Recent Discoveries by Professor Jodi Magness’s Team at Huqoq

Recent Discoveries by Professor Jodi Magness’s Team at Huqoq

A team of specialists and students at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee led by UNC Religious Studies Professor Jodi Magness have discovered unparalleled mosaics that shed new light on the life and culture of an ancient Jewish village.

From the UNC College of Arts and Sciences website:

The discoveries indicate villagers flourished under early fifth century Christian rule, contradicting a widespread view that Jewish settlement in the region declined during that period. The large size and elaborate interior decoration of the Huqoq synagogue point to an unexpected level of prosperity.

“The mosaics decorating the floor of the Huqoq synagogue revolutionize our understanding of Judaism in this period,” said Magness. “Ancient Jewish art is often thought to be aniconic, or lacking images. But these mosaics, colorful and filled with figured scenes, attest to a rich visual culture as well as to the dynamism and diversity of Judaism in the Late Roman and Byzantine periods.”

More images and coverage of the dig can be found at the Times of Israel, the News and Observer, and Hyperallergic.

Congratulations to Jodi and the team!


Posted in Faculty News, News & Events on July 17, 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

2018 Department Awards Ceremony

2018 Department Awards Ceremony

On Wednesday, April 18, the department held its annual awards ceremony at which we celebrated the accomplishments of our students and faculty over the past year. The ceremony was held in the Graduate Student Center and was followed by a wonderful time of conversation over refreshments. The many recognitions we noted that day include:

Undergraduate Student Awards:

Halperin-Schütz Undergraduate Essay Awards:

Ingrid Kottke, “Witchcraft as Crime in the Treatises of King James VI and I and Matthew Hopkins”

Sydra Siddiqui, “Narratives of Healing and Personhood in Indian and Tanzanian Society”

Bernard Boyd Memorial Prize: Sydra Siddiqui

Graduate Student Awards:

Peck Prize for Graduate Student Teaching Excellence: Miguel Vargas

Religious Studies Department Summer Research Awards:

Isaiah Ellis,“American Architecture and American Religion: A Case Study in the Spiritual Valences of the Urban West”

Joanna Smith, “Secrecy, Limits, and the Configuration of Bodies at the Modern Slaughterhouse”

GSOC Peer Recognition Teaching Award: Ehsan Sheikholharam  


Posted in Faculty News, Graduate Student News, News & Events, Undergraduate Accomplishments on April 26, 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

Lauren Leve Wins James Fisher Prize

Lauren Leve Wins James Fisher Prize

The Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies (ANHS) has announced that Lauren Leve, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of Graduate Studies, has won the first James Fisher Prize for First Books on the Himalayan Region for her book The Buddhist Art of Living in Nepal: Ethical Practice and Religious Reform (Routledge, 2016). 

In honor of the scholarly contributions of Dr. James Fisher to scholarship in the region, the Fisher Prize honors books which contribute an innovative and lucid written account of Himalayan studies research. Professor Leve shares the prize with Sarah Shneiderman, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.

Professor Leve’s book chronicles how Theravada Buddhism has grown to have a significant presence in Nepal, especially among Newar communities of Kathmandu. The ANHS announcement includes the following statement: “Besides being a pleasure to read, the book’s significance lies in its ethnographic treatment of families adopting religious tenets which help them adjust to the contemporary changes of late modernity and neoliberal globalization.”

Congratulations, Lauren!


Posted in Faculty News, Faculty Pubs & Profiles on April 4, 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

Lauren Leve at International Women’s Day Program

Lauren Leve at International Women’s Day Program

Last Sunday, March 11, Lauren Leve, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of Graduate Studies, was the keynote speaker at the International Women’s Day 2018 program for the North Carolina Nepali Community, organized by the Non-Resident Nepali Association National Coordination Council North Carolina Chapter and the Nepal Center of North Carolina. Prof. Leve spoke on “Gender-based Violence and Awareness in the Cultural Interface.” 


Posted in Faculty News, News & Events on March 16, 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

Carl Ernst at the Jaipur Literature Festival

Carl Ernst at the Jaipur Literature Festival

On Jan. 25, Carl Ernst, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, spoke on “Sufi Martyrs of Love” at the Jaipur Literature Festival, an event described as the “greatest literary show on Earth.” The festival brings together the world’s most renowned literary talents across a number of fields and subject areas for intellectual discussion, thoughtful debate and more.

