Kit Shields

Kit Shields, CSRPC/CSGS Joint Dissertation Fellow; Ph.D. Candidate, Divinity School

CSRPC/CSGS Joint Dissertation Fellow; Ph.D. Candidate, Divinity School

Kit Shields is a doctoral candidate in Religions in America at the University of Chicago Divinity School. During the 2017–2018 academic year, she will be working on her dissertation, which explores the intersection of reading and religion in the antebellum United States through the lenses of race and gender. The project investigates the ways those barred from conventional paths to education and its application—namely, those who were neither white nor male—used religious notions of reading and writing to fulfill their desires for self-improvement and to critique the culture that feared or inhibited their intellectual progress. In an era when education was increasingly widespread, the idea of a sentimentalized, pious manner of reading could be used to designate an apolitical, unacademic, and nonthreatening version of literacy reserved for those who were considered incapable of participating fully in the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. However, this same heart-centered, religious notion of reading was often exploited by those it attempted to control and contain. By developing religious conceptions and techniques of reading, marginalized people could claim for themselves some of the authority strongly associated with both Christianity and literacy in the early nineteenth century, and use it to influence important social issues like abolition, women’s rights, and relations with Native Americans.

Kit received her B.A. in Religious Studies and English from Lewis and Clark College and her M.A. at the Divinity School. She has worked as a managing editor at the Journal of Religion, a writing instructor in the University’s Writing Program, and coordinator of the Religions in America Workshop. Her research and teaching interests include women and gender in American religious history, slavery and Christianity in the United States, and reading and writing in early America. She is also a musician and record producer in Chicago.