Skip to Main Content
Chico State

Fulbright Scholar to Study Rituals Surrounding Ancient Saints and Spirits

Heather Altfeld stands amid the leaves of a magnolia tree.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Chico State is thrilled to announce that Heather Altfeld (MFA, Creative Writing, ’04), a lecturer in the Honors Program and the Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities, has been awarded a Fulbright US Scholar Program Award for the 2024–25 academic year from the US Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. 

Altfeld, an award-winning writer, poet, and essayist, will spend 10 months in Morocco studying the folklore, beliefs, and rituals surrounding ancient saints and spirits in various locations around the country. These enduring spiritual practices remain central to the nation’s spiritual and social fabric, even as the population has changed and Morocco has become more globalized through technology.

“I’m intrigued by the ways that Islam and Judaism in Morocco have developed unique, atypical practices that honor some of the same ‘saints,’ a practice considered quite unorthodox in both faiths,” said Altfeld. “The indigenous Amazigh population has retained vestiges of ritual and belief that likely predate the arrival of both Islam and Judaism in the region.”

Altfeld plans to write a collection of literary essays about the ways science, religion, Islam, and Judaism converge, diverge, and evolve in contemporary Morocco. Having traveled there several times, she feels a sense of connection to the country.

“I fell in love with Morocco initially, watching how people treated children there,” Altfeld said. “I found it to be so different from the US and it made me really want to keep going back.”

Things have changed since Altfeld applied for the Fulbright scholarship in early 2023. The conflict between Israel and Palestine presents unknown elements, particularly among Jews who lived in Morocco before the 1960s and have only recently returned as relations between Morocco and Israel have normalized.   

“Any preconceived notions I might have had six or eight months ago are no longer valid,” Altfeld said. “I’m just going to be open to the experience, to people who are willing to speak to me and share with me, and I’m really hoping to participate in some of the annual pilgrimages to places that are considered holy by both faiths.”

An artist who draws deeply from her own experiences to illuminate connections between language and creation, Altfeld’s creative routine is driven by empathy and inspiration, resulting in work that is moving, insightful, and unmistakable.

Altfeld holds bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and writing from Columbia University, and a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry from Chico State. She has earned numerous awards for her writing, including inclusion in The Best American Essays 2019 for her essay, “Obituary for Dead Languages.” Her 2021 collection of poetry, Post-Mortem, earned the 2019 Orison Poetry Prize.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the US government and is designed to forge lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, counter misunderstandings, and help people and nations work together toward common goals. Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has enabled more than 390,000 dedicated and accomplished students, scholars, artists, teachers, and professionals of all backgrounds to study, teach, and conduct research, exchange ideas, and find solutions to shared international concerns. 

 For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit