Randall Styers

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Randall Styers

Associate Professor


Ph.D., Duke University Graduate Program in Religion, 1997
M.A.R., Yale Divinity School, 1984
J.D., Yale Law School, 1984
A.B., Duke University, 1980

Research Interests

  • Religion in modern Western culture
  • Cultural history of the study of religion
  • Religion and gender
  • Religion in American law and politics
  • Critical social theory
  • Supernaturalism in contemporary culture

Professional Biography

I am associate professor of Religion and Culture in the Department of Religious Studies. My research and teaching focus on religion in modern Western culture, including the cultural history of the study of religion and religion in various aspects American law and politics, particularly such topics as gender politics and debates over the relation between religion and science.

My first book, Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World (Oxford 2004), explores the ways in which scholarly theories of magic have offered thinkers a rich opportunity to articulate a broad range of norms for life in the modern world. I am also co-editor of Light Against Darkness: Dualism in Ancient Mediterranean Religion and the Contemporary World (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2011), and Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization (Penn State 2017).  I am currently completing a new book that examines the politics of the study of religion in the modern university.

I currently serve as the Treasurer and member of the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion. In addition, I am currently a member of the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina Press. From 2016-2019, I served as chair of the Council on Graduate Studies in Religion.

Before joining the UNC faculty in 2001, I worked as an attorney in Los Angeles and New York, and I taught philosophy of religion for four years on the theology faculty at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where I also served for a period as acting academic dean.


  • UNC Distinguished Teaching Award for Post-Baccalaureate Instruction, 2012
  • Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor, 2008-2012

Courses Recently Taught

  • RELI 125, Heaven and Hell
  • RELI 138, Religious Freedom
  • RELI 244, Gender and Sexuality in Western Christianity
  • RELI 338, Religion in American Law
  • RELI 421, Religion and Science
  • RELI 522, Nineteenth Century Critiques of Religion
  • RELI 530, Genealogies of Religion
  • RELI 700, Theory and Method in the Study of Religion
  • RELI 723, Critical Approaches to Religion and Culture
  • RELI 821, Seminar in Religion and Culture: Secularisms and Atheisms

Recent Publications

Edward Bever and Randall Styers, eds., Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization (University Park: The Penn State University Press, 2017)

Armin Lange, Eric M. Meyers, Bennie H. Reynolds III, and Randall Styers, eds., Light Against Darkness: Dualism in Ancient Mediterranean Religion and the Contemporary World, Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplements, vol. 2  (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011)

Making Magic: Religion, Magic, and Science in the Modern World, American Academy of Religion Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

“Religious Studies, Past and Present,” in Religious Studies and Rabbinics: A Conversation, eds. Elizabeth T. Alexander and Beth A. Berkowitz (New York: Routledge, 2017), 25-38

Religion/Theory/Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches, ed. Richard King (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017):

Chapter 8, “David Hume,” 97-103
Chapter 29, “Classical Anthropological Theories of Religion,” 315-326
Chapter 45, “Contemporary Continental Philosophy and the ‘Return of the Religious,’” 497-505

“Bad Habits: How Superstition Disappeared in the Modern World,” in Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization, ed. Edward Bever and Randall Styers (University Park: The Penn State University Press, 2017), 17-32

“Magic,” in The Vocabulary for the Study of Religion, ed. Kocku von Stuckrad and Robert Segal (Leiden: Brill, 2015)

“Religion and Cultural Theory,” Critical Research on Religion 1(1) (2013): 72-79

“Magic and the Play of Power,” in Defining Magic, eds. Bernd Otto and Michael Stausberg, Critical Categories in the Study of Religion (Sheffield, England: Equinox Publishing, 2013), 255-62