Catholicism Today: Introduction to Contemporary Catholicism (Spring 2018 Course)

We are pleased to unveil a new feature on our website: course introduction videos! These videos are meant to give students a more personal introduction to some of our upcoming courses through the voices of our professors. Watch for these videos on the homepage of our website in the coming weeks, as Spring 2018 registration approaches.

The first course we would like to highlight is RELI 162, Catholicism Today: Introduction to Contemporary Catholicism. Click the video below for a description of the course from Professor Evyatar Marienberg:

For more course introduction videos, see here.

Departmental Statement on Silent Sam

Statement by the UNC Chapel Hill Department of Religious Studies concerning “Silent Sam”
October 4, 2017

It is impossible to study religion without recognizing the importance of cultural, social, and political diversity, the enormous power of material objects, and the profound ways in which the past pervades the present. The Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” exerts the ongoing power of white supremacy on our campus. As religious studies scholars, we are particularly aware that it was erected as an icon of social inequity and that white nationalist groups today have invested its presence on campus with sacred value.

In his 1913 speech dedicating the statue, Julian S. Carr celebrated the “sacrifice” of Confederate soldiers, the purity of “the Anglo Saxon” as a “Christian race,” and God’s providential blessing of the southern states in order to sanctify racial violence, a violence that continues today against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. “Silent Sam” still enjoys the privilege of sacred space on this campus, not only raised high but also guarded by cameras, police, and sometimes barricades. Allowing this statue to remain in McCorkle Place contradicts the university’s policy on non-discrimination, which states that “The University is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment.”

In her August 30th, 2017 email, Chancellor Carol Folt called on the campus community to “promote robust dialogue and debate” in an effort to encourage and protect free speech. In order to demonstrate its sincere commitment to the freedom of expression, the University must end its policies curtailing student activism around the statue and throughout the campus. Their material, embodied, and creative counter-narratives provide a vital service in challenging the legacy and ongoing threat of white supremacy.

The Department of Religious Studies calls for the removal of “Silent Sam” from McCorkle Place and the full protection of the student activists’ freedom of political expression.

Dr. Kent Brintnall at the McLester Colloquium

BrintnallLast Wednesday, September 27, Dr. Kent Brintnall of UNC-Charlotte joined us for the first of our McLester Colloquia for the academic year. At Charlotte, Dr. Brintnall is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies as well as the Director of the Graduate Certificate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. This event was co-sponsored by the Program in Sexuality Studies here at UNC-Chapel Hill.

In a lecture titled “‘Forgetting Freud’: The Drive for Religion,” Brintnall offered a creative exploration of the development of Freud’s thought, drawing implications for contemporary understandings of religion. The lecture was thought-provoking and generated many questions and responses from the faculty and graduate students present. As usual, the lecture was followed by a time of casual conversation over refreshments.

Looking forward to the next McLester Colloquium!

Translating Islam: A Conference in Honor of Carl Ernst (Oct 6-7)

ErnstProfessor Carl Ernst, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor in Religious Studies, has devoted his academic life to translating Islam, linguistically and culturally. From his first book, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (1985), to his most recent book, co-edited with Fabrizio Speziale, Perso-Indica: An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions (2017), he has focused on how Islamic concepts have traveled across time and space. This conference, organized around themes in Islamic studies that Ernst’s work has addressed, evokes and expands on the major contributions of this fertile, creative translator of texts, ideas, and traditions within the orb of Islam.

The conference will take place October 6-7, 2017 at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Downtown Chapel Hill/Carrboro (370 E. Main Street, Carrboro, NC 27510).

For more information, including registration and schedule, consult the conference website here.

Nag Hammadi Conference and David Brakke Keynote Lecture (Oct 6)

BrakkeOn October 5-7, UNC-Chapel Hill will host the Annual Meeting of the Nag Hammadi and Gnosticism Network, a group devoted to the study of the Coptic treatises of the Nag Hammadi Codices found in 1945 as well as other Coptic literature. As part of this conference, on Friday, October 6th, Professor David Brakke (Ohio State University) will deliver a keynote address entitled, “The Gnostic Origins of Christian Biblical Interpretation: From Gospel to Commentary.” All are invited to attend this event (Howell Hall 115, 4pm).

David Brakke is an expert on the history and literature of ancient Christianity who has authored or edited twelve books as well as written over 40 peer-reviewed articles and books chapters within the field of late ancient studies. From 2005 to 2015 Dr. Brakke served as editor of the Journal of Early Christian Studies. He is now the president of the International Association for Coptic Studies and a member of the Board of Consultants of the Journal of Religion.

