Associate professor Kasia Szpakowska, recently retired from Swansea University, joined Cal State San Bernardino’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of History as the esteemed W. Benson Harer Egyptology Scholar in Residence for spring 2021.
No stranger to California, Szpakowska received her bachelor’s from San Francisco State University and her master’s and Ph.D. from UCLA in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, specializing in Egyptology. For the last 20 years, she has taught Egyptology at Swansea University in Wales, working to create the next generation of Egyptologists from undergraduates to Ph.D. students.
As a member of the CSUSB community this spring, Szpakowska is teaching a unique course titled “Ancient Egyptian Religion, Myth, and Magic.” Throughout the course, she is highlighting artifacts from the Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art (RAFFMA) for virtual “hands-on” learning for the students.
“I am absolutely delighted to be here on this beautiful campus,” Szpakowska said. “My students are wonderfully engaged (even on Zoom!) providing me not only the opportunity to share my passion for religious experience in Ancient Egypt, but also inspiring me with their insightful questions and comments."
“Dr. Szpakowska’s class has been incredible,” said history major Erika Kelley. “The way she teaches Egyptian religion is completely different than any of my past professors and her emphasis on Egyptian mythology and deities always makes the class engaging and interesting. Her class has quickly become one of my favorites and I am so happy that I have the opportunity to learn about Egyptian religion in a way I wouldn’t have had available to me otherwise.”
All CSUSB members are encouraged to join Szpakowska for a very special RAFFMA event on Saturday, April 10, at 1:30 p.m. for the discussion “Redeeming Demons: Coopting Demonic Forces for Good in Ancient Egypt.” This will bring together four specialists to talk about the benevolent side of demons in ancient Egypt. Szpakowska will give the keynote lecture called, “I Dream of Genii,” which explores the interconnection between magic, religion and objects in the daily life of an Egyptian.
“The Egyptological community here is vibrant, and I have been made to instantly feel welcome. The museum collection is a great resource and I am excited to be hosting an upcoming ‘Cocktails with the Collection’ as a prelude to the Redeeming Demons event,” Szpakowska said. “I am grateful to Benson Harer and the history department for this opportunity. And while being here during COVID pandemic has prevented live interactions, it has led me to make some connections between the present and past that I look forward to sharing with the community.”
Szpakowska’s research focuses on ancient Egyptian private religious practices, dreams, gender and cognitive archaeology. Currently she is investigating the role of apotropaic devices and images of supernatural beings as mechanisms for coping with physical and mental health afflictions, and as evidence of “ages of anxiety” in ancient Egypt.
She has written nearly 30 articles and edited three volumes, including the 2020 Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections thematic volume on “Demon Things: Ancient Egyptian Manifestations of Liminal Entities.” She has also written two books, which are basic works read by students and scholars alike: “Daily Life in Ancient Egypt: Recreating Lahun” and “Behind Close Eyes: Dreams and Nightmares in Ancient Egypt.” And she is the director of the Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project: 2nd Millennium BCE.
Szpakowska is the third annual W. Benson Harer Egyptology Scholar in Residence. This position brings one of the world’s distinguished experts in the field to CSUSB to serve as a visiting faculty member for a semester. The scholar also highlights the RAFFMA Egyptological collection to the community through a public event. Dr. Benson Harer, a longtime friend to CSUSB and RAFFMA, endowed the university with this annual position.
“We are so excited to have Kasia Szpakowska as a member of the CSUSB community this spring,” said Kate Liszka, the Benson and Pamela Harer Fellow in Egyptology and associate professor of history. “It is a genuinely unique experience for our students to be able to learn about religion in daily life and demons from the world expert on the subject. And she’s a great teacher too.”
The W. Benson Harer Egyptology Scholar in Residence supports a growth in the study and research of Egyptology at Cal State San Bernardino, which is one of the rare universities in California to house a collection of ancient Egyptian objects that students can directly engage with. Much more has recently become available virtually through RAFFMA@Home, including a 3D walkthrough of the current exhibition, Journey to the Beyond. Beginning in fall 2021, students will also be able to earn a Certificate in Egyptology from the Department of History.