Drawing insights from gender studies and the environmental humanities, Demonic Bodies analyzes how ancient Christians constructed the Christian body through its relations to demonic adversaries. Case studies on New Testament texts, early Christian church fathers, and “Gnostic” writings trace how early followers of Jesus construed the demonic body in diverse and sometimes contradictory ways, as both embodied and bodiless, “fattened” and ethereal, heavenly and earthbound. Across this diversity of portrayals, however, demons consistently functioned as personifications of “deviant” bodily practices such as “magical” rituals, immoral sexual acts, gluttony, and “pagan” religious practices. This demonization served an exclusionary function where by Christian writers marginalized fringe Christian groups by linking their ritual activities to demonic modes of (dis)embodiment. Demonic Bodies demonstrates, therefore, that the formation of early Christian cultures was part of the shaping of broader Christian “ecosystems,” which in turn informed Christian experiences of their own embodiment and community.
About the Author:
Travis W. Proctor is Assistant Professor of Religion at Wittenberg University. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Ancient Mediterranean Religions from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research has appeared in the Journal of Early Christian Studies, Harvard Theological Review, Studies in Late Antiquity, and Journal of Ecclesiastical History, as well as public venues including Religion Dispatches, The Bart Ehrman Blog, and the “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” podcast.
Webinar on Dune and Islam: How To Understand the Movie
Frank Herbert’s Dune is inspired by themes from the history of Islam that are both direct and subtle. Carl ErnstandMichael Muhammad Knight discussed the new film and the book’s relationship to Islam. This event took place on November 13, 2021.
Carl Ernst is a leading scholar of Islamic Studies and Sufism and William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. Michael Muhammad Knight is Assistant Professor of Religion and Cultural Studies at the University of Central Florida and the author of several books, most recently Muhammad’s Body: Baraka Networks and the Prophetic Assemblage.
The live webinar was a fundraiser to benefit the Peck Fund for Teaching Excellence, which is devoted to supporting and recognizing teaching among graduate students in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Andrew Aghapour, a graduate of our department (PhD 2017) with a creative background in comedy, improv, and storytelling in addition to his academic work, has developed a one person show called Zara that he will be performing at a series of events in Chapel Hill this spring. From the show’s website:
Zara is a one person show about race, religion, and identity in the American South. Andrew Aghapour was raised by immigrant parents in a multi-racial and multi-religious household. Zara is a comedic account of an anxious, asthmatic Muslim kid’s search for meaning and the chance encounters that impacted him, including a friendship with the man who mugged him and a love affair with marijuana. Drawing on personal stories, philosophy, and the history of monotheism, Zara is a story about how identity is inherited and remade in 21st-century America.
For a detailed schedule of the events at UNC, including both performances and workshops, see here.
This program, which is based at the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture at Indiana University and is supported by the Lilly Endowment, “assists… early career scholars in the improvement of their teaching and research and in the development of professional communities.” It also “includes a seminar devoted to such other professional issues as constructing a tenure portfolio, publication, grant writing, and department politics.”
We congratulate Anne on this honor, and we trust it will enable her to attain new heights in her teaching and research.
The ARSP is a multiyear, collaborative initiative co-directored by Weiner and DeRogatis. The project aims to study religious diversity by documenting and interpreting the auditory cultures of the various religions in the United States. The project has grown since its first developments aided by a 2015 grant awarded by Humanities Without Walls. This new grant will allow geographic expansion, long-term preservation and accessibility, interpretive scholarship, and community engagement.
Sacred Writes, Directed by Megan Goodwin, receives Henry Luce Foundation Grant
Megan Goodwin (PhD UNC 2014), Visiting Lecturer of Philosophy and Religion at Northeastern University, has been named Director of Sacred Writes at Northeastern University, a project committed to amplifying the voices of experts who often go unheard in public discourse.
Sacred Writes is a four-year project funded by the LUCE foundation’s Theology Program, geared toward the advancement of public scholarship on religion and theology. Sacred Writes is one of seven programs to receive 2018 grants through the Theology Program.