FARMINGTON — A University of Maine at Farmington professor was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her research on how religious educators may help solve legal land claims by indigenous people.

Jennifer Reid, who has taught religion at UMF for the past 20 years, will have a year away from those duties, starting in September, to talk with activists and attorneys about the role educators may play, she said.

She plans to visit upper New York state, the Carolinas, Manitoba, Canada and Australia, all sites where friends and colleagues can help her make those connections, she said.

A Guggenheim Fellowship is a lifetime appointment that recognizes mid-career scholars on the basis of impressive achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishments, according to a release from UMF.

“Jennifer is an outstanding scholar and highly regarded, longtime faculty member who brings a wonderful compassion and intellectual prowess to UMF,” President Kathryn A. Foster said in a release. “We couldn’t be prouder to have her important work recognized by this premier fellowship program.”

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation receives about 4,000 applications a year. About 200 fellowships are awarded.

Reid was named to the 2015 Guggenheim class of fellows based on her project, “Rethinking Religion: Indigenous Land Rights in a Secular Age.”

From the times of colonization, indigenous people have struggled for legal recognition of their land claims, according to Reid’s research. Colonization often created high poverty rates, and the assault on the land was a big one, she said.

Strides have been made, but success is limited within the court system because the courts are reluctant to recognize indigenous religious values as comparable to secular property rights, she said.

In cases of land rights, the courts generally rely on anthropologists and historians who don’ t have the religious perspective to clarify these disputes, partially because of a reluctance to bring religion to bear on secular law.

Religious scholars should be in the courtroom, Reid said, noting that religion permeated all aspects of these people’s lives.

Reid applied for the fellowship last summer on the advice of her mentor “who pushed me to try,” she said.

She felt honored to receive the award but also credited the supportive UMF environment of faculty and students. She said it has been a wonderful place to teach over the past 20 years while she pursued her research.

Reid has previously received a Maine Humanities Council/National Endowment for the Arts grant. She is a researcher with the Niwano Peace Foundation New Arche and World Peace Project in Tokyo.

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