Melissa R. Kerin Selected as Next Director of the Mudd Center for Ethics The associate professor of art history will serve as the Mudd Center Director for three years beginning July 1, 2024.
Melissa R. Kerin, associate professor of art history at Washington and Lee University, has been selected as the next Roger Mudd Professor of Ethics and director of the university’s Roger Mudd Center for Ethics.
W&L Provost Lena Hill announced Kerin’s appointment, which is effective July 1, 2024. Kerin succeeds Karla Murdock, who will conclude her three-year appointment and return to her full-time faculty role as the Jo M. and James M. Ballengee Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Science. Kerin will be the academic center’s fourth director, following Murdock (2021-2024), Charles S. Rowe Professor of Law Brian Murchison (2018-2021) and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Angie Smith (2013-2018).
“I am excited Melissa will serve as the next director of the Mudd Center,” said Hill. “Melissa’s previous collaborations with the Mudd Center and her current, multifaceted examinations of moral responsibility and ethical action position her to bring rich, philosophical conversations to Mudd Center programming. I look forward to the ways Melissa’s leadership will build on the dynamic work presently unfolding at the center.”
Kerin, who is on sabbatical for the 2023-2024 academic year, first arrived at W&L in 2011 as an assistant professor of art history. She was promoted to associate professor in 2017 and served as the program head for the Middle East and South Asia Studies program from 2020-2023. She has been heavily involved in committee work on behalf of the university, serving on the Digital Humanities Committee, the Graduate Fellowships Committee and the I-Hsiung Ju and Chow-Soon Chuang Ju Endowment for Traditional Chinese Art Studies. She’s also been a member of the Dean’s Cohort for W&L’s Institutional History and the President’s Commission on Institutional History, and she served as a faculty representative to the W&L Board of Trustees.
While attending Harvard Divinity School, Kerin was introduced to “hermeneutical strategies at the heart of liberation theology, biblical feminist studies and Buddhist ethics.” This field of study exposed Kerin to issues related to social justice and ethics from numerous temporal and cultural perspectives. Her investigation continued through her doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, where she engaged in the complex world of cultural heritage, especially concerning museum codes of ethics. This training gave her the foundation to think with ethical frameworks in her research and pedagogy.
In her time at W&L, Kerin has crafted her courses to address moral responsibility and ethical action. For instance, students in her Questions of Ownership class engage in prodigious ethical matters surrounding practices of acquiring cultural heritage and its many associated issues. She also worked closely with the Mudd Center in 2017 to organize The Ethics of Acquiring Cultural Heritage Objects, a conference that brought together the disciplines of archaeology, art, art history, economics, ethics, law and museum studies to investigate the role of Western art markets in perpetuating looting systems and black markets.
“As a vibrant hub generating multidisciplinary conversations, the Mudd Center is such a special place on our campus,” said Kerin. “I am honored and grateful to continue the lineage of inquiry into thick ethical concerns. Angie Smith laid a strong foundation that Brian and Karla have continued to expand and develop in ways that are attentive to the needs of the community and responsive to national tenor. I am bursting with eagerness to work closely with the Mudd Center team and advisory board to create dynamic programming that will provide opportunities for all of us — students, staff, faculty and the broader community — to engage at the personal and communal levels, both theoretically and practically.”
Kerin’s courses are rooted in South Asian art and architecture, while her research focuses on the intricate and multifaceted relationships between art and identity formation, cultural memory and religious praxis.
Outside of the university, Kerin’s professional experiences also include serving as an exhibition consultant for the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution; director of the Tibetan Shrine Project, an international multimedia project that documents and investigates Buddhist and Bon shrines in the Tibetan Autonomous Region; co-curator of the Staniar Gallery of Art for the world premiere of “Buddha’s Picnic,” a mixed media installation about Tibetan Buddhist shrines; and guest researcher for the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History at the University of Vienna.
Kerin has been widely published, authoring several chapters, books, articles and reviews. Her book “Art and Devotion at a Buddhist Temple in the Indian Himalaya” was published in 2015 and received The Edward C. Dimock Jr. Book Prize in the Indian Humanities. She also authored the book “Artful Beneficence: Selections from the David Nalin Collection” in 2009, and she is currently working on another book titled “Bodies of Offerings: The Materiality and Vitality of Tibetan Buddhist Shrines,” which received a pair of fellowships: the 2014 American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship and the 2018 Howard Foundation Fellowship in Art History.
She has been awarded a number of grants and fellowships throughout her professional career, including a Robert Lehman Foundation grant, a variety of Lenfest Summer Research Grants and a recent summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support her research on the significance and role of painted patron portraits in the western Himalayan region of India.
Kerin received a Bachelor of Arts in women’s studies from Trinity College (Connecticut) and earned a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. She also earned a Ph.D. in the history of art from the University of Pennsylvania.
The Mudd Center was established in 2010 through a gift to the university from award-winning journalist Roger Mudd, a 1950 graduate of W&L. The center is committed to fostering serious and thoughtful conversation about important ethical issues in public and professional life. In addition to an annual yearlong speaker series, the center publishes “The Mudd Journal of Ethics,” a peer-reviewed academic journal of undergraduate work on a wide range of topics and sponsors an undergraduate ethics conference.