Samuel Kessler, who received his PhD from our department in 2016, currently serves as Postdoctoral Fellow in Judaic Studies in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech. Sam recently shared with us the wonderful news that he will assume the post of Assistant Professor of Religion and (inaugural) Bonnier Family Chair in Jewish Studies at Gustavus Adolphus College starting in Fall 2018!
Congratulations, Sam!Posted in Alumni News on March 12, 2018
In a new interview, Joseph Terrell of Chapel Hill band Mipso discusses the influence of UNC’s Religious Studies classes on his music. On his experience as a UNC Religious Studies major, he says, “It completely formed who I am, and it was an excellent education to be a songwriter.” Watch the interview with Terrell by UNC doctoral student Becca Henriksen here:
Chapel Hill’s indie Americana quartet Mipso release their fifth album, Edges Run, on April 6th, 2018 via a newly inked record deal with AntiFragile Music. Influenced by the contradiction of its progressive home and the surrounding rural southern landscapes, Mipso has been hailed as “hewing surprisingly close to gospel and folk while still sounding modern and secular” (Acoustic Guitar) and was recently recognized by Rolling Stone as an “ Artist You Need to Know.” The band brings a distinctly unique sound – full of wistful beauty, hopeful undercurrents, and panoramic soundscapes.
Venturing ever-further from its string-band pedigree to discover a broader Americana where classic folk-rock and modern alt-country sounds mingle easily with Appalachian tradition, Mipso’s music is lush and forward moving, with lyrics that sear and salve in turn.
Look for Mipso on tour this spring in support of their new release, Edges Run.Posted in Alumni News on March 7, 2018
Timur Yuskaev, a PhD graduate of our department who currently serves as Associate Professor of Contemporary Islam at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, has recently published a book titled Speaking Qur’an: An American Scripture (University of South Carolina Press, 2017), which examines the interpretation of the Qur’an among American Muslims. From the University of South Carolina Press website:
“In Speaking Qur’an: An American Scripture, Timur R. Yuskaev examines how Muslim Americans have been participating in their country’s cultural, social, religious, and political life. Essential to this process, he shows, is how the Qur’an has become an ever more deeply American text that speaks to central issues in the lives of American Muslims through the spoken-word interpretations of Muslim preachers, scholars, and activists….
Set within the rapidly transforming contexts of the last half century, and central to the volume, are the issues of cultural translation and embodiment of sacred texts that Yuskaev explores by focusing on the Qur’an as a spoken scripture. The process of the Qur’an becoming an American sacred text, he argues, is ongoing. It comes to life when the Qur’an is spoken and embodied by its American faithful.”
Congratulations, Timur!Posted in Alumni News on February 26, 2018
Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst (PhD 2012), who is currently Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Vermont, has recently published a book titled Indian Muslim Minorities and the 1857 Rebellion: Religion, Rebels, and Jihad (I. B. Tauris, 2017). The book examines the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and its implications for our understanding of Islam in the region. From the I. B. Tauris website:
“While jihad has been the subject of countless studies in the wake of recent terrorist attacks, scholarship on the topic has so far paid little attention to South Asian Islam and, more specifically, its place in South Asian history. Seeking to fill some gaps in the historiography, Ilyse R. Morgenstein Fuerst examines the effects of the 1857 Rebellion (long taught in Britain as the ‘Indian Mutiny’) on debates about the issue of jihad during the British Raj. Morgenstein Fuerst shows that the Rebellion had lasting, pronounced effects on the understanding by their Indian subjects (whether Muslim, Hindu or Sikh) of imperial rule by distant outsiders. For India’s Muslims their interpretation of the Rebellion as jihad shaped subsequent discourses, definitions and codifications of Islam in the region. Morgenstein Fuerst concludes by demonstrating how these perceptions of jihad, contextualised within the framework of the 19th century Rebellion, continue to influence contemporary rhetoric about Islam and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent.Drawing on extensive primary source analysis, this unique take on Islamic identities in South Asia will be invaluable to scholars working on British colonial history, India and the Raj, as well as to those studying Islam in the region and beyond.”
An interview on the book can be found here.
