The English department announced the winners of the James G. Jameson Critical Essay Contest during a ceremony on Monday, April 17. The first place winners were Krista Johnson in the Humanities and Theological Studies division, Darren Yau in the Natural and Social Sciences division and Rachel Coker in the Arts, Media and Communications division. Alison Gibson, associate lecturer of English, presented the awards after an opening address by Mark Noll, a Christian author and historian and former professor of history and theology at Wheaton College.

Johnson’s essay, entitled “The Womanist Christology of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’” drew upon the writings of womanist theologian Jacquelyn Grant to analyze Browning’s poem from a womanist, or black feminist, perspective. Johnson was inspired by the similarities between her great-grandmother’s story and that of the poem’s protagonist, both black women who tried to kill their biracial child.

Johnson said she came upon “some pretty decontextualized readings of the poem” while studying previous scholars’ work on it. “I thought by analyzing the poem from a womanist Christological perspective I would have something to offer to the conversation,” Johnson told The Record. “I hope readers will learn more of the importance of considering intersectional lenses when studying literature.”

Yau wrote his essay, “How Natural Is Natural Law? On Aquinas’ Presuppositions,” after noticing an increasing interest in natural law while he was studying abroad at Oxford. He looked into St. Thomas Aquinas’ work on the topic and sought to study the validity of opposition to the concept of natural law. “To a great extent it was an exercise in historical reflection about a concept that has seen a recent revival in the so-called ‘new natural lawyers’,” he said.

Coker’s essay, entitled “The Art of Corita Kent: Psalms of Lament and Praise,” discusses the work of Kent, a Catholic nun and protest artist in the 1960s and 70s. Coker argued that despite criticism from both sides — some calling Kent too religious and others too secular — Kent was “a contemporary psalmist of her time, alone in her ability to express both lament and joy through her work and sparking a catalyst for true change.”

Coker chose to do a research project on Kent shortly after the election of President Donald Trump, inspired by the controversy surrounding whether Christians should protest. She said that Kent was “an excellent example of what it looks like to be compassionate toward the burdens of the world, but who also lets that compassion spark a burning desire for something to change.”  

Jameson established the contest fund in 1985 in order to “encourage Wheaton students to engage in Christian scholarship across the liberal arts disciplines.” The contest is also meant to support students financially, as the first, second and third place winners receive a prize of 1000, 500 and 250 dollars, respectively.