PhD student Eriko Okamoto (Arabic and Islamic Studies) was recently awarded a 2022 Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship for her project, The Unity of Knowledge in Arabic and Islamic Philosophy: Abu Nasr al-Farabi’s Classification of the Sciences.
What is the focus of your dissertation?
My dissertation deals with the 10th-century Islamic philosopher Abu Nasr al-Farabi’s classification of various academic disciplines, or the “sciences,” by focusing on the philosophical basis of his classification. It examines how al-Farabi organized the corpus of knowledge, and it adopts a multidisciplinary approach that investigates where religious concepts intersect with philosophical discourse on human knowledge. In doing so, my project illuminates how al-Farabi adapted features of earlier Greek classification systems in a way that spoke to the concerns of 10th-century Islamic society, an endeavor which resulted in the formulation of an innovative classificatory system that had a lasting impact in the Islamic world and beyond.
How did you first learn about the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship?
I first heard about the fellowship from the colleagues in my department while I was still doing my coursework. I was fortunate to have colleagues who were ahead of me and explained why external fellowships were crucial to building a competitive record. They also encouraged me to apply for them from early on even when I was still fully funded by my program.
At the same time, because I went directly from my BA to a PhD program and spent the first three years of my program completing coursework, I also knew that I would need to seek financial support from external sources in the course of my PhD career. For that reason, I attended various fellowship workshops offered by the Office of Graduate Fellowships & Awards and elsewhere, and there, too, I heard about the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships.
What made you decide to apply?
Frankly, I decided to apply for the fellowship in order to focus on writing and finishing my dissertation. Among the various kinds of fellowships that PhD students can apply for, dissertation completion fellowships are intended, as the name suggests, to help PhD candidates in their final stage of completing their projects by providing them with financial support. Since I am now in that phase, I decided to apply for the Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, along with other fellowships of a similar nature.
How will this fellowship impact your research and writing?
It will impact my research and writing immensely as it provides me the time to focus on writing. Getting support and recognition from a major fellowship also gives me a bit more confidence in my project (which is not to say that I did not think my project was important or worthy of study). Writing a dissertation can be a somewhat isolating process, but the fellowship will also provide me a network of scholars who are in the same boat and encourage each other to finish their dissertations.
What advice would you give to students who are thinking about applying for this fellowship?
ACLS recently announced that there will be no more Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships. There will, however, be a new program named Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellowships, which are designed to support PhD students in the formative stage of their dissertation development. For those who are planning to apply for this new fellowship and other ACLS fellowships, I would recommend checking the website on the particular fellowship they plan to apply for and reading very carefully the FAQ sections because that is where they find clues as to what kind of projects ACLS are looking for. When I applied, there was a document called “Writing Proposals for ACLS Fellowship Competitions” on the website, and I found it helpful in composing a competitive proposal. I would also recommend starting work on the application early and getting feedback from friends, colleagues, and advisors who are willing to read your proposal.