Thursday, March 12, 2009

RIP, Nancy Eiesland (1964-2009)

Image: a black-and-white portrait of Nancy Eiesland, from her faculty webpage

I've just read over at DSTU the sad news that Nancy Eiesland, Professor of Sociology of Religion and Disability Studies at Emory University, died this week from cancer. Her colleague, friend and former student Christian Scharen has written this memorial, and following is an excerpt of a piece she wrote last year in a campus publication about her experiences with surgeries and pain as she returned to teaching after a long illness:

For the last 18 months, I’ve been in the fight of my life to best a drug-resistant staph infection that had invaded my spine — where I had years before had metal implanted to keep me upright. Colleagues and acquaintances who knew my status as a person with a disability would often say, “I don’t think of you having a disability.” Of course, their misguided compliments gave me fodder for the truth-telling that they (like many) participated in the misapprehension that being capable and intelligent was incompatible with being a person with a disability. But over time, I have realized that I was a collaborator in those stories; many people trotted out this old saw because I didn’t think of myself as a person with a disability, though I had long identified as one. I had learned to overachieve, so that my competence was unassailable and my independence was a marker of a true blue American. As a toddler, I began the operations that were to eliminate my birth defect. But soon the one constant in my body was the register of pain. In the effort to first quantify and then control pain, the medical world created the insidious pain faces scale. If I’m an 8 am I obliged to drum up tears to begin to approach the picture to be truly convincing? I could never fix a number to pain, nor did I do well with the multiple choice approach. I always imagine a Freddy Krueger slasher scene during which he might stop and ask me if I’d prefer to be stabbed, burned or beaten.
Amongst her publications, the books:

A Particular Place: Urban Restructuring and Religious Ecology in a Southern Exurb (Rutgers University Press, 2000)

Human Disability and the Service of God (Abingdon Press, 1998), co-editor with Don Saliers

Contemporary American Religion: An Ethnographic Reader (AltaMira Press, 1997), co-editor with Penny Edgill

The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Abingdon Press, 1994)