Congratulations, Ilyse!Posted in Alumni News on February 19, 2018
Christopher Frilingos (PhD 2001), Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Michigan State University, just published a new book titled Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Family Trouble in the Infancy Gospels (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017). The book explores two examples of early Christian literature known as the “Infancy Gospels,” which offer details on the early lives of Jesus and Mary not contained in the canonical New Testament. From the University of Pennsylvania Press website:
“The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a collection of stories from the mid-second century C.E. describing events in the life of Jesus between the ages of five and twelve. The Proto-gospel of James, also dating from the second century, focuses on Mary and likewise includes episodes from her childhood. These gospels are often cast aside as marginal character sketches, designed to assure the faithful that signs of divine grace cropped up in the early years of both Mary and Jesus. Christopher A. Frilingos contends instead that the accounts are best viewed as meditations on family. Both gospels offer rich portrayals of household relationships at a time when ancient Christians were locked in a fierce debate about family—not only on the question of what a Christian family ought to look like but also on whether Christians should pursue family life at all.”
Congratulations, Chris!Posted in Alumni News on December 26, 2017
Joanne Seiff (M.A., 2001), a product of our graduate program in Religious Studies, is now a writer based in Winnipeg, Canada, whose opinion pieces appear on the CBC website. Her work on topics in Jewish Studies have also appeared in the Jewish Post & News as well as the Vancouver Jewish Independent. She recently published a book, titled From the Outside In, consisting of a collection of her newspaper columns. A helpful review of the book has recently appeared here. From the review (by Cynthia Ramsay):
“Two things will immediately strike readers of From the Outside In: Jewish Post & News Columns, 2015-2016 by Joanne Seiff – Seiff’s knowledge of Judaism and her empathy. She really knows her Jewish texts, as well as a thing or two about human nature. Yet, she doesn’t criticize from on high. She’s right in there in the muck, so to speak, not just making suggestions for others to carry out, but trying to play a positive role herself in whatever transformations she thinks might engage more Jews in Judaism and in community. Her heart is in the right place, and it shows.”
Posted in Alumni News on October 20, 2017
Brandi Denison, a PhD graduate of our department (2011) and an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of North Florida, has just published a book titled Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879–2009 (University of Nebraska Press, 2017). From the University of Nebraska Press website:
“Ute Land Religion in the American West, 1879–2009 is a narrative of American religion and how it intersected with land in the American West. Prior to 1881, Utes lived on the largest reservation in North America—twelve million acres of western Colorado. Brandi Denison takes a broad look at the Ute land dispossession and resistance to disenfranchisement by tracing the shifting cultural meaning of dirt, a physical thing, into land, an abstract idea. This shift was made possible through the development and deployment of an idealized American religion based on Enlightenment ideals of individualism, Victorian sensibilities about the female body, and an emerging respect for diversity and commitment to religious pluralism that was wholly dependent on a separation of economics from religion.
“As the narrative unfolds, Denison shows how Utes and their Anglo-American allies worked together to systematize a religion out of existing ceremonial practices, anthropological observations, and Euro-American ideals of nature. A variety of societies then used religious beliefs and practices to give meaning to the land, which in turn shaped inhabitants’ perception of an exclusive American religion. Ultimately, this movement from the tangible to the abstract demonstrates the development of a normative American religion, one that excludes minorities even as they are the source of the idealized expression.”
Congratulations, Brandi!Posted in Alumni News on August 29, 2017
The latest book by Randall Styers, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, is a volume of collected essays (co-edited with Edward Bever of SUNY Old Westbury) titled Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017). In addition to co-editing the entire volume, Prof. Styers contributes an essay to the collection on “Bad Habits, or, How Superstition Disappeared in the Modern World.” From the Penn State University Press website:
“This collection of essays considers the place of magic in the modern world, first by exploring the ways in which modernity has been defined in explicit opposition to magic and superstition, and then by illuminating how modern proponents of magic have worked to legitimize their practices through an overt embrace of evolving forms such as esotericism and supernaturalism.
“Taking a two-track approach, this book explores the complex dynamics of the construction of the modern self and its relation to the modern preoccupation with magic. Essays examine how modern ‘rational’ consciousness is generated and maintained and how proponents of both magical and scientific traditions rationalize evidence to fit accepted orthodoxy. This book also describes how people unsatisfied with the norms of modern subjectivity embrace various forms of magic—and the methods these modern practitioners use to legitimate magic in the modern world.”
The volume also includes a contribution by one of our PhD alumni, Megan Goodwin, titled “Manning the High Seat: Seidr as Self-Making in Contemporary Norse Neopaganisms.”
Congratulations, Randall!Posted in Alumni News, Faculty Publications on June 16, 2017
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.
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!
See you soon at the next McLester colloquium!Posted in Alumni News, Events, Graduate Student News on February 23, 2017
Anne 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.
Posted in Alumni News on February 15, 2017
“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.”
Rabia Gregory (PhD 2007) is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Missouri. Rabia’s recent book, titled Marrying Jesus in Medieval and Early Modern Northern Europe: Popular Culture and Religious Reform (Ashgate, 2016), examines a fascinating concept within medieval religious culture. From the Routledge website:
Posted in Alumni News on January 11, 2017
“The first full-length study of the notion of marriage to Jesus in late medieval and early modern popular culture, this book treats the transmission and transformation of ideas about this concept as a case study in the formation of religious belief and popular culture. Marrying Jesus in Medieval and Early Modern Northern Europe provides a history of the dispersion of theology about the bride of Christ in the period between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries and explains how this metaphor, initially devised for a religious elite, became integral to the laity’s pursuit of salvation. Unlike recent publications on the bride of Christ, which explore the gendering of sanctity or the poetics of religious eroticism, this is a study of popular religion told through devotional media and other technologies of salvation. Marrying Jesus argues against the heteronormative interpretation that brides of Christ should be female by reconstructing the cultural production of brides of Christ in late medieval Europe. A central assertion of this book is that by the fourteenth century, worldly, sexually active brides of Christ, both male and female, were no longer aberrations. Analyzing understudied vernacular sources from the late medieval period – including sermons, early printed books, spiritual diaries, letters, songs, and hagiographies – Rabia Gregory shows how marrying Jesus was central to late medieval lay piety, and how the ‘chaste’ bride of Christ developed out of sixteenth-century religious disputes.”
Dr. Ron Mourad is Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Michigan, where he specializes in the philosophy of religion and Christian theology. After graduating from the Religious Studies department at UNC-Chapel Hill (with Honors) in 1994, he pursued further studies at the University of Chicago, where he received an M.A. in Divinity (1995) and a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Religion (2002).
Dr. Mourad hosts a podcast called “Ultimate Concerns” in which he explores topics in religion and culture in dialogue with experts in religious studies. Recent episodes explore topics as varied as virtual reality, the nature of heaven and hell, and artificial intelligence.
To find the podcast on iTunes, see here.Posted in Alumni News on November 16, 2016
My first book was published in summer 2015 with NYU Press in the North American Religions series. The book is entitled Playing for God: Evangelical Women and the Unintended Consequences of Sports Ministry and stems from my dissertation research on female Christian athletes in the U.S.
I am happily teaching at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Last summer, I directed the College’s study abroad program to Cape Town, South Africa. I was just named an inaugural fellow for the W. Taylor Reveley Interdisciplinary Fellows program– an initiative that provides institutional support for the development and implementation of a team-taught cross-disciplinary course. I will be working with my colleague Jaime Settle in the government department to develop a course on religion and American politics.
I am living in Richmond, Virginia with my dog, Cowboy. I have been enjoying hiking, playing bass in a band, and the excellent craft beer scene.
Posted in Alumni News on January 14, 2016
In March 1997, thirty-nine people in Rancho Santa Fe, California, ritually terminated their lives. To outsiders, it was a mass suicide. To insiders, it was a graduation. This act was the culmination of over two decades of spiritual and social development for the members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious group focused on transcending humanity and the Earth, and seeking salvation in the literal heavens on board a UFO.
In this fascinating overview, Benjamin Zeller (PhD ’07) not only explores the question of why the members of Heaven’s Gate committed ritual suicides, but interrogates the origin and evolution of the religion, its appeal, and its practices. By tracking the development of the history, social structure, and worldview of Heaven’s Gate, Zeller draws out the ways in which the movement was both a reflection and a microcosm of larger American culture.The group emerged out of engagement with Evangelical Christianity, the New Age movement, science fiction and UFOs, and conspiracy theories, and it evolved in response to the religious quests of baby boomers, new religions of the counterculture, and the narcissistic pessimism of the 1990s. Thus, Heaven’s Gate not only reflects the context of its environment, but also reveals how those forces interacted in the form of a single religious body.
In the only book-length study of Heaven’s Gate, Zeller traces the roots of the movement, examines its beliefs and practices, and tells the captivating story of the people of Heaven’s Gate.
