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:
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.
This 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.
NatGeo Article: Does Huqoq Mosaic Depict Alexander the Great?
In a recent article in National Geographic titled “Explore This Mysterious Mosaic – It May Portray Alexander the Great,” Professor Jodi Magness is interviewed regarding one of the most fascinating synagogue mosaics to have come to light from her archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee. The mosaic in question, discovered in 2014, is interpreted by Professor Magness as a portrayal of the legendary meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jerusalem high priest.
The article not only explores the different interpretations that have been offered to explain this enigmatic scene, but it also contains an interactive visual tool that leads the reader through each part of the mosaic close-up. To read the NatGeo article, click here.
For a video clip (4:38) of Professor Magness discussing this mosaic and the NatGeo article on Fox News, click here.
Royal figure in Huqoq mosaic (Photo by Jim Haberman)
As the semester begins, we would like to extend a warm welcome to two new members of our faculty:
Harshita Kamath joins us as Assistant Professor in Hinduism and South Asian Religions. Dr. Kamath holds a Ph.D. in West and South Asian Religions from Emory University, and her research focuses on the textual and performance traditions of Telugu-speaking South India. Her forthcoming book, Constructing Artifice: An Ethnography of Impersonation in South India, analyzes gender impersonation in the Telugu dance style of Kuchipudi. She has co-translated the sixteenth-century classical Telugu text Parijatapaharanamu (Theft of a Tree) with Velcheru Narayana Rao, which will be published as part of the Murty Classical Library of India by Harvard University Press.
Hugo Mendez joins us as a Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Mendez received his Ph.D. in 2013 from the Interdisciplinary Linguistics Program at the University of Georgia, and he comes to us from Yale University, where he served as Lecturer and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music for the past two years. He specializes in the reception of the Bible within Christian communities in late antiquity.
“In order to give recognition to new scholarly publications that make significant contributions to the study of religion, the American Academy of Religion offers Awards for Excellence. These awards honor works of distinctive originality, intelligence, creativity, and importance; books that affect decisively how religion is examined, understood, and interpreted.”
We are pleased to announce that, as of July 1, 2016, three members of our faculty have been promoted to new ranks in the department:
Jessica Boon has been promoted to Associate Professor. Dr. Boon specializes in the study of medieval and Renaissance Catholicism, particularly mysticism in Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries. She teaches a range of courses in the area of Christianity and Culture, including recent courses on “Mysticism” (RELI 165), “Mary in the Christian Tradition” (RELI 362), “Body and Suffering in Christian Mysticism” (RELI 665), and “Spanish Religions: Medieval Convivencia and Colonial Encounter” (RELI 668).
David Lambert is now Associate Professor in the department. Dr. Lambert teaches courses on Hebrew Bible, including the popular RELI 103, “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Literature,” as well as other upper-level courses that combine critical approaches to the biblical text with attention to the history of biblical interpretation. His new book, How Repentance Became Biblical, was published earlier this year.
Zlatko Pleše has now been promoted to Professor. Dr. Pleše is a specialist in early Christianity, Greco-Roman religion, and religions of late antiquity. He has published widely in these areas and offers courses in our department on ancient philosophy, Gnosticism, the history of early Christianity, and Coptic language and literature.
New Mosaics from Ancient Synagogue at Huqoq (2016)
Jodi Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism in our department, has led archaeological excavations at the site of Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee since 2011, revealing an ancient synagogue from the 5th century containing a set of beautifully preserved and highly distinctive mosaic floors. This summer, the excavations at the site uncovered more stunning mosaics, including biblical scenes depicting Noah’s ark and the exodus from Egypt. For links to the press coverage, click here.
Fish swallowing a soldier in the Red Sea (Photo by Jim Haberman)
Andrea Cooper has joined the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies as the Leonard and Tobee Kaplan Fellow in Modern Jewish Thought and Culture. Prof. Cooper holds a B.A. from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Jewish Studies from New York University, where she recently served as Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow. Her research and writing focus on modern Jewish thought, gender theory, and continental philosophy, and she will be teaching a variety of new courses at UNC in these areas.