When two people work together on a major project, it’s vital for both to feel they are on equal footing as they collaboratively develop a finished product.
Peter Capretto is a 2010 graduate of Allegheny College with a double major in philosophy and religious studies. He later earned a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University, where he is now finishing a Ph.D. in religion.
At Allegheny, Capretto studied under the tutelage of his advisor, Professor Eric Boynton, who teaches philosophy and religious studies and is the department chair and director of interdisciplinary studies.
After more than three years of editorial work and research, they co-edited and contributed to a book, “Trauma and Transcendence: Suffering and the Limits of Theory,” which was published in August 2018 by Fordham University Press.
Within the academic writing field, Boynton explained that is unusual to have one author, who is a former student now working on a graduate-level degree at another academic institution, team up with a prior advisor from the undergraduate field.
“All collaborative work requires some negotiation of a power dynamic, especially when producing a text like this,” Capretto said. “During this process there was a lot of work done to redefine the role, to make sure we were equally participating in this process. As an undergraduate when I was Eric’s advisee, Eric took me and his students very serious intellectually. This made negotiating the power dynamic in this project far easier.”
Boynton said working with Capretto was a terrific opportunity for them to engage a topic in which they both had a passionate interest.
“For Peter, this is not his first rodeo and he has published quite a bit. He’s published more than any other graduate student working on a Ph.D. I know of,” Boynton said. “He’s already proven himself, so it wasn’t like this book project was a gift to Peter to get his foot in the door. The only mentoring role I had was that I had published other volumes in the past. It would never have occurred to me to lead him.”
Capretto explained that, when you have an advisor like Boynton who doesn’t hold back on dialogue, it makes an academic partnership more manageable and productive. But completing the book together wasn’t without some challenges.
“Yeah, we had moments of trying to make decisions and trying to negotiate things,” he said.
The book features Capretto and Boynton writing the introduction and individual chapters, plus chapters written by other scholars in the fields of philosophy, theology, psychoanalysis, and social theory who engage the limits and prospects of trauma’s transcendence.
Because the publication is an edited volume involving 11 other contributors, both Capretto and Boynton had to shepherd the work from authors across the county to blend the different kinds of approaches into a systematic whole.
At times, a reader could find the book working against itself in certain chapters as individual authors didn’t necessarily agree, Boynton said.
“It’s kind of like vectors approaching this problem of trauma from different perspectives,” he said.
Both Capretto and Boynton explained the educational environment and emphasis on collaboration offered at Allegheny provided the cornerstone for them to tackle this type of project and make it successful.
“I feel like I have been able to make this progress and improve the quality of work because of the investments and range of opportunities at Allegheny,” Capretto said. “This is kind of, in a certain sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy. A project like this is possible because of the quality of the education at a place like Allegheny, which I think is pretty rare now.”
Boynton said the project was an opportunity to work on something meaningful and also to continue a love of keeping in touch with past students.
“Apart from the book and what we got done, what was invigorating for me was the process of working collaboratively with my students, and specifically with Peter,” he said.