For a poster of the keynote event, click here.

Brandi Denison’s New Book

Denison bookBrandi Denison, a PhD graduate of our department (2011) and an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of North Florida, has just published a book titled Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879–2009 (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). From the University of Nebraska Press website:

Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879–2009 is a narrative of American religion and how it intersected with land in the American West. Prior to 1881, Utes lived on the largest reservation in North America—twelve million acres of western Colorado. Brandi Denison takes a broad look at the Ute land dispossession and resistance to disenfranchisement by tracing the shifting cultural meaning of dirt, a physical thing, into land, an abstract idea. This shift was made possible through the development and deployment of an idealized American religion based on Enlightenment ideals of individualism, Victorian sensibilities about the female body, and an emerging respect for diversity and commitment to religious pluralism that was wholly dependent on a separation of economics from religion.

“As the narrative unfolds, Denison shows how Utes and their Anglo-American allies worked together to systematize a religion out of existing ceremonial practices, anthropological observations, and Euro-American ideals of nature. A variety of societies then used religious beliefs and practices to give meaning to the land, which in turn shaped inhabitants’ perception of an exclusive American religion. Ultimately, this movement from the tangible to the abstract demonstrates the development of a normative American religion, one that excludes minorities even as they are the source of the idealized expression.”

Congratulations, Brandi!

Evyatar Marienberg on Sting and Religion


In late July, Prof. Evyatar Marienberg met with British rockstar Sting for a detailed conversation as part of the research for his upcoming book, Religion Around Sting (Penn State University Press). Sting, a.k.a. Gordon Sumner, was born in 1951 in North East England to a Catholic father and an Anglican mother. He went through Catholic schools through the crucial years before, during, and after the Vatican II council, and thus experienced a wildly changing Church as a young man. Even though he does not consider himself a Catholic today, Catholic imagery is extremely important in his lyrics.

Marienberg’s work is based on a variety of sources, including archival materials of all kinds (schools, diocese, parish, etc.), local newspapers from the time, and interviews. Last year, Sting read a significant part of the upcoming book, which prepared the way for their discussion in July which lasted almost 2.5 hours.

For a short article related to this project, click here.

Brendan Thornton Wins Barbara Christian Prize

Professor Brendan Thornton’s book, Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic (University Press of Florida, 2016), has won the 2017 Barbara Christian Prize for Best Book in the Humanities from the Caribbean Studies Association. From the comments of one of the judges on the prize committee:

“I cannot assert strongly enough the groundbreaking moves made in Negotiating Respect. Thornton challenges our now settled critical orthodoxies as what counts as radical and subversive scholarship by taking seriously the diverse practices of Caribbean Christianity…. The stakes for the field of Caribbean studies are high. Thornton asks us to complicate our reading of quotidian religious practices: so, that we might see that ‘the church has become more norm than exception, more local than foreign, more orthodox than heterodox, more accepted than disdained.’”

For more on the prize, click here.

Congratulations, Brendan!

New Discoveries at the 2017 Huqoq Excavations

UNC students

The 2017 season of the archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee, led by Professor Jodi Magness, recently concluded at the end of June, and this season’s work uncovered new parts of the unique mosaic floor from the ancient synagogue at the site. Among the new mosaics are a Helios and zodiac cycle, a depiction of the biblical story of Jonah, and a scene of the construction of the Tower of Babel.

For more details on the discoveries, see the official press release here.

For reports from previous seasons of excavations at Huqoq, see here (9/14/2016), here (7/6/2016), and here (7/15/2014). You can also visit the excavation’s webpage at


Part of the zodiac (Capricorn) from the Huqoq synagogue mosaic (photo by Jim Haberman)

Wood carver

Depiction of a wood carver from the Huqoq synagogue mosaic (photo by Jim Haberman)

David Lambert at the Institute for Advanced Studies

LambertFor the 2017-18 academic year, Professor David Lambert will be a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem as part of a research group on the topic of “The Subject of Antiquity: Contours and Expressions of the Self in Ancient Mediterranean Cultures.” This project dovetails with his ongoing research on how modern notions of the self have shaped biblical interpretation. As the project description states:

“There is a growing scholarly consensus that new notions of the self emerged in Greco-Roman Antiquity, which prompted philosophers, artists, lawmakers and biographers to conceive of human beings as individuated selves, situated in specific cultural and historical contexts. We wish to examine these emerging discourses of the self, and their interaction and expressions in the material and textual culture of Greeks and Romans, Jews and Christians.”

Professor Lambert also won a EURIAS fellowship to help support his work during the upcoming year. For more on the EURIAS award, click here.

Congratulations, David!