Increase font size
Decrease font size

The UNC Department of Religious Studies is dedicated to the study of religions as historical and cultural phenomena. We take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding religious traditions from around the world: their history, sacred texts, beliefs, rituals, and institutions.


Recent News:

McLester Colloquium with David Lambert

On Wednesday, September 21st, our faculty and graduate students gathered in Hyde Hall for the first McLester colloquium of the academic year. The speaker was our own David Lambert, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, who gave a lecture titled “Toward a History of Tendentiousness: Biblical Studies and the ‘Penitential Lens.’” Drawing from his award-winning book, How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture (Oxford University Press, 2016), Professor Lambert argued that attending to the reading strategies we adopt toward ancient texts such as the Hebrew Bible can reveal much about our modern notions of the “self.” As is typical of McLester colloquia, the lecture was followed by a wide-ranging critical discussion as well as plenty of time for informal conversation over refreshments.


Prof. David Lambert


Question from the audience

Looking forward to the next McLester colloquium in October!

Posted in Events, Faculty News, Graduate Student News on September 26, 2016  
Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey

Sufi JourneyThis year, the Carolina Center for Performing Arts has put together a series of events titled Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey. Organized in collaboration with Carl Ernst, Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, the program seeks to highlight the richness and diversity of the Muslim experience through a combination of performances, workshops, and other community events. From the program website:

“This project evolved from a desire to refute monolithic thinking about the practice of Islam and about Muslim communities and individuals – in other words, to contest the notion that there is any single narrative of Muslim identity or experience, a notion which is reinforced by oversimplified presentations of Muslims in our national discourse.

“We propose that the performances and community events we have curated will reveal the plurality of Muslim identity. Specifically, we explore Sufism as a spiritual and cultural lens into Islam through the work of performers from four Muslim-majority nations outside of the Arab world: Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Senegal. This project is not exhaustive, but rather illustrative. These performances are but a glimpse into the vast richness of Muslim cultures and artistic expressions, yet we do believe that experiencing even just two examples of that diversity can invalidate monolithic thinking.”

For more information, including a detailed listing of this year’s events, see the program website.

Posted in Events, Faculty News on September 22, 2016  
Lauren Leve: The Buddhist Art of Living in Nepal

LeveLauren Leve, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, has just published a new book, The Buddhist Art of Living in Nepal: Ethical Practice and Religious Reform (Routledge, 2016), as part of the Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism series. From the Routledge website:

“Theravada has experienced a powerful and far-reaching revival, especially among the Newar Buddhist laity, many of whom are reorganizing their lives according to its precepts, practices and ideals. This book documents these far-reaching social and personal transformations and links them to widespread political, economic and cultural shifts associated with late modernity, and especially neoliberal globalization.”


Posted in Faculty Publications on September 19, 2016  
Graduate Student Recap: Summer 2016

This past summer was an enriching and productive time for the graduate students in our department. The following is a sample of their activities:

ChoudhurySamah Choudhury (Islamic Studies) spent the summer in an intensive language immersion program with the American Institute for Indian Studies studying Urdu in Lucknow, India. Their language studies were primarily through the lens of Urdu poetry and the history of Partition in South Asia. Attached is a photo (click to enlarge) of Samah and her classmates in front of a Qalandari Sufi shrine in Kakori, just outside of Lucknow.

D'SilvaPatrick D’Silva (Islamic Studies) received a Summer Research Fellowship from UNC’s Graduate School for his project, “Translating Muslim Yoga: Translating Two Indian Manuscripts on the Science of the Breath.” Working from manuscripts, Patrick edited and translated two Persian texts on ‘ilm-i dam, “the science of the breath.” Analyzing these manuscripts – their text, reception, and classification by Indian Muslims and British colonial administrators – is central to his dissertation.

EscalanteAlejandro Escalante (Religion in the Americas) presented his paper at the international Marcella Althaus-Reid Conference at the University of Winchester. Panelists from Latin America, Europe, and the United States presented papers covering a wide range of topics from politics and gender to economics and sexuality. Alejandro’s paper argued that Althaus-Reid’s materialist theology can be best leveraged when complemented with erotic and queer phenomenologies, especially in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands. Conference proceedings will be published in the journal Feminist Theology.

HughesMicah Hughes (Islamic Studies) spent six weeks in Istanbul, Turkey on a Pre-Dissertation Travel Award from the Center for Global Initiatives to do preliminary dissertation research. Spending most of his time in various libraries, such as the Beyazıt Devlet Kütüphanesi, he collected research materials such as journals and periodicals to be used in crafting his prospectus and dissertation.

