Recent Discoveries at the 2019 Huqoq Excavations

The 2019 season of the archeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee, led by Professor Jodi Magness, recently ended at the end of June. This season’s work uncovered new parts of the mosaic floor from the ancient Huqoq synagogue at the site. Among the new mosaics are the depictions of the four beasts described in the book of Daniel and the first depiction of the episode of Elim, the place where the Israelites camped after leaving Egypt and wandering through the wilderness without water.

For more details on the recent findings and the work Magness has done in the past, read here, here and here.

For reports from previous seasons of excavations at Huqoq, see here (7/6/2016), here (7/9/2017) and here (7/17/2018). You can also visit the excavation’s webpage at

A detail from the Elim mosaic. (Jim Haberman, Courtesy: UNC-Chapel Hill)

Andrea Cooper is Recipient of First Book Subvention Prize

Professor Andrea Cooper has received a First Book Subvention Prize from the Association for Jewish Studies. According to the committee, her manuscript “will have a tremendous impact on the field of Jewish studies.” Her book, Beyond Brotherhood: Gendering Modern Jewish Thought, is under contract with Indiana University Press in the series New Jewish Philosophy and Thought.

Congratulations, Andrea!


Brendan Thornton to Speak at WPU Interdisciplinary Conference

Professor Brendan Thornton will be the keynote speaker for a conference at William Peace University in October on “Exploring the Macabre, Malevolent, and Mysterious…” Conference organizers invite proposals for paper presentations, demonstrations, and interactive workshops that explore the macabre, malevolent, and mysterious. The deadline for submission is August 1st.

For more information on the conference and how to submit proposals, visit

Faculty Promotions: Brandon Bayne and Brendan Thornton

We are pleased to announce that, as of July 1, 2019, two members of our faculty have been promoted to new ranks in the department:

Brandon Bayne has been promoted to Associate Professor. Dr. Bayne specializes in the study religion in the Americas and Medieval and Early Modern Christianity, particularly European and indigenous encounters in the contact zones of the Americas. He teaches a range of courses in the area of religion in the Americas, including recent courses on “Catholicism in America” (RELI 142), “The Reformations” (RELI 454), “Readings in American Religion to 1865” (RELI 744), and “Religion and Cultural Contact in America” (RELI 842).

ThorntonBrendan Thornton is now Associate Professor in the department. Dr. Thornton specializes in the intersections of religion, culture, and identity in the Caribbean, concentrating on the ethnographic study of Pentecostal Christianity and the intersecting themes of gender, cultural change, and religious authority in the Caribbean and Latin America. He teaches a variety of course in the areas of Christianity and the supernatural, including “Supernatural Encounters: Zombies, Vampires, Demons and the Occult in the Americas” (RELI 246), “Anthropology of Christianity” (RELI 352), “Spirit Possession” (RELI 427), and “Christianity and Cultural Change” (RELI 721).

Congratulations to Brandon and Brendan!

Department of Religious Studies to Host the 2019 Annual NCRSA Conference

The Department of Religious Studies is excited to host the 2019 annual conference of the North Carolina Religious Studies Association (NCRSA) on October 5. It will be held in Carolina Hall on UNC Chapel Hill’s Campus.

The program is now available and registration is now open on the NCRSA website. Registration is $20 if you register by September 30, and $25 if you register the day of the conference. Undergraduate and graduate students are exempt from this registration fee.

The NCRSA is looking for proposals or abstracts of papers, completed papers, or topics for panel discussion on any area in the academic study of religion and of philosophy as it pertains to religion. The Association will honor the best undergraduate and graduate student essays with a stipend of $100 each, to be awarded at the conference. Submissions are due by June 30.

To learn more about submitting an essay, visit the NCRSA website.

Jessica Boon: The End of the World in Medieval Thought and Spirituality

ErnstAssociate Professor, Jessica Boon, along with Eric Knibbs and Erica Gelser, have co-edited a collection of essays titled The End of the World in Medieval Thought and Spirituality (Springer, 2019) in honor of the retirement of E. Ann Matter, now Professor Emerita at the University of Pennsylvania. From the Springer website:

“This essay collection studies the Apocalypse and the end of the world, as these themes occupied the minds of biblical scholars, theologians, and ordinary people in Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and Early Modernity. It opens with an innovative series of studies on “Gendering the Apocalypse,” devoted to the texts and contexts of the apocalyptic through the lens of gender. A second section of essays studies the more traditional problem of “Apocalyptic Theory and Exegesis,” with a focus on authors such as Augustine of Hippo and Joachim of Fiore. A final series of essays extends the thematic scope to “The Eschaton in Political, Liturgical, and Literary Contexts.” In these essays, scholars of history, theology, and literature create a dialogue that considers how fear of the end of the world, among the most pervasive emotions in human experience, underlies a great part of Western cultural production.”

Congratulations, Jessica!

National Gallery Public Symposium with Barbara Ambros

On June 7th, professor and department chair Barbara Ambros will give a talk at the public symposium, “The Role and Representation of Animals in Japanese Art and Culture,” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the National Gallery’s exhibit titled “The Life of Animals in Japanese Art.” The exhibition catalog also contains one of her articles. From the National Gallery website:

“The Life of Animals in Japanese Art takes an expansive look at the representation of animals in a variety of art forms, including painted screens, hanging scrolls, woodblock prints, netsuke, ceramic plates, kimono, and samurai helmets. The selection portrays all types of creatures—from foxes and frogs, snakes and sparrows to mythical animals such as dragons, phoenixes, and kappa river sprites. To explore the many roles animals have played in Japanese culture, objects are divided into thematic sections: Ancient Japan;The Japanese Zodiac; Religion: Buddhism, Zen, Shinto; Myth and Folklore; The World of the Samurai; Exotic Creatures and the Study of Nature; The Natural World: Creatures on Land, in the Air, and in Rivers and Seas; and The World of Leisure. This historic exhibition is co-organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Japan Foundation, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), with special cooperation from the Tokyo National Museum.”

Images from the exhibition (courtesy of the National Gallery):

Kaigyokusai Masatsugu – Wild Boar, Edo – Meiji periods, mid-to-late 19th century (photo © Museum Associates/LACMA)

Kusama Yayoi – Sho-chan, Heisei period, 2013 (Private collection © Yayoi Kusama, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai)

Unknown Artist – Charger with Carp Ascending Waterfall, Edo period, 19th century (Segawa Takeo)

Unknown Artist – Pair of Sacred Monkeys, Heian period, 11th century (photo (C) Museum Associates / LACMA)

Kaih Y ken – The Passing of Shaka, Edo period, 1713 (Sh j ke’in, Kyoto)

Jodi Magness: Masada

MagnessThe latest book by Jodi Magness, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, is a new account of the famous site and story of the last stand of a group of Jewish rebels who held out against the Roman Empire titled Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth (Princeton University Press, 2019). From the Princeton University Press website:

“Two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children—the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple—reportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This dramatic event, which took place on top of Masada, a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, spawned a powerful story of Jewish resistance that came to symbolize the embattled modern State of Israel. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. And yet, because the mass suicide was recorded by only one ancient author—the Jewish historian Josephus—some scholars question if the event ever took place.

“Jodi Magness, an archaeologist who has excavated at Masada, explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she integrates literary and historical sources to show what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during an era that witnessed the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death. Featuring numerous illustrations, this is an engaging exploration of an ancient story that continues to grip the imagination today.”

Congratulations, Jodi!