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McLester Colloquium with Paula Fredriksen

Last Wednesday, January 29, Paula Fredriksen, the Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita at Boston University, presented on the topic of “Urban Fires, Roman Emperors, and the Persecution of Christians” at the first McLester Seminar of 2020. Since 2009, Professor Fredriksen has been Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she also holds two honorary doctorates in theology and religious studies. We were grateful for the opportunity to hear from Dr. Fredriksen on this fascinating topic, and the talk was followed by a wonderful time of conversation over refreshments.

Posted in Graduate Student News, News & Events on February 3, 2020  
Prof. Marienberg on Sting and Religion

Professor Evyatar Marienberg published a guest blog post on the University of Toronto Press website called “When a rock star whose picture you had on your wall as a teenager becomes your topic of academic study as an adult.” He describes his project on the religious themes in Sting’s music and life. Prof. Marienberg also highlights a recent article in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, “O My God: Religion in Sting’s Early Lyrics.”

From the blog post:

“We are all influenced, in different ways, by popular culture. Our popular culture is influenced, in different ways, by religion. What occurs when those among us who are not only influenced by, but actually contribute much to, the popular culture around us, have religion influence them as well? This result is of particular interest for me, and for many of those writing for this journal.

“Having contemporary Catholicism as one of my main fields of interest, I quickly realized that Sting represents the type of Catholics I am most interested in: those who were born about a decade before the Second Council of the Vatican (a meeting of the world’s Catholic bishops from 1962 to 1965), which brought huge changes to Catholicism.”

Posted in Faculty News, Faculty Publications on January 31, 2020  
Masada by Jodi Magness: 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist

Professor Jodi Magness’s recent book, Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth, was selected as a finalist for the 2019 National Jewish Book Award in History (the Gerrard and Ella Berman Memorial Award). The Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards were estab­lished by the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil in 1950 in order to rec­og­nize out­stand­ing works of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture.

From a review of the book by Gila Wertheimer:

“In her new book, Masa­da: From Jew­ish Revolt to Mod­ern Myth, Mag­ness re-exam­ines the sto­ry of Masa­da, set­ting it in its his­tor­i­cal con­text dur­ing the peri­od of the Sec­ond Tem­ple. As part of this she includes the fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries of 19th cen­tu­ry explor­ers who trav­elled to the area, many search­ing for bib­li­cal sites, but on their return pro­vid­ed valu­able infor­ma­tion about the inhos­pitable region. She address­es ques­tions some schol­ars have today about the accu­ra­cy of the sto­ry of mass sui­cide, tak­en from the mul­ti-vol­ume The Jew­ish War by the Jew­ish his­to­ri­an Flav­ius Jose­phus… Mag­ness has man­aged the dif­fi­cult feat of writ­ing for both the schol­ar and the inter­est­ed non-spe­cial­ist read­er. There is plen­ty of archae­o­log­i­cal detail and descrip­tion, which comes with the his­to­ry of the area as well as top­ics such as how the Jews got to Masa­da, how they sur­vived, and how the desert fortress became part of the foun­da­tion­al sto­ry of the mod­ern state of Israel.”

Congratulations, Jodi!

Posted in Faculty News, Faculty Publications on January 21, 2020  
Travis Proctor (PhD 2017) Wins Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award

Travis Proctor (PhD 2017) has won the 2020 Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise for his dissertation ‘Rulers of the Air: Demonic Bodies and the Making of the Ancient Christian Cosmos’. The Lautenschlaeger Award is awarded to ten scholars each year for an outstanding doctoral dissertation or first book in the fields of religious and theological studies, and comes with a monetary prize. As he describes the award-winning work:

“My dissertation project addressed a significant yet under-explored aspect of Christian spirituality: the impact of nonhuman malevolent entities (i.e., demons, evil spirits) on the ritual performance and embodiment of Christian piety. First, I demonstrated how early Christian authors (ca. 50-300 CE) formulated their conceptions of the divine and humanity in tandem with their constructions of their malevolent adversaries. Second, I examined how these conceptions informed Christian ritual practice (e.g., exorcism, baptism, ritual contemplation). In this way, my project traced the ways in which early Christian theologies and demonologies materialized through specific ritual repertoires, and thus had a significant impact on Christian theology and spirituality.”

Travis is currently an Assistant Professor of Religion at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Congratulations, Travis!

Posted in Alumni News on January 15, 2020  
New Book by Brannon Ingram (PhD 2011)

Brannon Ingram, a 2011 PhD graduate of our department, has recently published his first book, Revival from Below: The Deoband Movement and Global Islam:

“The Deoband movement—a revivalist movement within Sunni Islam that quickly spread from colonial India to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and even the United Kingdom and South Africa—has been poorly understood and sometimes feared. Despite being one of the most influential Muslim revivalist movements of the last two centuries, Deoband’s connections to the Taliban have dominated the attention it has received from scholars and policy-makers alike. Revival from Below offers an important corrective, reorienting our understanding of Deoband around its global reach, which has profoundly shaped the movement’s history. In particular, the author tracks the origins of Deoband’s controversial critique of Sufism, how this critique travelled through Deobandi networks to South Africa, as well as the movement’s efforts to keep traditionally educated Islamic scholars (`ulama) at the center of Muslim public life. The result is a nuanced account of this global religious network that argues we cannot fully understand Deoband without understanding the complex modalities through which it spread beyond South Asia.”

