Skip to main content

Saint Louis University College of Arts and Sciences Header Logo Center

Menu Search & Directory

Research Projects

The faculty within Saint Louis University’s Center for Intercultural Studies are scholastic leaders in many fields. Learn more about the topics and issues they are investigating as part of their research projects with the center.

Marian Medical Miracles as a Tool for Cultural Syncretism and Political Hegemony in 13th-century Iberia

Scholars have recognized the opportunity for interdisciplinary interrogation of 13th-century Iberia available through the Cantigas de Santa Maria (Canticles of St. Mary, CSM) composed in Galician-Portuguese at the court of King Alfonso X the Learned.

His father having reunited Christian Spain, Alfonso X devoted his rule towards a cultural identity dominated by Castilian language and Christianity. His court's legal, scientific, linguistic and cultural efforts supported that goal: He established universities and Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars worked together to create a law code and astronomical-astrological works, as well as translate numerous religious and other texts from Arabic into Latin and Castilian.

CSM was composed between 1252 and 1284 as a collection of 427 texts, among them prayers, songs, and more than 350 Marian miracles, in large part illustrated and set to music. The miracles address numerous medical issues, which were often cured by the Virgin to save her followers, but at times ignored by her in case of non-Christians, and occasionally caused by her as punishment. This project examines the nexus between political, daily life, religious, medical, cultural and intellectual spheres within CSM. We are parsing through the visual, musical and poetic rhetoric of the miracles to analyze the evidence of medical beliefs, gender relations, status of Jews, Muslims and those considered Christian heretics, and employment of Marian veneration for political sanction.


  • Francisco Gondim, Ph.D., Universidade Federal do Ceará, Fortaleza, Brazil
  • Sarah Hermes Griesbach, Ph.D., Department of Art History and Archaeology, Washington University
  • Amos Lieberman, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Julia Lieberman, Ph.D., Department of Modern and Classical Languages
  • Florian P. Thomas, Ph.D., School of Medicine (Facilitator)
Perspectives on Health and Medicine in Africa

Culture and health intersect. Shifts in the nature of diseases and human contacts are dependent on contexts of environment, power, and history, all of which are anchored in culture. Micro-level studies focused on interactions between external and local cultures, or subsets within a broader culture, are critical to the understanding of content and direction of change in the development of health and medicine in Africa.

This research group takes an intercultural perspective in examining a complex array of topics that include epidemiological patterns, health promotion and related behavior change, political and economic circumstances that are temporally and spatially contingent, causes and effects of specific diseases, production of knowledge and competing strategies in the institutionalization of medicinal cures, as well as the role of local and international organizations in the development of health services in Africa.


  • George O. Ndege, Ph.D., Department of History (Facilitator)
  • Emmanuel Uwalaka, Ph.D., Department of Political Science
Visual and Performing Arts as Vehicles of Cultural Agency for People of Color in Antebellum America and Colonial Lagos

This project traces the deployment of visual and performing arts by peoples of color in antebellum America and colonial Lagos, Nigeria, to negotiate the relations of power instituted by dominant Euro-American groups.

It specifically examines how they used innovative techniques and exploited ambivalent spaces within the hierarchical and racial frameworks that relegated them to subjugated socio-cultural positions. Although photographs and performances may be perceived as relatively straightforward forms of cultural expression, this joint project exposes their deeply textured displays and multivalent meanings conveyed by symbolic representations introduced into these formats by people of color to express their cultural identity and agency.


  • Olubukola Gbadegesin, Ph.D., Department of Fine and Performing Arts
  • Katrina Thompson, Ph.D. Department of History (Facilitator)
Charity and Poverty in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Early Modern Period

Tzedakah, caritas and zakat are three terms often lumped together under one word: charity, as they refer to how normative Judaism, Christianity and Islam have historically addressed the needs of the more vulnerable members of their respective societies. Yet, behind these three terms stand very different histories and practices.

On the one hand, there are parallels between the three terms. They all deal with the distribution of wealth, and the recognition that not all members of a given society have equal access to it. In each of the three traditions, these terms are closely related to their inheritance systems and family structures. Furthermore, as the three traditions have often been neighbors, they have influenced one another.

