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McLester Colloquium with Benjamin Zeller

On Wednesday of last week, our faculty and graduate students gathered in Graham Memorial Building for our first McLester colloquium of 2017. The speaker was Benjamin Zeller, Associate Professor of Religion at Lake Forest College and a PhD graduate (2007) of our department. In his lecture, titled “Religious Suicide and the Puzzling Case of Heaven’s Gate,” he gave a historical overview and analysis of the religious movement known as Heaven’s Gate, which drew media attention in 1997 after several dozen of its members committed mass suicide at their group residence in Rancho Santa Fe, California.


Prof. Benjamin Zeller


Question from the audience

At the beginning of the event, Susan McLester Kemmerlin, daughter of Bill McLester (after whom the colloquium is named), presented our department with a beautiful stitching of UNC’s academic seal!

UNC stitching

Susan McLester Kemmerlin with department chair Randall Styers

See you soon at the next McLester colloquium!

Posted in Alumni News, Events, Graduate Student News on February 23, 2017  
Anne Blankenship’s Recent Book

GregoryAnne Blankenship (PhD 2012), who is currently an assistant professor in History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at North Dakota State University, recently published a book titled Christianity, Social Justice, and the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II (UNC Press, 2016). The book offers an incisive analysis of the place of Christianity within Japanese American internment camps during World War II. From the UNC Press website:

“Anne M. Blankenship’s study of Christianity in the infamous camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II yields insights both far-reaching and timely. While most Japanese Americans maintained their traditional identities as Buddhists, a sizeable minority identified as Christian, and a number of church leaders sought to minister to them in the camps. Blankenship shows how church leaders were forced to assess the ethics and pragmatism of fighting against or acquiescing to what they clearly perceived, even in the midst of a national crisis, as an unjust social system. These religious activists became acutely aware of the impact of government, as well as church, policies that targeted ordinary Americans of diverse ethnicities.

“Going through the doors of the camp churches and delving deeply into the religious experiences of the incarcerated and the faithful who aided them, Blankenship argues that the incarceration period introduced new social and legal approaches for Christians of all stripes to challenge the constitutionality of government policies on race and civil rights. She also shows how the camp experience nourished the roots of an Asian American liberation theology that sprouted in the sixties and seventies.”

Posted in Alumni News on February 15, 2017  
Boyd Fellowship Deadline–February 20

The Boyd Fellowship is an $11,000 fellowship given annually to a major or double-major in the Department of Religious Studies who plans to pursue either graduate or professional education in religion. Current majors, as well as those who graduate the preceding year but did not immediately enter graduate or professional school in religion, are eligible.

The application deadline this year is February 20, 2017, so if you are interested, take note!

For details on how to apply, click here. Specific questions about the fellowship can also be directed to our Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Posted in News & Events on January 26, 2017  
Rabia Gregory’s Recent Book

GregoryRabia Gregory (PhD 2007) is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Missouri. Rabia’s recent book, titled Marrying Jesus in Medieval and Early Modern Northern Europe: Popular Culture and Religious Reform (Ashgate, 2016), examines a fascinating concept within medieval religious culture. From the Routledge website:

“The first full-length study of the notion of marriage to Jesus in late medieval and early modern popular culture, this book treats the transmission and transformation of ideas about this concept as a case study in the formation of religious belief and popular culture. Marrying Jesus in Medieval and Early Modern Northern Europe provides a history of the dispersion of theology about the bride of Christ in the period between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries and explains how this metaphor, initially devised for a religious elite, became integral to the laity’s pursuit of salvation. Unlike recent publications on the bride of Christ, which explore the gendering of sanctity or the poetics of religious eroticism, this is a study of popular religion told through devotional media and other technologies of salvation. Marrying Jesus argues against the heteronormative interpretation that brides of Christ should be female by reconstructing the cultural production of brides of Christ in late medieval Europe. A central assertion of this book is that by the fourteenth century, worldly, sexually active brides of Christ, both male and female, were no longer aberrations. Analyzing understudied vernacular sources from the late medieval period – including sermons, early printed books, spiritual diaries, letters, songs, and hagiographies – Rabia Gregory shows how marrying Jesus was central to late medieval lay piety, and how the ‘chaste’ bride of Christ developed out of sixteenth-century religious disputes.”

Posted in Alumni News on January 11, 2017  
The 9 Biggest Archaeology Findings of 2016: Noah’s Ark Mosaic

Donkeys in Noah's Ark

The Noah’s Ark mosaic from the site of Huqoq, discovered this past summer by Prof. Jodi Magness and her team, was just selected by Live Science as one of “The 9 Biggest Archaeology Findings of 2016!”

To view the list, click here.

For more on the Huqoq excavations, including how to participate in the 2017 season, click here.

Posted in Faculty News on December 30, 2016  
Katie Merriman Article in The Funambulist Magazine

FunambulistKatie Merriman, a PhD student in our department specializing in Islamic Studies, has recently published an article in The Funambulist: Politics of Space and Bodies, an international magazine that bridges the worlds of design and critical research in the humanities. The November-December 2016 issue is on the topic of “Police,” and Merriman’s article, titled “New York City: Multiracial Struggles and Solidarities in Islamic Harlem,” describes a series of sites in Harlem, New York highlighting the multiracial history of Muslims in the city. The article is based on a free walking tour of the area that Merriman conducts on a regular basis. From the beginning of the article:

“Harlem is home to only a handful of New York City’s nearly 300 mosques, but its history is a testament to the presence of Muslim institutions, leaders, and literature as solace and a form of resistance to white supremacy. Moreover, Muslims are part of a larger tradition that sees Harlem as a sacred site for black brilliance and rejuvenation.”

