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Julia Hintlian

Harvard University
PhD in the Study of Religion
Huys Scholar 2022 (Armenian Studies Scholarship), 2023

Headshot of Huys Scholar Julia Hintlian

2023 Huys Commitment Letter

My name is Julia Hintlian and I am a rising sixth-year doctoral candidate in the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. I have also been a Huys Scholar of Armenian Studies for the 2022-2023 academic year, and I am writing to apply for a scholarship renewal for the 2023-2024 academic year. In the remainder of this letter, I will update you on my academic activities, particularly as they pertain to Armenian Studies. I also encourage you to read my Huys Letter of Commitment from last year—still posted on your website and outlining my goals in academia and the Armenian community—as my statement here is meant to supplement that original document.

Since September of 2022, I have translated nearly 600 pages of Classical Armenian with Dr. Roberta Ervine, a member of my dissertation committee at Harvard and Professor of Armenian Christian Studies at the St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Specifically, we have been translating the corpus of writings produced by the early 8th-century Armenian theologian Stepʿanos Imastasēr Siwnetsʻi.1 A few of Stepʿanos’ writings have been translated by other scholars (mainly into English), but most of his texts remain accessible only in Classical Armenian. While we have translated these works primarily in service to my doctoral dissertation, our translations and commentary for two of Stepʿanos’ texts have also been separately accepted for publication in the upcoming year—one text in an academic journal, and the other text in a research volume.

Perhaps one might wonder: what is the significance of an 8th-century Armenian theologian to the modern world, to the international Armenian community, or even to the Armenian Church? How can our translations of his work be significant beyond academia? To answer these questions, it is important to emphasize that Stepʿanos was the bishop of Syunik. Today, Syunik is under dire threat, plagued by the regular and violent incursions of neighboring military forces; this is a problem that should and does trouble Armenians around the world. Similarly, in the early 8th century, Arab and Byzantine forces fought for domination over Armenia, often deploying violent and excessive force. One thinks, for example, of the martyrs of Nakhichevan (the province next to Syunik) who were burned in churches by Arab forces around 705 CE. Stepʿanos grew up and ascended to the episcopate in an unstable period of Armenian history—much like today.

Yet, in the face of this darkness, Stepʿanos wrote about how to look for light in the world. He promised that good can conquer evil. He exhorted his countrymen to maintain their faith—their uniquely Armenian faith—without succumbing to the beliefs of others. He was stubborn and tenacious and at times bombastic: we know from reading the letters he exchanged with various foreign bishops and dignitaries that he did not back down from a fight, and he would not surrender his convictions, even when it would have been politically expedient to do so. However, Stepʿanos was also wise, intellectual, and deeply spiritual; he did not capitulate to his own anger, but rather remained in control of his passions so that he could combat his enemies with foresight and deliberation. He was a role model for his 8th-century countrymen fighting foreign powers, and he could be a powerful role model for Armenians around the world who are fighting for an independent Armenia and Syunik today. Stepʿanos’ lessons are timeless, and they are relevant not only to Armenians who are fighting evil, but indeed to all people attempting to throw off the yoke of oppression. Our research activities are an effort to make these lessons available to people who cannot read Armenian, but they are also an effort to interpret his ideas so that they are comprehensible to modern audiences.

The Huys Scholarship has been integral to my ability to conduct this research on Stepʿanos. I have used my funding to commute on a regular basis from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Armonk, New York (where St. Nersess is located) to consult on translation with Dr. Ervine. This funding also helped me travel to Armenia with Dr. Ervine last November; while we were there, we viewed manuscripts containing several of Stepʿanos’ texts in the Matenadaran, and we visited monasteries were Stepʿanos lived and worked. As a result of these activities, I have been able to present some of my research on Stepʿanos publicly, including most recently at the “Translation and Armenian Modes of Communication” conference at UC Berkeley (April 2023) and at the University of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute (March 2023).

