ACUMEN Spring 2022

COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES 17 Eichler-Levine’s scholarly research fuels what and how she teaches and the courses she creates. Interdisciplinary in nature, her curriculum intersects religion, popular culture, politics, race and gender and crosses disciplines such as history, theatre and English. Widely published and completing research for her third book regarding Disney and religion, Eichler-Levine draws on more than 30 interviews and 300 survey responses in her second book on how material culture, such as quilting, contributes to religious identity. She has also written on the role of Jewish and African-American children’s literature in ref lecting history and is studying how Disney theme parks and fan interaction are some of the best ways to understand identity, emotion and spiritual experience in modern America. “Professor Eichler-Levine has a remarkable talent for drawing connections across fields to reveal important facets of society and human experience. Her remarkable depth of knowledge enables her to produce exceptionally insightful scholarship, as well as innovative and truly unique courses for Lehigh undergraduates,” says Hartley Lachter, associate professor of religion studies and director of the Berman Center for Jewish Studies. Engaging students through creative and project-based learning techniques is attracting undergraduates from all majors to enroll in EichlerLevine’s courses such as Judaism and Comic Books and American Gods and Monsters. She created the course Beyond Bagels: Jews and Food because of the extensive one-on-one research she completed for her second book, Painted Pomegranates and Needlepoint Rabbis: How Jews Craft Resilience and Create Community, published in 2020. “I have taught about religion more broadly before but doing the research where I was entering people’s homes … asking them about how they connected creativity with Jewish life … having them tell me stories that were always prompted by objects that you could touch and hold. You could smell the cooking that had been in their houses,” says Eichler-Levine. “It made me think that it was really vital to teach students about Jewish life and history from the ground up. It also opened me more to the importance of personal stories and making space for them if students want to share them in the classroom.” “I had initially not considered minoring in religion, but after my very first class with Professor Eichler-Levine, I became set on that course,” says Caroline Palmer ’23, a biology major and religion studies minor. “I have been able to rekindle my own love of learning as her classes encourage free thought, discussion and unique perspectives. I will forever cherish the growth that occurred during the time I spent learning from her.” The underlying center of Eichler-Levine’s scholarship and teaching is about fathoming human difference in its complexity. “The humanities are at the core of a liberal arts education,” says Eichler-Levine, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Near Eastern and Judaic studies and a Ph.D. in religion. “You can’t make decisions about how to make the world more equitable for diverse people if you don’t know the history of those diverse people.” Opening the Curtain to Experience A sought-after theatrical scenic designer—especially for world premieres—Melpomene “Mellie” Katakalos has contributed to more than 100 professional productions across the country and internationally. As associate professor of theatre and scenic designer at Lehigh’s Zoellner Arts Center, she is teaching the craft to students through her own firsthand experiences that include collaborating with producers, bringing renowned artists with whom she has worked to campus and co-founding two theatre companies. “My research and scholarship are designing professional productions outside of Lehigh,” says Katakalos, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in theatrical production arts with a concentration in design and a Master of Fine Arts in scenic design. While a San Francisco freelance scenic designer and a guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, Katakalos realized that she loved teaching and joined the Lehigh faculty in 2011. Situated geographically between Jodi Eichler-Levine