Brandon Harrington ’16 presents at prestigious Oxford conference
“Being in Oxford was probably the most incredible experience of my life.”
– Brandon Harrington ’16
Earlier this month, Brandon Harrington ’16 presented a paper at the prestigious Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies, held at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford, England.
A double major in philosophy and religious and theological studies, Harrington was the only undergraduate student to present at the conference, which was comprised of more than 40 international scholars.
Harrington’s paper was a case study of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based back-to-nature group active in the ’70s and ’80s. MOVE has a history of conflict with Philadelphia police, including a 1985 standoff that ended when the group’s compound was bombed, killing 11 of its members.
“I’m trying to reinterpret religious violence as it applies to this particular case, and then problematize the way that radicalism is dealt with for the purpose of prompting conversation about better solutions,” he said. “There are so many groups and individuals who are working for a better world. I’m trying to understand the ways in which we can let them be heard.”
While his paper was well received, Harrington said the most important part of his experience was the opportunity to interact with colleagues from very different backgrounds and beliefs. “That’s the really generative part of attending a conference,” he added. “It’s something I really crave.”
Additionally, the significance of presenting in such a historic space – the church was the first home of Oxford University during the 13th century – was not lost on him. “It had this symbolic meaning – starting off as an academic as I’m closing out my experience at Salve and moving on to graduate work,” Harrington said. “It felt like a beginning to me.”
The Oxford Symposium marked Harrington’s second major conference presentation as an undergraduate. In 2014, he won second prize at the North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy for his paper on the 1960s radical student group the Weather Underground.
Harrington points to his Core Curriculum courses in religion as the genesis for his interest in religious violence and how it relates to terrorism. “I saw that as a really nice complement to everything I was learning in my philosophy classes,” he said. “That was when I felt like I hit my stride here at Salve.”
Inspired by a love for learning and motivated by faculty such as Dr. Sean O’Callaghan, Dr. Khalil Habib, Dr. Stephen Trainor, Dr. Jordan Miller and Dr. Troy Catterson, Harrington has pursued independent study throughout his time at Salve Regina.
“My professors are unbelievably involved in what I’m researching,” he said. “They are the ones who encourage me to continue with research outside my classes, to look at these areas that I haven’t known about or overlooked. They are incredible people and I’m very thankful to know them and to have learned from them.”
Harrington has also drawn inspiration from the Pell Honors Program, which focuses on close readings, involved discussions and small classes, and draws students from a variety of academic and personal interests. “Having that community to interact with on an academic but also a social level has been really important,” he said. “It has shaped my college experience in a very positive way.”
With finals week wrapping up, Harrington will spend his winter break applying to graduate programs in both philosophy and religion. “I’d like to delve more into ethics,” he said. “I’m really interested in taking my studies in philosophy and finding their relevance in the social sphere. I don’t want to be that armchair philosopher – I want to be involved with society and the public sphere.”
Regardless of where he lands next fall, Harrington credits his Salve Regina experience for allowing him to be guided by what he found interesting in his coursework rather than holding him to a straight and narrow path. “I’m really thankful for the education that I’ve received here,” he said. “I think it’s the most treasured thing I have.”