You can find out more at Amazon. Congrats Benjamin!Posted in Alumni News on January 9, 2015
Brantley Gasaway (PhD ’08) is an assistant professor of religion at Bucknell University. His new book, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice is a compelling history of progressive evangelicalism. Gasaway examines a dynamic though often overlooked movement within American Christianity today. Gasaway focuses on left-leaning groups, such as Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action, that emerged in the early 1970s, prior to the rise of the more visible Religious Right. He identifies the distinctive “public theology”–a set of biblical interpretations regarding the responsibility of Christians to promote social justice–that has animated progressive evangelicals’ activism and bound together their unusual combination of political positions.
The book analyzes how prominent leaders, including Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo, responded to key political and social issues over the past four decades. Progressive evangelicals combated racial inequalities, endorsed feminism, promoted economic justice, and denounced American nationalism and militarism. At the same time, most leaders opposed abortion and refused to affirm homosexual behavior, even as they defended gay civil rights. Gasaway demonstrates that, while progressive evangelicals have been caught in the crossfire of partisan conflicts and public debates over the role of religion in politics, they have offered a significant alternative to both the Religious Right and the political left.
“I see this as the “go-to” book on this subject. This is not a story of a final victory, but one with a kind of suspense.” –Martin E. Marty, The University of Chicago Divinity School
“A significant contribution to our understanding of progressive evangelicalism … Gasaway’s analysis demonstrates with skill and understanding the vitality and relevance of progressive evangelicalism.” –Randall Balmer, Dartmouth College
Congratulations Brantley!Posted in Alumni News on January 8, 2015
Annie Blazer (PhD ’09) is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary. Her new book, Playing for God: Evangelical Women and the Unintended Consequences of Sports Ministry (New York University Press, 2015), offers an exploration of the history and religious lives of Christian athletes, showing that evangelical engagement with popular culture can carry unintended consequences.
When sport became an avenue for embodied worship, it forced a reckoning with evangelical teachings about the body. Female Christian athletes increasingly turned to their own bodies to understand their religious identity, and in so doing, came to question evangelical mainstays on gender and sexuality. What was once a male-dominated masculinist project of sports engagement became a female-dominated movement that challenged evangelical ideas on femininity, marriage hierarchy, and the sinfulness of homosexuality. Though evangelicalism has not changed sporting culture, for those involved in sports ministry, sport has changed evangelicalism.
Congratulations Annie!Posted in Alumni News on December 10, 2014
Dr. Jeff Wilson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo, has just published his third book Mindful America: The Mutual Influence of Meditation and American Culture through Oxford University Press.
From the OUP website: “Thirty years ago, ‘mindfulness’ was a Buddhist principle mostly obscure to the west. Today, it is a popular cure-all for Americans’ daily problems. A massive and lucrative industry promotes mindfulness in every aspect of life, however mundane or unlikely: Americans of various faiths (or none at all) practice mindful eating, mindful sex, mindful parenting, mindfulness in the office, mindful sports, mindfulness-based stress relief and addiction recovery, and hire mindful divorce lawyers. Mindfulness is touted by members of Congress, CEOs, and Silicon Valley tech gurus, and is even being taught in public schools, hospitals, and the military.
Focusing on such processes as the marketing, medicalization, and professionalization of meditation, Jeff Wilson reveals how Buddhism shed its countercultural image and was assimilated into mainstream American culture. The rise of mindfulness in America, Wilson argues, is a perfect example of how Buddhism enters new cultures and is domesticated: in each case, the new cultures take from Buddhism what they believe will relieve their specific distresses and concerns, and in the process create new forms of Buddhism adapted to their needs. Wilson also tackles the economics of the mindfulness movement, examining commercial programs, therapeutic services, and products such as books, films, CDs, and even smartphone applications.
Mindful America is the first in-depth study of this phenomenon–invaluable for understanding how mindfulness came to be applied to such a vast array of non-religious concerns and how it can be reconciled with traditional Buddhism in America.”
Congratulations Jeff!Posted in Alumni News on September 18, 2014
Rabia Gregory and Shanny Luft, two graduates of the doctoral program in Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, have launched a Facebook venture together. Iconofiles curates religious visual and material culture from history and pop culture – from sacred to profane, and back again. The site provides a wealth of images for both research and teaching. For example, the basketball rosary to the left is just one of many Catholic sports rosaries available online. Is a football rosary the perfect accessory for any given Sunday this fall?Posted in Alumni News on June 28, 2014
We love to hear from our alum. Let us know about your recent adventures and tell us how you’ve put your Religious Studies degree to use.