PetersenHaley Petersen (Religions of Asia) spent the summer in Kyoto, Japan, where she studied Japanese and visited many historical sites, including several of the oldest Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in the country. In addition, she attended Gion Matsuri, one of the largest festivals in Japan, and a week in the Japanese Alps, where she lived in a very small town, which has been preserved just as it was 300 years ago.

RassalleTine Rassalle (Ancient Mediterranean Religions) spent two months at the Oriental Institute in Chicago where she worked on the registration and digitization of material from Megiddo, Israel. Many of the objects in the OI’s collection, ranging from figurines to human bones, had been put in in the depot over 50 years ago and have since then never been looked at. During her time there, Tine analyzed the materials, put them in a digital database and made them available to the public through their website. She also digitized several Syriac manuscripts from the 13th century and helped with the planning of the rehousing of the permanent museum collection into new showcases.

Posted in Graduate Student News on September 16, 2016  
NatGeo Article: Does Huqoq Mosaic Depict Alexander the Great?

In a recent article in National Geographic titled “Explore This Mysterious Mosaic – It May Portray Alexander the Great,” Professor Jodi Magness is interviewed regarding one of the most fascinating synagogue mosaics to have come to light from her archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee. The mosaic in question, discovered in 2014, is interpreted by Professor Magness as a portrayal of the legendary meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jerusalem high priest.

The article not only explores the different interpretations that have been offered to explain this enigmatic scene, but it also contains an interactive visual tool that leads the reader through each part of the mosaic close-up. To read the NatGeo article, click here.

For a video clip (4:38) of Professor Magness discussing this mosaic and the NatGeo article on Fox News, click here.

Huqoq mosaic, head of military figure

Royal figure in Huqoq mosaic (Photo by Jim Haberman)

Posted in Faculty News on September 14, 2016  
Jessica Boon: New Edition of Juana de la Cruz’s Visionary Sermons

BoonEarlier this year, while on research leave, Jessica Boon published a new co-edited collection of the visionary sermons of the Spanish mystic Mother Juana de la Cruz (1481–1534). In addition to co-editing the entire volume, Professor Boon contributed an introduction and a set of explanatory notes to the sermon translations. From the Arizona Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies website:

“Juana de la Cruz (1481–1534) is a unique figure in the history of the Catholic Church, thanks to her public visionary experiences during which she lost consciousness, while a deep voice, identifying itself as Christ, issued from her, narrating the feasts and pageants taking place in heaven. Juana’s so called ‘sermons,’ collected in a manuscript called Libro del Conorte, form a fascinating window into Castilian religiosity in the early sixteenth century. There is much to reap from these sermons concerning Spanish Renaissance culture, theology, mysticism, gender roles, and interreligious interactions.”

Posted in Faculty Publications on September 12, 2016  
Barbara Ambros: Women in Japanese Religions

AmbrosBarbara Ambros, Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, recently gave an interview with the Marginalia Review of Books regarding her latest monograph, Women in Japanese Religions (New York University Press, 2015). In this substantive 20-minute interview, she discusses the wide scope of the book, the problem of essentialism in approaching the topic, and the history of women in Japanese religious traditions from the medieval to the modern period. To listen to the interview, click here.
For more information on the book, see its description on the NYU Press website.

Posted in Faculty Publications on September 8, 2016  
New Faculty Members

As the semester begins, we would like to extend a warm welcome to two new members of our faculty:

KamathHarshita Kamath joins us as Assistant Professor in Hinduism and South Asian Religions. Dr. Kamath holds a Ph.D. in West and South Asian Religions from Emory University, and her research focuses on the textual and performance traditions of Telugu-speaking South India. Her forthcoming book, Constructing Artifice: An Ethnography of Impersonation in South India, analyzes gender impersonation in the Telugu dance style of Kuchipudi. She has co-translated the sixteenth-century classical Telugu text Parijatapaharanamu (Theft of a Tree) with Velcheru Narayana Rao, which will be published as part of the Murty Classical Library of India by Harvard University Press.
MendezHugo Mendez joins us as a Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Mendez received his Ph.D. in 2013 from the Interdisciplinary Linguistics Program at the University of Georgia, and he comes to us from Yale University, where he served as Lecturer and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music for the past two years. He specializes in the reception of the Bible within Christian communities in late antiquity.
Welcome, Harshita and Hugo!

Posted in Faculty News on August 30, 2016