Jessica Steele has an energetic passion for the Middle East and its life, culture, religion, politics, history, and geography. She recently completed a year as a research assistant at the Maxwell Institute’s Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts. In this guest post she reflects on her time at the Institute as it draws to a close. We will miss you, Jessica!
When I began working at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute as a research assistant a little over a year ago, I was only marginally aware of the Institute’s purpose and mission as a research arm of Brigham Young University. I knew, of course, that the Institute’s primary focus was on religious scholarship in general, but my initial understanding took that to mean work in apologetics. Pleasantly enough—and as highly as I regard apologetics and its importance for the Church—in my year at the Maxwell Institute I discovered that the range of scholarship and research being conducted under this roof is deeper and richer than I had ever realized. As a place for both intellectual pursuit and profound discipleship, I think it embodies some of the most beautiful attributes of the Gospel.
Initially, my work began in CPART (Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts) under Kristian Heal and David Calabro. Under their direction, I assisted in the research and development of a digital Syriac dictionary to enhance and further the study of Syriac texts and literature in the future. Not only is that an incredible apparatus that will allow scholars from all over the world to improve the understanding of these ancient texts, it also puts BYU’s and the Institute’s name out there as a force for serious scholarship that extends across a variety of subjects that are not particular to the Church alone.
Likewise, the latter half of my work at the Institute under David Calabro and Brian Hauglid accomplished the same thing, this time with work having to do with a medieval Arabic Islamic manuscript. The work David and Brian are doing on their Ibn Bishr project not only furthers understanding of the manuscript, its time period, and Islam; it also makes a name for BYU and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute and the kind of scholarship in which it is engaged.
Finally, many of the gains I have had from working at the Maxwell Institute have simply come from becoming more acquainted from the work of other departments. From the Institute’s podcasts to the literature and scholarship I have been introduced to while working here, I feel like my understanding of the Gospel has increased, and my ability to go out into the world and represent myself as an intellectual and a disciple of Christ has been strengthened.
I am deeply indebted to the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for all of the opportunities it has given me. Hopefully I will be able to return the favor in the future by putting into action all that I have learned, as well as by promoting the good work being done at the Institute. I am thankful for this invaluable experience.