On the other hand, there are also startling differences between the cultural meanings of these terms, as the three traditions have different attitudes to not only poverty but also wealth. There is also the question of disparity in political power and whether or not the society under study is the host culture or one of its minorities. This research project will include studies of charitable institutions — in Jewish, Christian or Islamic societies — that will illustrate both the interconnectedness of the poor and the wealthy and the interplay between dominant and minority cultures and faiths.


  • Julia Lieberman, Ph.D., Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures (Facilitator)
  • Philip Gavitt, Ph.D., Department of History
  • Claudia Karagoz, Ph.D., Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Access to the Health Care System and Successful Aging Among Immigrants After Midlife

The health care delivery system of the United States has faced many challenges over decades, and researchers have studied health disparity among different racial groups in order to address and redress inequality that challenges health care providers and policy makers.

An increasing number of immigrants, who bring in various cultural backgrounds and expectations, creates further challenges in improving the system. When people from different cultures meet, who decides what is right or wrong, what is appropriate or inappropriate, and what is ethical or unethical? While this question permeates many areas of life, the area of health care system is one of the crucial aspects of human survival in society. One out of five people in the United States are immigrants or their offspring, and the proportion is estimated to increase further.

Community-based research projects explore several issues, including access to health care system, successful again, caregiving arrangements and end-of-life care. The immigrant groups selected for the projects — Bosnians, Chinese, Koreans, Latinos and South Asians — present different backgrounds in terms of entry to and length in the U.S., race and religion, and size and structure of the communities. Issues related to access to health care system and successful aging will be illuminated in the context of acculturation, perceived discrimination, distrust in health care system, psychological well-being, and social support.


  • Hisako Matsuo, Ph.D., Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice (Facilitator)
  • Lisa Willoughby, Ph.D., Department of Psychology
The Impact of Race and Religion on the Refugee Resettlement Process in American Society

The study will compare and contrast resettlement processes of two distinct refugee groups: refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and those from Somalia.

Although the population size of Bosnians and Somalis in St. Louis is different, these two groups present culturally intriguing similarities and differences in their racial and religious backgrounds. Bosnians’ religious background as secular Muslims and their racial background as Europeans seem to have contributed to their acceptance by the mainstream society, rendering Bosnians racially ‘invisible’ in the American society which continues to appreciate whiteness. Somali refugees, on the other hand, come from a country that exists only in name. Years of extreme violence and famine have taken a toll on their psyche. An understanding of the level of stress or conflict experienced by Somali refugees in their home country would be important in their resettlement process. The project will build upon Matsuo’s earlier work on Bosnian refugees in St. Louis.

The study will use a grounded theory method in order to explore the impact of race and religion on Somali refugees’ resettlement process. The authors will conduct in-depth interviews with approximately twenty Somali refugees, recruiting them with a snowball sampling. The data to be collected will be transcribed in English for data analyses, and the findings will be compared against Matsuo’s previous findings of studies on Bosnians.


  • Hisako Matsuo, Ph.D., Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice (Facilitator)
  • Emmanuel Uwalaka, Ph.D., Department of Political Science
Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Interculturality

The rapidly growing global traffic of information, people, and goods has created an urgent need for a deeper understanding of difference. Expanding our knowledge about the mechanisms of interactions between distinct cultures has become one of the most important academic challenges of our time. It is an effort that requires a high degree of epistemological self-awareness on the part of the scholar, as well as a conscious attempt to overcome the tendency to universalize and objectify one's own cultural meanings and imaginaries.

Most analytical frameworks are currently tailored to the specialized needs of particular academic disciplines, leading to ever-increasing fragmentation and compartmentalization of knowledge. The goal of this team project is to provide innovative intellectual resources for studying and interpreting interculturality by developing theoretical frameworks--illustrated by case study applications of resultant methodologies--that mediate between disciplines and promote cross-fertilization among them.


  • Monica Eppinger, Ph.D., School of Law
  • Judith L. Gibbons, Ph.D., Department of Psychology
  • Michal Jan Rozbicki, Ph.D., Department of History (Facilitator)