Jessica Wright (Ph.D. Classics, Princeton University, 2016) works on the history of the body at the intersection of medicine and religion in late antiquity. Her doctoral dissertation, “Brain and Soul in Late Antiquity,” explores constructions of the brain in Christian texts from the fourth and fifth centuries CE. Drawing upon theoretical frameworks from history and philosophy of medicine, disability studies, and sociology, she argues that the brain was a fruitful conceptual object for Christian theologians and preachers seeking to articulate new understandings of the human soul and responsibility. Alongside her doctoral research, she has also worked in prison education: At Princeton, she taught college-accredited literature classes through a prison education program, launched a two-semester Latin program for incarcerated students, and established a college tutoring program inside two state prisons.
As a postdoctoral fellow at USC, Jessica will continue to develop her dissertation research along new trajectories, focusing especially on two avenues of thoughts: first, ancient conceptions of the brain as a physical object and the technical languages used to describe the part that it plays in the material economy of the body; and second, Christian appropriation of cerebral dysfunction as a model for illnesses of the soul, producing new categories of disability, and at the same time contributing to a discourse of “crazy” that rooted moral deviance in diseases of the brain.