. “India is a country that had long prided itself on secularism and tolerance,” she says, “and that really challenged my notions about rationality and progressivism in democratic politics.”
Pahwa enjoys working with students at Scripps and looks forward to guiding senior research projects.
“The Scripps students I’ve met are a really intellectually curious, selfconfident, motivated bunch.”
Previously, Pahwa was an instructor in the government department at Skidmore College. She earned a PhD from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College.
Thomas Koenigs, assistant professor of English, specializes in 19th-century American literature, and is excited to begin his career at a college like Scripps because seminar classroom settings are particularly conducive to teaching literature, he says.
Reading a text together, rather than lecturing to the students, makes a better experience for both the professor and the class. “If I were to be lecturing on a book I’ve read 10 times before, I wouldn’t learn anything new about it,” says Koenigs. “But leading a seminar on it, a student almost invariably draws my attention to some interesting detail I’ve always managed to overlook.”
And the conversations and dialogues in his classes are what Koenigs most looks forward to as a professor at Scripps. “I am surprised by the level of intellectual curiosity and engagement in my classes,” Koenigs continues. “Well, that isn’t true. I had a good sense of Scripps’ reputation before I came here, but the students have exceeded my already-high expectations.”
As if starting a new chapter in his career as a professor wasn’t enough, Koenigs is currently working on a book project, “Founded in Fiction”: Fictionality in the United States, 1789-1861. “The project is a history of the ways in which diverse forms and theories of fiction shaped how Americans addressed issues ranging from national politics to gendered authority to the intimate violence of slavery,” says Koenigs. He’s excited to have conversations with both students and colleagues on the myriad of materials and ideas for his project as it develops.
“Writing a book is solitary work in a lot of ways, so I always find it energizing and reinvigorating to talk through ideas with students or other faculty,” he says. “It helps remind me why I wanted to write this book in the first place.”
“We all have a commonsense idea of what counts as literature,” says Koenigs. “But when we study other historical periods, we are confronted with just how limited our own conception of literature’s value and purpose really is.” At the end of each class, “I want students to leave with an expanded sense of literature’s possibilities.”
Professor Koenigs earned his master’s and PhD from Yale University and his bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins University.
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