Read the profile of Prof. Ernst’s work connecting Carolina to the Middle East by UNC Global, and watch the recorded lecture here!




Posted in Faculty News, News & Events on February 16, 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

Harshita Kamath Wins Tanner Award for Undergraduate Teaching

Harshita Kamath Wins Tanner Award for Undergraduate Teaching


Professor Harshita Kamath, who teaches Hinduism and South Asian religions in our department, was one of 25 faculty members honored for university-wide teaching awards during halftime of the UNC men’s basketball game on Jan. 20th vs. Georgia Tech. Prof. Kamath received the Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which “was established to recognize excellence in inspirational teaching of undergraduate students, particularly first- and second-year students.”

For the full list of faculty members receiving awards, click here.

Congratulations, Harshita!

Posted in Faculty News on January 21, 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

Study Abroad: 2018 Huqoq Excavations with Jodi Magness

Study Abroad: 2018 Huqoq Excavations with Jodi Magness

UNC students

Since 2011, Prof. Jodi Magness has led archaeological excavations at the site of Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee, where she and her team have garnered international attention for their discovery of an ancient synagogue building with stunning mosaic floors. She is returning to Huqoq in summer 2018 and invites students to participate in the excavation through UNC’s Study Abroad program.

This coming season, the excavations will take place May 31–July 2, 2018. The deadline to apply for the program is February 14, 2018. The field school program (CLAR 650) offers students 6 hours of academic credit.

For more information, including instructions for the online application, see the UNC Study Abroad link here. You can also see the excavation website at

Posted in Faculty News, News & Events on December 1, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

Translating Islam: A Conference in Honor of Carl Ernst (Oct 6-7)

Translating Islam: A Conference in Honor of Carl Ernst (Oct 6-7)

ErnstProfessor Carl Ernst, the William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor in Religious Studies, has devoted his academic life to translating Islam, linguistically and culturally. From his first book, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (1985), to his most recent book, co-edited with Fabrizio Speziale, Perso-Indica: An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions (2017), he has focused on how Islamic concepts have traveled across time and space. This conference, organized around themes in Islamic studies that Ernst’s work has addressed, evokes and expands on the major contributions of this fertile, creative translator of texts, ideas, and traditions within the orb of Islam.

The conference will take place October 6-7, 2017 at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Downtown Chapel Hill/Carrboro (370 E. Main Street, Carrboro, NC 27510).

For more information, including registration and schedule, consult the conference website here.

Posted in Faculty News on September 27, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

Evyatar Marienberg on Sting and Religion

Evyatar Marienberg on Sting and Religion


In late July, Prof. Evyatar Marienberg met with British rockstar Sting for a detailed conversation as part of the research for his upcoming book, Religion Around Sting (Penn State University Press). Sting, a.k.a. Gordon Sumner, was born in 1951 in North East England to a Catholic father and an Anglican mother. He went through Catholic schools through the crucial years before, during, and after the Vatican II council, and thus experienced a wildly changing Church as a young man. Even though he does not consider himself a Catholic today, Catholic imagery is extremely important in his lyrics.

Marienberg’s work is based on a variety of sources, including archival materials of all kinds (schools, diocese, parish, etc.), local newspapers from the time, and interviews. Last year, Sting read a significant part of the upcoming book, which prepared the way for their discussion in July which lasted almost 2.5 hours.

For a short article related to this project, click here.

Posted in Faculty News on August 11, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

Brendan Thornton Wins Barbara Christian Prize

Brendan Thornton Wins Barbara Christian Prize

Professor Brendan Thornton’s book, Negotiating Respect: Pentecostalism, Masculinity, and the Politics of Spiritual Authority in the Dominican Republic (University Press of Florida, 2016), has won the 2017 Barbara Christian Prize for Best Book in the Humanities from the Caribbean Studies Association. From the comments of one of the judges on the prize committee:

“I cannot assert strongly enough the groundbreaking moves made in Negotiating Respect. Thornton challenges our now settled critical orthodoxies as what counts as radical and subversive scholarship by taking seriously the diverse practices of Caribbean Christianity…. The stakes for the field of Caribbean studies are high. Thornton asks us to complicate our reading of quotidian religious practices: so, that we might see that ‘the church has become more norm than exception, more local than foreign, more orthodox than heterodox, more accepted than disdained.’”

For more on the prize, click here.

Congratulations, Brendan!

Posted in Faculty News, Faculty Publications on July 19, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.