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3D imaging project brings Nepali sacred site to life

Religious studies scholar Lauren Leve partnered with a computer science class last semester to further her ongoing work to create an annotated 3D model of Swayambhunath, an ancient holy site in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.

Lauren Leve, an expert in Himalayan Buddhism, was conducting research in Nepal in 2015 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit, demolishing many cultural and religious monuments.

In all, about 9,000 people were killed as a result of the severe earthquake, and more than 600,000 structures in Kathmandu and nearby towns were damaged or destroyed.

“Architects and engineers were trying to reconstruct these monuments, and they didn’t have the information to do that at the precision that was needed,” said Leve, a UNC associate professor of religious studies who has been conducting research in Nepal for over 30 years. “Cultural preservationists were also concerned that knowledge about the monuments would be lost forever.”

To read more of this story, check out the original article, written by Kim Spurr, here!

Posted in News & Events on January 24, 2023  
Congratulations to 2007 RELI major for new publications!

Join us in congratulating one of our 2007 Religious Studies majors: Glenn Butner. After completing his Ph.D. at Marquette University, Glen Butner became an assistant professor and director of the Honors Program at Sterling College. Professor Butner published his first book, Trinitarian Dogmatics: Exploring the Grammar of the Christian Doctrine of God, last summer. His new book, Jesus the Refugee: Ancient Injustice and Modern Solidarity, drops this week!

Images of modern refugees often invoke images of the infant Christ and the historical circumstances of the holy family’s flight to Egypt in the face of persecution. But rather than leaving this association at the merely symbolic level, Jesus the Refugee explores Jesus’s flight through modern legal conventions on refugee status in the United States and the European Union. Would Jesus and his parents be protected from refoulement? Would they receive rights to employment and civic engagement? Would they be turned away? Is the holy family a refugee family?

Jesus the Refugee argues that the holy family has a limited set of legal options for protection, but under current law is unlikely to receive any. This shocking claim stands or falls on legal details like the ability to demonstrate reasonable fear of persecution, or whether fleeing Palestine (but not the Roman Empire) affords protection for internally displaced migrants.

Besides introducing the basics of modern refugee law and processes, Jesus the Refugee aims to raise ethical challenges to our current refugee system by highlighting Jesus as one of the “least of these,” indicting our moral failures and challenging us to make amends.

Posted in News & Events on January 22, 2023  
Bart Ehrman’s new book recognized by The New Yorker as one of 2022’s best!

Join us in congratulating Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor in Ancient Mediterranean Religions. His recent book Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition has made the New Yorker’s Best of 2022 list!

Ehrman follows up his masterly history of concepts of the afterlife with one about narratives in which a living soul—like Dante led by Virgil—is given a tour of what awaits us after death. Focussing on pre-Christian and early-Christian literature, Ehrman shows how Homer’s egalitarian afterlife, where all meet the same fate, gave way to Virgil’s version, where an elect few enjoy eternal rewards while the rest suffer torments. Early Christians imagined Hell as a punishment for nonbelievers, but it was gradually cast as an elaborate realm that terrorized even the faithful. As Ehrman notes, in every era, such tales aimed to teach readers “how to live in the here and now.”


Posted in News & Events on January 19, 2023  
New Book Release by Religious Studies Alum

Join us in congratulating Samuel Kessler, a 2016 alum of our department. Kessler, now an Assistant Professor of Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College, recently released a book entitled Formation of a Modern Rabbi: The Life and Times of the Viennese Scholar and Preacher Adolf Jellinek:


Adolf Jellinek (1821-1893), the Czech-born, German-educated, liberal chief rabbi of Vienna, was the most famous Jewish preacher in Central Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century. As an innovative rhetorician, Jellinek helped mold and define the modern synagogue sermon into an instrument for expressing Jewish religious and ethical values for a new era. As a historian, Jellinek made groundbreaking contributions to the study of the Zohar and medieval Jewish mysticism. The Formation of a Modern Rabbi discusses the ways in which Jellinek was emblematic of a new synagogue-based model of rabbi-as-scholar-preacher and returns Jellinek to the center of the Jewish nineteenth century-a world in which the role of rabbi, synagogue, and Jewish studies was being reinvented and renewed.


