James Ogden Sharpe '18

James Ogden Sharpe '18

Interdisciplinary Studies Program Graduate 

Integrated Disciplinary Areas: Anthropology + Psychology + Communications

What is your current role?

I'm a graduate student in rhetoric & composition and instructor in the first-year writing program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as assistant to the dean of humanities and program coordinator of IDS at Wheaton. 

What was the topic of your final project?

My thesis centered on France's conflicts concerning whether Muslims can be "French" or not. But the abstract version of this problem has to do with a problem in modern nation-states. Their populations are plural (multiple religious, cultural, ethnic, linguistic identities), but for some reason the nation-state form is really bad at housing that plurality, so you get ideological clashes over who counts as "French" or who counts as "American" and so on. My question was sweetly naive: can humans handle plurality? I am still working on this topic, only now my question is not whether humans can handle plurality (we can and do, only selectively), but whether the nation-state can effectively house it, and, if not, what form of polity can. 

Why did you choose the IDS major at Wheaton?

I intuited that my interests didn't seem to fit neatly into a single discipline. I enjoyed zipping between, say, philosophy and anthropology, literary theory and politics, etc. I heard IDS could help a poor fool like me slap some structure on that. Once again, how sweet. How naìve. But the application process gave me a chance to organize myself. And then I had a couple years to put it together. If I'm being brutally honest, there was a kind of bravado involved. I wanted to do IDS because it was hard. Thankfully, God uses fools too.

What benefits resulted from your participation in the IDS program?

The chief take-aways for me came from the discussions in epistemology and philosophy of science, and the rigorous training in research design and writing. These are obviously valuable in graduate school, but the skills involved in research design and writing, and the philosophical habits I learned in the epistemology seminar, assist me on a daily basis. 

How did Wheaton's IDS program prepare you for your current work?

I ended up taking a couple years to care for elderly people with dementia, and my Anthro-Psych-Comm integration could not have been more tailored to that experience. Trying to love someone with a tenuous relationship to the present, and their own presence in it, requires feats of imaginative labor. Eventually I got into graduate school, into a rhetoric program, and I found my IDS training superbly fitted to the demands of my program. Rhetoric is deeply interdisciplinary. The rigorous training in epistemology, research design, and writing I received from Wheaton's IDS program set me up to excel in graduate school. 

What would you say to someone who is considering the IDS major?

IDS is good for some kinds of students and bad for others. I don't have a comprehensive sense of those for whom it works. But I can say this: If you're a bit obsessive, can't seem to stay still in one genre or one style of thought, feel equally at home in the grit and mud of practical change-making and in the more ethereal domain of theoretical reflection, then IDS will be good for you. And on top of that, writing itself will be your guardian angel.