As I noted in my letter of commitment last year, I am seeking to act as a “cultural translator” between the Armenian Church and contemporary, secular, and/or diasporan Armenians. I am requesting another year of support from Huys so that as I work toward completing my doctoral dissertation, I can continue to excavate unexplored, ancient Armenian wisdom and I can help to interpret its significance for the Armenian community and the modern world beyond.

I appreciate your consideration of my application.

I am aware that Huys Foundation is granting the Huys Scholarship to me with the anticipation of my good faith pursuit and implementation of the projects and undertakings described in this letter, to which I hereby commit.

1. Stepʿanos was the Armenian translator of Nemesius of Emesa’s 4th-century Greek text On the Nature of Man; my dissertation research concerns the Armenian, Syriac, Arabic, and Greek citations and translations of this text.

2022 Huys Commitment Letter

Julia Hintlian, Harvard University, PhD in the Study of Religion

My name is Julia Hintlian, I am a rising fifth-year doctoral student in the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University, and I am writing to apply for an Armenian Studies Scholarship. In the remainder of this letter, I will first review my long-term commitment to the study of Armenian culture, language, and religion, and then I will explain my plans to contribute to Armenian Studies in the future.

My doctoral research focuses on Christian traditions in the context of the religiously diverse Silk Road in the late ancient period (approximately 200-1100 CE). Prior to commencing my doctoral work, I also earned a Master of Theological Studies in Silk Road Religions as a Dean’s Fellow at Harvard Divinity School and a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies (Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude) at the University of Pennsylvania. I am currently working on my dissertation, which treats the Armenian, Syriac, and Arabic translations of the first work of Christian anthropology, written in Greek in the fourth century by Nemesius, bishop of Emesa (present-day Syria). Throughout my graduate education, I have placed great emphasis on studying classical languages: I can read Armenian, Syriac, Arabic, and Greek at the advanced level, and I also have some basic reading proficiency in Sogdian, Middle Persian, and Parthian. My commitment to studying a variety of languages is connected to my broader interest in cross-cultural contact, which is a theme to which I will return below. 

In preparing to write my dissertation, I spent nearly two years living on-campus as a special student at the Saint Nersess Armenian Seminary in Armonk, New York (Fall 2019-Spring 2021). During this period, I was also a full-time, active student at Harvard, with a special dispensation to be away from campus (in the fall of 2019) and doing virtual work (during the Covid-19 pandemic). Dr. Roberta Ervine—who serves as the Academic Dean at Saint Nersess—is on my dissertation committee at Harvard and she will be contributing a letter of recommendation to this application. Since 2019, I have studied Classical Armenian, modern Western and Eastern Armenian, Armenian Church History, Patristics, Liturgics, and Canon Law at Saint Nersess. Furthermore, I was quite involved with community life while living on campus, which afforded me an “ethnographic” opportunity to study alongside deacons who are training for priesthood. I have also served as an assistant editor for the Saint Nersess Theological Review since 2019. I returned to Harvard in the fall of 2021, but I have continued to study both Classical and Modern Armenian at the advanced level over Zoom with my Saint Nersess instructors. I am including my Saint Nersess transcript with this application, alongside my Harvard and Penn transcripts. Given that my dissertation focuses on a work of Christian anthropology, it has been important that I acquire fluency not only in the Armenian language, but also that I gain familiarity with the weltanschauung—especially the theology—of the Armenian Church. Saint Nersess has given me intimate access to this ecclesiastical worldview in a way normally inaccessible to students in secular university settings.  

In addition to studying at Saint Nersess, I have also spent considerable time teaching in the Armenian Church. In the summer of 2018, for example, I volunteered to teach Syriac language to deacons in the Gevorkian Seminary in Etchmiadzin, Armenia. In the summer of 2019, I taught both Greek and Syriac to deacons at the Armenian Patriarchate’s seminary in Jerusalem, as a special guest of Patriarch Nourhan Manougian. I have also given a variety of talks and lectures in Armenian Church and community settings. For example, in August of 2021, I was invited to speak at the Zohrab Information Center at the Eastern Diocese in New York; my remarks focused on the Armenian translation of Ephrem the Syrian’s (Syriac) Commentary on Tatian’s (Greek) Diatessaron (Gospel Harmony). In the spring of 2019, I was interviewed by journalist Lara Setrakian for an Armenian General Benevolent Union Spirituality Retreat in New York; the theme of the interview was “The Legacy of Cultural Exchange: Zoroastrianism and Armenian Faith.” The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research has also invited me to speak about my studies, in both academic as well as fundraising contexts. Furthermore, in addition to Armenian community events, I have attended a number of academic conferences focused on Armenian Studies, at universities such as Oxford, Harvard, the University of Geneva, and Tufts University. 

