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 Bemb√©: 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!

RELIxperience Video Contest Winners

Video Contest

We are pleased to announce the three winning groups for our 2017 RELIxperience Undergraduate Video Contest:

  • Jessica Coates, Avery Mavroudis, and Marlena Moore (students in Patrick D’Silva’s course, RELI 165: Mysticism) for their video “Mysticism–What is it?” [link]
  • Mistyre Bonds, Margaret Humble, and Claire Johnson (students in Harshita Kamath’s course, RELI 424: Gender Theory and the Study of Religion) for their video “Tarheel Religions” [link]
  • Devyn Davis, Kalleen Kelley, Rachel McMillen, and Mallory Meek (students in Harshita Kamath’s course, RELI 424: Gender Theory and the Study of Religion) for their video “This is Carolina Religion” [link]

Each group will be receiving a $100 prize. We will also be featuring each of these videos in a separate post on our website in the coming days, so stay tuned! (Update: links are being added to the list above as videos are posted.)

We wanted to thank every group that submitted a video, and so for helping to make our video contest a success.

Fall 2017 Courses

(Updated 4/5/2017) Course registration for Fall 2017 begins the week of April 4. Below are many of the courses we are offering in the fall semester (click on an image to open the PDF flyer):

Sand Mandala at UNC’s Asia Week 2017

Last week, as part of the festivities for UNC’s Asia Week 2017, a Tibetan Monk from the Kadampa Center in Raleigh, Geshe Palden Sangpo, was invited to the FedEx Global Education Center to build a sand mandala over the course of several days. The building of the sand mandala, and its subsequent destruction, are part of an ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition that embodies themes of harmony and the transitoriness of life.

A student in our department, Brodie Heginbotham, who is a double major in Religious Studies and Journalism at UNC, wrote an article describing the event and covering the different dimensions of its significance. To read the article, click here.


Building the sand mandala


The completed sand mandala

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!

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.”