Along the way, Merriman discusses a wide range of events, figures, and themes, including: the Bengali labor strikes, Malcolm X, a Senegalese Sufi saint, international intellectual networks, multiracial civic initiatives, halal restaurants, police brutality, immigration law, and the growing impact of gentrification on communities and their sacred spaces.

To see the contents of the issue, and to purchase access to the full article (digital and/or print versions), click here.

Masjid Malcolm Shabazz

Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, Harlem, New York

Posted in Graduate Student News on December 15, 2016  

Featured Spring 2017 Courses

(Updated Dec. 9) With spring semester approaching, we will periodically highlight upcoming courses that may be of special interest to students. Here are just four among the many that our department is offering in Spring 2017:

RELI 143: Judaism in Our Time [course flyer]
Instructor: Yaakov Ariel (
TuTh 9:30AM-10:45AM (Gen Eds: SS, GL)

This course aims at providing a panoramic view of Jewish life, culture, practices, and challenges in our time. It will explore the diverse ethnic, geographical, political, literary, artistic, and communal forms in which Judaism has found expression in our generation and will offer students an opportunity to study the manner in which social and cultural changes affect religious practices and norms.

RELI/GERM 227: Luther and the Bible [course flyer]
Instructor: Ruth von Bernuth (
MoWe 1:25PM-2:15PM, plus recitation (Gen Eds: HS, WB)

What is the legacy of the Protestant Reformation on modern life today? Learn how Reformation ideas have influenced religion, society, economics, and politics from early modern to modern times. Readings include Luther’s On the Freedom of a Christian and That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, Melanchthon’s The Pope-Ass Explained, Brant’s Ship of Fools, as well as hymns, carnival plays, and Bible translations. The only prerequisite: an inquiring mind. (Readings and class discussions in English.)

RELI 566: Islamic and Jewish Legal Literature [course flyer]
Instructor: Evyatar Marienberg ( and Ahmed El Shamsy (University of Chicago)
Th 3:30PM-6:20PM (Gen Eds: PH, WB)

This course, on both Jewish and Islamic law, will be co-taught by Dr. Ahmed El Shamsy (Chicago, Islamic Law) and Dr. Evyatar Marienberg (UNC, Jewish Law), using videoconferencing technology, combining the two classrooms to one. We will explore the nature, structure, development, and significance of the legal system of each of these two religions. We will explore laws about food, holidays, prayer, finances, relations to other groups, sexuality, the status of women, medical treatment, and more. No need to have any background in Hebrew or Arabic: all texts will be provided in English, and no previous knowledge on Islam or Judaism will be assumed.

RELI 580: African-American Islam [course flyer]
Instructor: Juliane Hammer (
TuTh 2:00PM-3:15PM (Gen Eds: HS, GL, NA; research intensive)

Who was Malcolm X? What’s hip hop got to do with Islam? Is Islam an American religion? What is the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative? Find out the answers to these questions and more in RELI 580: African-American Islam!

Posted in News & Events on December 7, 2016  
Online Symposium on David Lambert’s How Repentance Became Biblical

LambertSyndicate Network, an online forum for facilitating conversations on topics in the humanities, is currently hosting an online symposium on Prof. David Lambert’s award-winning book, How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture (Oxford University Press, 2016).

The symposium consists of critical reviews of the book by four scholars of different theoretical perspectives, with subsequent responses by Prof. Lambert leading to further back-and-forth dialogue. This format allows for an in-depth, illuminating exploration of the many issues that the book raises.

The online symposium can be found here. Currently the site has posted the responses of Joel Kaminsky (Smith College) and Susanne Scholz (Southern Methodist University); the responses of Reed Carlson (Harvard Divinity School) and Jeffrey Stackert (University of Chicago) are still to come.

Posted in Faculty News, Faculty Publications on November 30, 2016  
Carl Ernst: Podcast Interview on Islamophobia

Ultimate ConcernsProfessor Carl Ernst recently conducted an interview with the Ultimate Concerns podcast on the topic of “American Islamophobia,” in which he addressed the many dimensions of this problem, from the possible causes of Islamophobia to the ways in which one might respond. The discussion relates to the topic of his edited book, Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

For the podcast interview, click here.

“Ultimate Concerns” is a podcast on religion and culture hosted by Ron Mourad, Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College and a graduate (B.A. 1994) of our department. For more information click here.

Posted in Faculty News on November 25, 2016  
Ultimate Concerns Podcast with Ron Mourad (B.A., 1994)

Ultimate ConcernsDr. Ron Mourad is Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Michigan, where he specializes in the philosophy of religion and Christian theology. After graduating from the Religious Studies department at UNC-Chapel Hill (with Honors) in 1994, he pursued further studies at the University of Chicago, where he received an M.A. in Divinity (1995) and a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Religion (2002).

Dr. Mourad hosts a podcast called “Ultimate Concerns” in which he explores topics in religion and culture in dialogue with experts in religious studies. Recent episodes explore topics as varied as virtual reality, the nature of heaven and hell, and artificial intelligence.

To find the podcast on iTunes, see here.

Posted in Alumni News on November 16, 2016  
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