Brannon is currently an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Northwestern University.

Congratulations, Brannon!

Posted in Alumni News on January 5, 2020  
Religion, Politics and Culture in Israel (Spring 2020 Course)

Our department is offering a brand new course next semester, taught by Professor Yaakov Ariel. It is called Religion, Politics and Culture in Israel (RELI 343) and represents a great addition to our selection of courses. There is still room in the course, so don’t miss your chance to take it and add it to your Spring 2020 schedules!

“The course offers a panoramic view and analytical understanding of Israel’s culture, politics and religious life and groups, as well as a window into the political, religious, and ethnic realities of the Middle East at large. The course will offer an opportunity to study the religious communities operating in the country and their relationship with the Israeli state, as well as the place of religion in the international relations and global policies of Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East.”


Posted in News & Events on December 10, 2019  
New Book by Mary Ellen O’Donnell (PhD Alumna)

Mary Ellen O’Donnell, a PhD graduate of our department, has recently published a book titled Ingrained Habits: Growing Up Catholic in Mid-Twentieth-Century America:

“Born Catholic. Raised Catholic. Americans across generations have used these phrases to describe their formative days, but the experience of growing up Catholic in the United States has changed over the last several decades. While the creed and the sacraments remain the same, the context for learning the faith has transformed. As a result of demographic shifts and theological developments, children face a different set of circumstances today from what they encountered during the mid-twentieth-century. Through a close study of autobiographical and fictional texts that depict the experience, Ingrained Habits explores the intimate details of everyday life for children growing up Catholic during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. These literary portrayals present upbringings characterized by an all-encompassing encounter with religion. The adult authors of such writings run the gamut from vowed priests to unwavering atheists and their depictions range from glowing nostalgia to deep-seated resentment; however, they curiously describe similar experiences from their childhood days in the Church.

“Mary Ellen O’Donnell uses examples from her own family’s experiences to frame this story of change within an American Catholic life. Her analysis of the literature about pre-Vatican II Catholicism points to a perceived insular environment infused with religious authority in multiple contexts. The book includes a chapter about each of the three distinct, but linked, settings considered in the study―the institutional parish/school, the family home and the ethnic neighborhood. These places offered discrete introductions to and lessons about the faith, but they combined to constitute an enveloping Catholic world. As the larger institution of the Church was changing across the decades of the mid-twentieth-century, a generation of Catholics was being formed through particular details within daily routines. Ingrained Habits, through the literature it surveys, brings us to the classrooms and confessionals, kitchens and bedrooms, sidewalks and stoops where it happened.”

Congratulations, Mary Ellen!

Posted in Alumni News on December 6, 2019  
RELI Class Visits to the Wilson Special Collections Library

In the last few weeks, Religious Studies students had opportunities to visit the Wilson Special Collections Library to view a variety of objects and works in connection with current courses.

Professor Joseph Lam led a group of graduate students in Akkadian on a visit to view the cuneiform tablets and other related objects in their Special Collections. Cuneiform was the writing system of ancient Mesopotamia, involving the use of a stylus to make triangular wedges on clay. These are the oldest objects in Wilson Library (the oldest of which are dated to before 2000 BCE). They were hosted by Dr. Emily Kader, the Rare Books Research Librarian at Wilson Library.

Wilson Library

Emily Kader giving an introduction to handling cuneiform tablets.


A cuneiform tablet envelope from ancient Mesopotamia.

Professor Brandon Bayne’s RELI 448 class, ‘Religion in Early America’, also had the opportunity to work with a variety of original sources and rare books in Wilson Library. Guided by Sarah Carrier, a librarian with the North Carolina Collection, the students examined a diverse set of Moravian, Quaker, Baptist, Presbyterian, Muslim, and Jewish documents produced in NC before the Civil War.

Wilson Library

Prof. Bayne’s class working with Wilson Library’s rare books.

Posted in News & Events on November 26, 2019  

McLester Colloquium with Dr. Carl Ernst
For the department’s McLester Seminar last week, we were pleased to hear from our very own Carl Ernst, Kenan Distinguished Professor in Religious Studies, who presented on the topic of “Anglo-Persian Texts and The Colonial Understanding of Religion.” In characteristic fashion, Dr. Ernst examined a pair of often-neglected texts from the early British-Indian colonial encounter in order to uncover the concepts and taxonomies of religion they reflect. We were grateful for the opportunity to hear from Dr. Ernst on this fascinating subject, and the talk was followed by a wonderful time of conversation over refreshments.
Posted in Faculty News, Graduate Student News on November 4, 2019  
Spring 2020 Courses

Here are the courses we are offering for the Spring 2020 semester! (Click on each slide for a PDF version of the poster.)

For the entire Spring course schedule with meeting times and room assignments, see here. Also check ConnectCarolina for the most up-to-date scheduling information.

Posted in News & Events on October 24, 2019  
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