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The UNC Department of Religious Studies is dedicated to the study of religions as historical and cultural phenomena. It examines the history, texts, artifacts, beliefs, values, and rituals of a variety of religious traditions. Inherently interdisciplinary in its approach, religious studies explores religions in light of related fields in the humanities and social sciences such as anthropology, classics, archaeology, sociology, philosophy, and history.


Recent News:

Joseph Lam on MeaningOfLife.tv

Professor Joseph Lam recently did an interview with Benjamin Perry on MeaningOfLife.tv regarding his book, Patterns of Sin in the Hebrew Bible: Metaphor, Culture, and the Making of a Religious Concept (Oxford University Press, 2016). They discussed a variety of topics, including the “life” and “death” of metaphors, ancient vs. modern notions of sin, and the role of metaphor in contemporary religious and public discourse. Watch the video below:

To view the video on the MeaningOfLife.tv site, click here.

Posted in Faculty News, Faculty Publications on October 18, 2016  
Faculty Highlight: Andrea Dara Cooper

CooperAndrea Dara Cooper is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and the Leonard and Tobee Kaplan Fellow in Modern Jewish Thought and Culture. Her current book project explores representations of family in the writings of major Jewish thinkers, and recent courses that she has taught include: “Introduction to Jewish Studies” (RELI 123), “The Sacrifice of Abraham” (RELI 426H: Honors Course), and “Human Animals in Religion and Ethics” (RELI 079: First-Year Seminar).

At the last AJS (Association for Jewish Studies) conference in Boston, Prof. Cooper participated in a session on “Teaching Beyond the Canon: New Approaches to Jewish Studies,” and summarized the pedagogical insights coming out of the session for the AJS website.

Earlier this year, Prof. Cooper was part of a panel at Elon University responding to Geoffrey Claussen’s new book, Sharing the Burden: Rabbi Simhah Zissel Ziv and the Path of Musar. Prof. Cooper’s remarks highlighted the implications of the book when viewed through the lenses of gender and the human/animal opposition. (The video below begins with Prof. Cooper’s response at the 21:36 mark.)

A recap of the book panel can also be found on the Elon website.

Posted in Faculty Spotlight on October 13, 2016  
Todd Ochoa on IAH Podcast

Todd Ochoa, Associate Professor in Religious Studies, was recently featured in an episode of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities podcast. In this 11-minute interview, Prof. Ochoa discusses his course on “Introduction to Religion and Culture,” his ongoing research in Cuba, and his love of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Listen to the podcast below:

Posted in Faculty News on October 9, 2016  
Bart Ehrman: Jesus Before the Gospels

EhrmanThe most recent popular book by Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor in Religious Studies, is Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior (HarperOne, 2016). In the book, Prof. Ehrman examines the role of memory in the earliest transmission of stories about the historical Jesus.

For an extensive two-part debate (hosted by the “Unbelievable?” radio program) with Richard Bauckham on the relationship of the New Testament Gospels to eyewitness testimony, see the following links: [part 1] [part 2]

The following is a 28-minute interview (with the American Freethought podcast) in which Prof. Ehrman discusses some of the main points of the book (the actual interview begins at the 2:44 mark; see also YouTube):

Posted in Faculty Publications on October 4, 2016  
Carl Ernst: Refractions of Islam in India

ErnstThe latest book from Carl Ernst, William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor in Religious Studies, is Refractions of Islam in India: Situating Sufism and Yoga (Sage Publications/Yoda Press, 2016), a collection of some two dozen essays published over Professor Ernst’s decades-long career. From Sage Publications:

“The essays explore Sufism as it developed in the Indian subcontinent, including translations of previously unavailable texts, and revealing unexpected insights into the lives, practices, and teachings of Indian Muslims over nearly a thousand years. They also trace remarkable moments in the history of Muslim engagement with Indian religious and cultural practices. This includes not only Muslim participation in Indian art and literature, but also the extraordinary role that Sufis have played in the practice of yoga. Employing new approaches to religious studies that avoid essentialism and ideological concepts of religion, and shorn of unnecessary jargon, these compelling essays will be easily accessible to a larger audience.”

Posted in Faculty Publications on September 29, 2016  
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!

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