I have two goals that I want to accomplish within the field of Armenian Studies in the future; these goals have both short and long-term components and implications: 

First, I want to continue teaching both in and about the Armenian Apostolic Church, which has an ancient intellectual-spiritual tradition called the “vartabedutyun/վարդապետութիւն.” While vartabeds have traditionally been men, Dr. Ervine studied with a revered vartabed in Jerusalem, and I believe that she maintains the strict scholarly qualities of a learned teacher in the Armenian Church. True vartabeds were capable of presenting knowledge at a variety of levels, depending on the education and social standing of their students and audiences. So, for example, a vartabed might exegete the same Biblical story in very different ways for a group of learned celibate priests versus for a group of young children. Dr. Ervine also has the ability to reach a variety of audiences, and she has been encouraging me to think about how I present information, so that I will be able to communicate with both lay Church parishioners and learned deacons and priests. Furthermore, given that I am a native English speaker raised outside the Church, I am particularly well-suited to act as a “cultural translator” between the Church and contemporary, secular, and/or diasporan Armenians. In terms of short-term, “concrete” goals and actions, I will continue to pursue opportunities to teach and lecture in settings like Gevorkian or the AGBU. Ultimately, however, obtaining my doctorate from Harvard will give me the full, life-long credentials to teach with authority and confidence, not only in Armenian churches and seminaries, but also about the Church in a variety of secular Armenian cultural organizations. 

Second, I want to encourage and foster more interdisciplinary and cross-cultural awareness between Armenian Studies and other academic fields. Unfortunately, Armenologists sometimes focus on Armenia to the exclusion of other cultures and religions. However, Armenia never existed in a vacuum; the Classical Armenian vocabulary, for example, borrows heavily from Parthian. Because my PhD is in Religious Studies, I have been afforded opportunities to study a variety of languages, cultures, and religions—from Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, to Irish Gaelic and Arabic! My field has also granted me access to a wide variety of academic theories, methods, lenses, and perspectives. When I present at Armenological conferences, I will bring these interdisciplinary tools into conversations focused on Armenia. Conversely, I can discuss Armenian history, theology, language, and culture with a wider audience of scholars working across fields such as Middle Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, Patristics, History of Christianity, Arabic and Syriac Studies, Classics, etc. I have been and will continue to “concretely” pursue this interdisciplinary goal as well. For example, last year I presented research on free will in the Armenian tradition to a conference of Islamicists who had very limited knowledge of Armenian Christianity. They were enthusiastic to learn, however, and I received recommendations for comparable Arabic and Persian works on free will; this was scholarly collaboration at its finest. Next year, Dr. Ervine and I are hoping to publish our translation of an eighth-century Armenian Christological text that will be helpful to a scholars working on Syriac Christianity. So, again, I am already pursuing this goal in the short-term, but obtaining my doctorate will give me the full credentials to lecture and write full-time in diverse conferences, journals, and books. 

In some ways, “actionable, concrete” work looks very different in academia as compared with other lines of work. Nevertheless, my job will be to teach and inspire, so that Armenian and non-Armenian, secular and religious, scholarly and professional individuals can all be more sensitive, aware, and respectful when they encounter Armenian religious dynamics in their own actionable work. I really appreciate your consideration of my application. 

I am aware that Huys Foundation is granting the Huys Scholarship to me with the anticipation of my good faith pursuit and implementation of the projects and undertakings described in this letter, to which I hereby commit.