Faculty Highlight: Professor Carl W. Ernst

Ernst1Professor Carl W. Ernst is a specialist in Islamic studies, with a focus on West and South Asia. His published research, based on the study of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, has been mainly devoted to the study of three areas: general and critical issues of Islamic studies, premodern and contemporary Sufism, and Indo-Muslim culture. He was recently interviewed about his research on Sufism: “Sufism: History, Politics and Culture: A Conversation with Carl Ernst, Interviewed by Llewellyn Smith.” Sufi Journal, no. 86 (winter 2014).

pic for Ernst faculty highlightErnst3On October 22, 2014, he gave a lecture entitled “Why ISIS Should Be Called Daesh: Reflections on Religion and Terrorism,” for the African, African American, and Diaspora Studies Faculty Forum, UNC-Chapel Hill.

His most recent published article is “‘A Little Indicates Much’: Structure and Meaning in the Prefaces of Rumi’s Mathnawi (Books I-III).” Mawlana Rumi Review V (2014), pp. 14-25. It is a discussion of one of the great classics of Persian Sufi literature, Rumi’s epic Mathnawi.


Dr. Ernst at Sufi shrine, Khuldabad, India, Aug. 2014

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Professor Ernst and Llewellyn Smith

Jeff Wilson’s (PhD ’07) Mindful America Out with OUP

MindfulAmericaDr. 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.”

You can find out more about Wilson’s research by checking out this recent guest blog for CNN or listening to this Interfaith Voice interview.

Congratulations Jeff!

Michael Muhammad Knight Pens WaPo Op-Ed

KnightOn September 3rd, Michael Muhammad Knight, a graduate student in Islamic Studies, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “I understand why Westerners are joining jihadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them.” In the article, Knight discusses his own desire to join Chechen resistance fighters and the conservative theologians who talked him out of it. He grapples with the very American impulse to respond to international injustice with redemptive violence, citing this as an overlooked potential explanation for why Americans might join the ranks of the Islamic State. The article has garnered attention from a number of U.S. media outlets – don’t be surprised if you hear Mike being praised or condemned on your favorite cable news channel in the coming weeks.

Catholicism Today by Evyatar Marienberg

MarienbergCatholicismFrom Routledge: “Catholics are not Christians. They worship Mary. They do whatever the pope says. They cannot divorce. They eat fish on Fridays. These flawed but common statements reflect a combined ignorance of and fascination with Catholicism and the Catholic Church. Catholicism Today: An Introduction to the Contemporary Catholic Church aims to familiarize its readers with contemporary Catholicism. The book is designed to address common misconceptions and frequently-asked questions regarding the Church, its teachings, and the lived experience of Catholics in modern societies worldwide. Opening with a concise historical overview of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, the text explores the core beliefs and rituals that define Catholicism in practice, the organization of the Church and the Catholic calendar, as well as the broad question of what it means to be Catholic in a variety of cultural contexts. The book ends with a discussion of the challenges facing the Church both now and in the coming decades. Also included are two short appendices on Eastern Catholicism and Catholicism in the United States.”

Dr. Andrea Cooper Joins Department

CooperAndrea Cooper has joined the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies as the Leonard and Tobee Kaplan Fellow in Modern Jewish Thought and Culture. Prof. Cooper holds a B.A. from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Jewish Studies from New York University, where she recently served as Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow. Her research and writing focus on modern Jewish thought, gender theory, and continental philosophy, and she will be teaching a variety of new courses at UNC in these areas.

Joseph Lam Becomes Assistant Professor

LamJoseph Lam has become an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies. Prof. Lam holds a B.A.Sc. from the University of British Columbia, an M.Div. degree from Regent College in Vancouver, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in the field of Northwest Semitic Philology. He has served as an instructor at N.C. State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Chicago, and Regent College, and he began teaching at UNC as a lecturer in our department in 2011. Prof. Lam’s research and teaching at UNC will focus on ancient Near Eastern religion, languages, and culture, including the Hebrew Bible.

Dr. Magness Uncovers Surprising Mosaics

Huqoq-mosaic-elephant-image-965x543Excavations led by Religious Studies faculty member Jodi Magness have uncovered well-preserved mosaics decorating a Late Roman synagogue at Huqoq. Some of these mosaics reveal surprising images – like the elephant pictured here – depicting scenes and objects unattested to in the Bible.

You can read more about these amazing discoveries below:




Cambridge Companion to American Islam, Juliane Hammer & Omid Safi, Eds.

HammerAmericanFrom Cambridge University Press: The Cambridge Companion to American Islam offers a scholarly overview of the state of research on American Muslims and American Islam. The book presents the reader with a comprehensive discussion of the debates, challenges, and opportunities that American Muslims have faced through centuries of American history. This volume also covers the creative ways in which American Muslims have responded to the myriad serious challenges that they have faced and continue to face in constructing a religious praxis and complex identities that are grounded in both a universal tradition and the particularities of their local contexts. The book introduces the reader to some of the many facets of the lives of American Muslims that can only be understood in their interactions with Islam’s entanglement in the American experiment.

UNC Alumni Curate Religious Images on Facebook

BasketballRosaryRabia 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?

Mystical Science of the Soul by Jessica Boon

BoonSoulFrom University of Toronto Press: “The Mystical Science of the Soul explores the unexamined influence of medieval discourses of science and spirituality on recogimiento, the unique Spanish genre of recollection mysticism that served as the driving force behind the principal developments in Golden Age mysticism. Building on recent research in medieval optics, physiology, and memory in relation to the devotional practices of the late Middle Ages, Jessica A. Boon probes the implications of an ‘embodied soul’ for the intellectual history of Spanish mysticism. Boon proposes a fundamental rereading of the key recogimiento text Subida del Monte Sión (1535/1538), which melds the traditionally distinct spiritual techniques of moral self-examination, Passion meditation, and negative theology into one cognitively adept path towards mystical union. She is also the first English-language scholar to treat the author of this influential work – the Renaissance physician Bernardino de Laredo, a pivotal figure in the transition from medieval to early modern spirituality on the Iberian peninsula and a source for Teresa of Avila’s mystical language.”