Theresa Coletti Delivers Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Lecture

December 22, 2012

On Thursday, November 8, Professor Theresa Coletti delivered her Distinguished Scholar-Teacher lecture, “Medieval Women, Mary Magdelene, and Me,” to an admiring audience of colleagues, students, and friends.

Asking just what it means to be a medievalist in the current academic and political environment, Theresa explored how popular representations and appropriations of Mary Magdelene reverberate in both medieval and contemporary art and artifacts. Over the course of her career, Theresa has taken up the fraught and potent genealogies of Magdelene as an historical referent: a sinner and a saint who both embraced and renounced sexual and worldly pleasures; a woman who, in her relationship to Jesus, possessed both erotic and sacred power; a model of penance and of contemplative and passionate devotion. And in her public DST talk, Theresa positioned Magdelene at not only the center of late medieval debates about the sources of spiritual authority and women’s contribution to salvation history, but also at the heart of contemporary debates about the relationship between the medieval and the modern. Describing her decades-long on-again off-again relationship with the early sixteenth-century Digby play Mary Magdelene, Theresa situated Magdelene’s capacious biblical authority in Digby’s play alongside contemporary texts such as Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel The DaVinci Code and the recently discovered “Jesus Fragment” to reveal both the kind of cultural work the Digby play performed as well as how the play anticipated the continuing vitality and power of particularly feminine expressions of spirituality and divinity.

The DST award is reserved for tenured faculty who “personify [the university’s] image of the professorate.” As the name suggests, the DST award uniquely acknowledges Theresa’s important work in the classroom as well as her scholarship. Theresa is an internationally respected interdisciplinary humanities researcher whose areas of expertise extend from the Middle Ages to contemporary criticism and theory. An author of two very well reviewed books, almost 40 articles and chapters, close to 30 reviews, and nearly 100 presentations, her scholarship has been described by colleagues as "splendid," "truly profound," and possessing "unfailing erudition and interpretive brilliance." Speaking to Theresa’s innovative scholarship, one fellow critic noted that "it took our field a while to catch up with [her] insights," and another described her as "one of the most creative, innovative, and original medievalists in North America," which is reflected among other things in her having been awarded the Martin Stevens Prize in 2002.

During Theresa's career at the University, she has successfully taught a full range of courses from Freshman English Composition to graduate seminars – an activity that continued even during the many years when she served as chair of the English department. Undergraduate students particularly emphasize her ability to make a difficult language and time period come alive in their imaginations, and provide excellent evaluations for her classes. Graduate students appreciate her academic, professional, and intellectual generosity as teacher and mentor. More generally Professor Coletti has been an extremely engaged and generous campus citizen, for example systematically engaging the Center for Teaching Excellence. When asked about receiving the DST award, Theresa responded that of course it was “a great honor,” but noted immediately that “I’m one of many in the department, most recently Martha Nell Smith, but also Bob Levine, Jane Donawerth, Jack Bryer, Linda Kauffman, and David Wyatt,” to be recognized as a sign of the collegial spirit and intellectual community that the department is creating.