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Denizet-Lewis Awarded NEH Grant to Examine Why We Shift Identities

Benoit Denizet-Lewis photo
Associate Professor Benoit Denizet-Lewis

Associate Professor Benoit Denizet-Lewis received a Public Scholars award from the National Endowment for the Humanities for his upcoming book, We Don’t Know You Anymore: Identity Change in America.

The grant, which supports popular nonfiction books in the humanities, went toward supporting 28 titles.

“I’m immensely grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities for this award, which will allow me to complete the remaining chapters of my book exploring how and why we change our identities and belief systems during a time of both heightened malleability and ideological inflexibility,” Denizet-Lewis said.

Read: With New Book, Denizet-Lewis Asks How, Why People Change

The Writing, Literature and Publishing professor said for some of his subjects, who range in age from teenagers to octogenarians, the identity shift felt like a deliberate reinvention of themselves. For others, the change felt like it was happening to them, and was experienced as destabilizing and difficult to explain.

“But explain we must, because metamorphosis typically requires buy-in from others, many of whom have strong and not always coherent feelings about spotted leopards and old dogs,” he said. He added that depending on the context, and whether or not we agree with someone’s identity change, we interpret the shift as a sign of “strength and humility” or “weakness and opportunism.”

Denizet-Lewis brought his project into the classroom with a Marlboro Institute of Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies course called Why We Change Identities. It explored the topic through the lenses of psychology, philosophy, spirituality, political science, and gender and sexuality studies.

“My amazing students broadened my thinking, and I can’t wait to teach the course again when I’m back from leave,” said Denizet-Lewis, will be on leave Spring 2024-Fall 2025 to work on the book.

Earlier in the project’s development, Denizet-Lewis won a 2022 New America National Fellowship, and talked about it on a podcast with New America Fellows Program Director Awista Ayub.

We Don’t Know You Anymore will be Denizet-Lewis’ fourth book; The New York Times Magazine contributing writer is the author of America Anonymous: Eight Addicts in Search of a Life (2009), American Voyeur: Dispatches from the Far Reaches of Modern Life (2010), and New York Times Bestseller Travels with Casey: My Journey Through Our Dog-Crazy Country (2015), all published by Simon & Schuster.

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