Randall Styers: Magic in the Modern World

BoonThe latest book by Randall Styers, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, is a volume of collected essays (co-edited with Edward Bever of SUNY Old Westbury) titled Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017). In addition to co-editing the entire volume, Prof. Styers contributes an essay to the collection on “Bad Habits, or, How Superstition Disappeared in the Modern World.” From the Penn State University Press website:

“This collection of essays considers the place of magic in the modern world, first by exploring the ways in which modernity has been defined in explicit opposition to magic and superstition, and then by illuminating how modern proponents of magic have worked to legitimize their practices through an overt embrace of evolving forms such as esotericism and supernaturalism.

“Taking a two-track approach, this book explores the complex dynamics of the construction of the modern self and its relation to the modern preoccupation with magic. Essays examine how modern ‘rational’ consciousness is generated and maintained and how proponents of both magical and scientific traditions rationalize evidence to fit accepted orthodoxy. This book also describes how people unsatisfied with the norms of modern subjectivity embrace various forms of magic—and the methods these modern practitioners use to legitimate magic in the modern world.”

The volume also includes a contribution by one of our PhD alumni, Megan Goodwin, titled “Manning the High Seat: Seidr as Self-Making in Contemporary Norse Neopaganisms.”

Congratulations, Randall!

RELIxperience Video: Tarheel Religions

The third of the three winning videos from our RELIxperience Video Contest is titled “Tarheel Religions” and was produced by three students from Prof. Harshita Kamath’s Gender Theory and the Study of Religion class: Mistyre Bonds, Margaret Humble, and Claire Johnson. Their video takes the form of an extended metaphorical reflection on the “religions” that define us here at Carolina:

For a list of all our RELIxperience video contest winners, click here.

2017 Department Awards Ceremony


On Wednesday, April 19, the department held its annual awards ceremony at which we celebrated the accomplishments of our students and faculty over the past year. The ceremony was held in the University Room at Hyde Hall and was followed by a wonderful time of conversation over refreshments. The many recognitions we noted that day include:

Undergraduate Student Awards:

Phi Beta Kappa inductee: Morgan Ferone

Honors Theses:

  • Averyl Edwards, “Beyond a Cisgender Genesis: Reading the Creation Narratives Through a Transgender Feminist Lens”
  • Amrithaa Gunabalan, “An Unknowable Ideal: Objectivism as a New Religious Movement and the Subsequent Institutionalization of Ayn Rand’s Ideas in American Politics”

Bernard Boyd Memorial Prize: Averyl Edwards

Graduate Student Awards:

Peck Prize for Graduate Student Teaching: Joanna Smith

Religious Studies Department Summer Research Awards: Patrick D’Silva, Brad Erickson, Shannon Schorey, Joanna Smith, and Tim Smith

GSOC Peer Recognition Teaching Award: Micah Hughes


Welcome from Prof. Randall Styers


Prof. Todd Ochoa with Averyl Edwards, winner of the Boyd Prize


Prof. Lauren Leve presents a summer research award to Patrick D’Silva


Joanna Smith and Isaiah Ellis presenting the coveted “ABD” mugs


Books published by our faculty over the past year

RELIxperience Video: “Mysticism–What is it?”

The next of the three winning videos from our RELIxperience Video Contest (titled “Mysticism–What is it?”) was produced by Jessica Coates, Avery Mavroudis, and Marlena Moore, a group of students from Patrick D’Silva’s RELI 165: Mysticism class. The video combines the reactions of various UNC students to the term “mysticism” with reflections on the idea gleaned from the course:

For a list of all our RELIxperience video contest winners, click here.

Virtual Reality Meets Archaeology: Visualizing Ancient Synagogues

Brad Erickson, a doctoral student in Ancient Mediterranean Religions and a scholar of ancient Judaism, has incorporated 3-D virtual modeling in his archaeological research to aid in the visualization of ancient synagogues. On Thursday, April 6, Brad participated in the UNC Research Hub Showcase, an event in which scholars from across the university had the opportunity to demonstrate how the resources of the Research Hub have advanced their work. Brad’s station at the event allowed participants to walk through virtual models he created of the ancient synagogues at Sepphoris and Beit Alpha using a virtual reality headset.

To view some of Brad’s 3-D models for yourself, click here (synagogue models) and here (synagogue mosaics).


Brad Erickson explaining the intricacies of 3-D modeling


Prof. Joseph Lam gazing up at the ceiling of the synagogue


Getting accustomed to the VR headset


A rendering from inside the virtual reality model: the interior of the Sepphoris synagogue

Summer 2017 Courses

Below are flyers for some of the courses we are offering in the Maymester and summer sessions this year. (Click on each poster for a PDF version of the flyer.) For a detailed schedule of Maymester, Summer I, and Summer II courses, click here.

RELIxperience Video: “This is Carolina Religion”

The first of the three winning videos from our RELIxperience Video Contest is titled “This is Carolina Religion,” and it features the different members of the group (Devyn Davis, Kalleen Kelley, Rachel McMillen, and Mallory Meek) describing their experiences with religious studies at Carolina. The video stood out for its focused reflections on the importance of religious studies to a well-rounded undergraduate education as well as for its overall production quality:

For the announcement of our RELIxperience video contest winners, click here.

Recent Lecture Events: J. Derrick Lemons and Jennifer Eichman (McLester Colloquium)

On March 2, Dr. J. Derrick Lemons from the University of Georgia came to speak on the topic of how millennials read the Bible regarding the issue of same sex marriage. The talk was co-sponsored by the Department of Women and Gender Studies, the Program in Sexuality Studies, and the Provost’s Committee on LGBTQ life. Students who attended were highly engaged, as shown by their many questions after the talk and by the fact that the room was literally overflowing.

Lemons flyer

  Lemons lecture flyer


J. Derrick Lemons before the lecture attendees

On March 22, Dr. Jennifer Eichman of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London was featured for our last McLester Colloquium of this academic year. The lecture was titled “Women and Animals: Culinary Dilemmas and Karmic Entanglements,” and the talk explored issues surrounding women, Buddhist attitudes toward the eating of meat, and societal changes in China after the end of imperial rule. This event was similarly well attended and offered another opportunity for faculty and students to interact over a topic of critical interest in religious studies.


Jennifer Eichman at the McLester Colloquium

Eichman flyer

  Eichman lecture flyer

Recent Faculty Awards: Carl Ernst and Todd Ochoa

Two members of our faculty have recently received support and recognition for their scholarship with major awards:

ErnstCarl Ernst, William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor in Religious Studies, is one of the inaugural recipients of the Global Humanities Translation Prize from the Global Humanities Initiative, a program of the Buffett Institute for Global Studies at Northwestern University. Professor Ernst’s project will involve producing an annotated translation of the classical Arabic poems of the Persian mystic Mansur al-Hallaj, and the finished work will be published by Northwestern University Press in 2018. For the official award announcement, see here.

OchoaTodd Ochoa, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, has won a National Humanities Center fellowship for the 2017-18 academic year, representing one of only 35 fellows chosen out of 630 applications. Professor Ochoa will be working on a research project titled “Conjecture for a Bembé: Religious Recombination in the Black Atlantic,” and the fellowship provides the opportunity for interaction with the other resident fellows over the course of the academic year through seminars, lectures, and conferences. The announcement and full list of 2017-18 fellows can be found here.

Congratulations, Carl and Todd!