CSRI students explore parasites, disabilities in the Bible and Religion

The Bible has been studied for thousands of years, and now two Cornell College students are adding their research to the body of knowledge about the ancient text.

Junior Cyric Stults and sophomore Krista Luttkus took part in the Cornell Summer Research Institute (CSRI) with Assistant Professor of Religion Chris Hoklotubbe. While they both initially took on Biblical research, they went in two very different directions. 

Sophomore Krista Luttkus and junior Cyric Stults give research updates to Assistant Professor of Religion Chris Hoklotubbe during CSRI.
Sophomore Krista Luttkus and junior Cyric Stults give research updates to Assistant Professor of Religion Chris Hoklotubbe during CSRI.

Stults explored parasites and the concept of disgust in global religions across time, while Luttkus researched the Bible through the lens of someone with a disability. Hoklotubbe said he guided the students along in their research, but they did all of the heavy lifting.

“Anyone who is going to conduct original research on the Bible has to be creative and innovative and looking at things no one else has,” Hoklotubbe said. “The students are reading broadly and pushing boundaries for how we think about religious phenomena.”

Interpreting Biblical views of disability

Luttkus’s passion to research how people interpret stories within the Bible about disabilities stems from her family background–her sisters have disabilities. She said there’s conflict with how theologians and those who have studied the Bible view disabilities. It was her research goal to continue to push for more inclusion in how the Bible is interpreted and lived out.

“Jesus talks a lot about including people with disabilities during a time when people with disabilities were hidden away in their home or basically left on the streets to die and fend for themselves,” said Luttkus, who is a native of Colorado. “Jesus had a revolutionary idea of bringing a person in and eating with them and treating them as an equal.” 

Her project put people with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the center of the conversation and shined a light on how those with disabilities make meaning of the Bible and look for reassurance in the text. 

“I think it’s human nature to want to see ourselves reflected in things of importance,” Hoklotubbe said. “That’s why representation is important on TV and in the faculty you work with. The Bible is no different kind of cultural product. One of the questions is what happens when we put the spotlight on those with disabilities and reconsider those with disabilities as agents and not just side characters in these stories.” 

This project is also at the heart of what Luttkus wants to do as a future career.

“For the future, my goal is to bridge that gap of disability and theology and religion in the church and bring those together to support a person completely.”


Combining biology and religion

Stults took a different path and found a way to combine both of his majors, which are very different subject matters. 

“I thought, maybe I can combine biology and religion and look into what I’m really interested in, which are parasites,” Stults said. “I wanted to see how parasites and religion intersected.”

While he’s been interested in parasites from a young age, he took this opportunity to focus on the idea of disgust and how that can be understood throughout religious texts and practices. 

“What Cyric has been interested in is the intersection of the human emotion of disgust and culture. He’s interested in parasites and how our emotions toward parasites and worms have been amplified and underlined by religion,” Hoklotubbe said.

A red book on the table with the title "Parasites, Worms, and the Human Body in Religion and Culture."
Text used by Stults during CSRI.

Stults read a variety of papers and books to explore his topic. He says culture and evolution have played a big role in how people think about what’s disgusting. 

“There are certain insects and invertebrate symbols in religion,” Stults said. “Oftentimes, insects and worms and other creatures regarded as vermin are associated with impurity and evil and they exist in opposition to things that are divine.”

Both students enjoyed CSRI and the freedom given to them to explore their passions. Hoklotubbe said this experience is similar to living the life of a grad student.

“One of the hopes of Cornell College is that we create lifelong learners. I think this is the best thing we do to model it,” Hoklotubbe said. “We give them a summer and say be an adult learner.”

These research projects were just one of many projects happening on campus for CSRI. In all, 46 students worked side-by-side with 18 faculty members on a variety of intensive research projects. The eight-week institute took place May 24–July 16, 2021.