Jocelyn Bell Burnell is Haverford’s Fall Friend in Residence
The world-renowned Quaker astrophysicist, who discovered the first radio pulsars, is visiting Haverford virtually this semester to share her experiences in science and spirituality.
Accomplished Quaker astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who is visiting Haverford through Oct. 25, is the College’s first entirely virtual Friend in Residence. The Friend in Residence Program, which has been run by the Quaker Affairs Office since 2011, brings gifted and experienced Quakers to campus for extended stays to stimulate connections between academic pursuits and “letting one’s life speak.” Bell Burnell is a welcome addition to the program; as a postgraduate student in 1967, she made an enormous contribution to the understanding of the universe with her discovery of the first radio pulsars.
"Quakerism is more a process of discerning how to be faithfully in the world—a way of being—rather than a list or recipe for doing things in the world,” said Director of Quaker Affairs Walter Hjelt Sullivan, who organizes the residency program. “As a result, I believe it is important for people at Haverford to get a chance to encounter a variety of Quakers in person, to hear about how the choices they have made in their lives and why.”
Sullivan was first inspired to invite Bell Burnell as a Friend in Residence at Haverford when he read her 2013 Backhouse Lecture from Australia’s Yearly Meeting. After a year of trying to find the right time, her residency was finally arranged, thanks to the patience and flexibility of both Bell Burnell and the Haverford Department of Physics and Astronomy.
“The COVID pandemic threw a twist into our plans just as it has for everyone, but in fact the remote nature of this residency has given us greater flexibility in scheduling,” Sullivan said. “Though we sorely miss the opportunity to meet with her in person and are committed to find a time to bring her to campus in the future.”
During her virtual residency at Haverford, Bell Burnell will be giving two addresses via Zoom, discussing both her academic pursuits and how her spiritual life has intersected with them. She will also be visiting classes and meeting with student groups.
“I had received an honorary degree from Haverford—about 20 years ago!—and had been looking forward to visiting the campus again, and having time to have conversations with students and faculty,” said Bell Burnell. "However, these Zoom events are the best we can do and are a good deal better than nothing!"
Though the current moment means Bell Burnell’s residency has to be virtual, Sullivan feels the Friend in Residence Program is particularly important right now.
“As we enter into a deep conversation about how the culture of the College needs to acknowledge the history of anti-Black racism and oppression in higher education and in the Quaker culture that we are grounded in, I think that it is important to know more about the true foundations of Quakerism,” he said. “Meeting real Quakers who have done amazing things, getting to know how that happened, and how they understand the role of Quaker faith and practice in their lives can greatly inform this effort. It can help us to have more generative conversations about which aspects of Quakerism we might want to let go of, which to transform, and which, if any, we might want to continue to hold on to just as they are.”
Jocelyn Bell Burnell is serving as the virtual Friend in Residence through Oct. 25. Register to attend her virtual talk, “A Quaker Astronomer Reflects,” on Thursday, Oct. 22.