Samuel Joseph Kessler is Assistant Professor of Religion and Åke and Kristina Bonnier Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College. His work focuses on the interaction of religion and modernity in European history and literature. He has written on topics in Jewish history, the history of science, postmodern theory, Holocaust, and American literature. He is the coeditor of Modern Jewish Theology: The First One Hundred Years, 1835–1935 (forthcoming).

Posted in News & Events on December 15, 2022  
More Than Just Mosaics: The Ancient Synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee

Mark your calendars for this exciting event on March 1, 2023! Prof. Jodi Magness will deliver a lecture on Zoom entitled “More Than Just Mosaics: The Ancient Synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee,” to benefit the Miller Fund for Graduate Students. We hope to see you there!

Posted in Faculty News, Graduate Student News, News & Events on December 14, 2022  
Prof. Waleed Ziad Receives Albert Hourani Book Prize

Join us in congratulating Prof. Waleed Ziad, whose book, Hidden Caliphate: Sufi Saints beyond the Oxus and Indus, recently received the most distinguished prize in Middle Eastern Studies: the Albert Hourani Book Award.

The Albert Hourani Book Award, presented by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), was established in 1991 to recognize outstanding publishing in Middle East studies. The award was named for Albert Hourani to recognize his long and distinguished career as teacher and mentor. Announced at the Awards Ceremony at MESA’s annual meeting, the Albert Hourani Book Award honors a work that exemplifies scholarly excellence and clarity of presentation in the tradition of Albert Hourani.

Professor Ziad’s Hidden Caliphate is a frontier-breaking investigation of the spiritual and political network of the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi order across Transoxiana, Khorasan, and Northern India from the 18th up to the 20th century. This is a superb contribution to the historical understanding of the religious, social, political, and intellectual topographies of a cultural environment so far at the periphery of Middle Eastern Studies. Through a multi-dimensional and grounded methodology, Waleed Ziad’s book shows the centrality of the Persianate cosmopolis in challenging the emerging legalistic orthodoxies of the 19th century. Equally attentive to narratives as to local, transcultural semantics, the book brings to light a counter-history of political renewal and spiritual syncretism based on so far untapped sources collected through courageous explorative research. A scholarly gift for those keen to expand the frontiers of Middle Eastern Studies towards new intellectual and geographical horizons.

Posted in News & Events on December 5, 2022  
Spring 2023 Classes!

Check out our Spring 2023 classes! Please go to ConnectCarolina for the most up-to-date course information. For building abbreviations, click here.

Posted in News & Events on November 8, 2022  
New Book, Podcast, and Article from Professor Waleed Ziad

Join us in congratulating Prof. Waleed Ziad who recently released a new book: Treasure Room of the Sakra King: Votive Coinage from Gandhāran Shrines. If you’d like to learn more about Professor Ziad and his fascinating research, check out this recent Islamic Studies podcast from the New Books Network. Finally, our very own UNC magazine wrote about Ziad’s research in an article entitled “Preserving Endangered Manuscripts.”

Posted in News & Events on November 7, 2022  
Dead Sea Scroll costumes for Halloween!

Check out RELI 63, a First Year Study on the Dead Sea Scrolls taught by Prof. Jodi Magness. The class commemorated Halloween by students coming to class in accurate period dress (e.g., an Essene; a Pharisee; a Jewish high priest; John the Baptist; a Roman senator; the senator’s wife, etc.) Student worked in groups to research their costumes and explained the elements of their costumes to the class.

Posted in News & Events on November 2, 2022  
American Society of Church History Honors Prof. Brandon Bayne

Congratulations to our very own Prof. Brandon Bayne. His recent book entitled Missions Begin with Blood: Suffering and Salvation in the Borderlands of New Spain (Fordham University Press, 2021) has been awarded the Brewer Prize by the American Society of Church History (ASCH).

Each year, the ASCH honors outstanding scholarship through five prestigious prizes. The Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize annually honors outstanding scholarship in the history of Christianity by a first-time author.

For more information, visit ASCH’s website here. Also, visit the Twitter feed of ASCH for their recent tweet about this award.

Posted in News & Events on November 1, 2022  
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