McLester Colloquium with Dr. Carl Ernst

McLester Colloquium with Dr. Carl Ernst
For the department’s McLester Seminar last week, we were pleased to hear from our very own Carl Ernst, Kenan Distinguished Professor in Religious Studies, who presented on the topic of “Anglo-Persian Texts and The Colonial Understanding of Religion.” In characteristic fashion, Dr. Ernst examined a pair of often-neglected texts from the early British-Indian colonial encounter in order to uncover the concepts and taxonomies of religion they reflect. We were grateful for the opportunity to hear from Dr. Ernst on this fascinating subject, and the talk was followed by a wonderful time of conversation over refreshments.
Posted in Faculty News, Graduate Student News on November 4, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

Andrea Cooper is Recipient of First Book Subvention Prize

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!


Posted in Faculty News on July 10, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

Brendan Thornton to Speak at WPU Interdisciplinary Conference

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

Posted in Faculty News on July 5, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

Dr. Waleed Ziad Joins the Department as Assistant Professor

Dr. Waleed Ziad Joins the Department as Assistant Professor

The Department of Religious Studies would like to extend its warmest welcome to Dr. Waleed Ziad, who joins the faculty as Assistant Professor in Islamic Studies. Dr. Ziad holds a Ph.D. in History (with Distinction) from Yale University, and his research focuses on the religious landscape of the modern Persianate world. His doctoral dissertation at Yale won the Theron Rockwell Field Prize, a university-wide award given for an exceptional “poetic, literary, or religious work” of scholarship. Prior to coming to Carolina, Dr. Ziad served as Assistant Professor in Comparative Liberal Studies at Habib University, the first full-fledged liberal arts university in Pakistan, from 2017-2019. In addition to numerous publications in academic venues, Dr. Ziad’s writing has also appeared in journalistic outlets such as The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Hill.

Posted in Faculty News on July 1, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

Faculty Promotions: Brandon Bayne and Brendan Thornton

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!

Posted in Faculty News on July 1, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

National Gallery Public Symposium with Barbara Ambros

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)

Posted in Faculty News on June 4, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

Ruel W. Tyson, Jr. (1930-2019)

Ruel W. Tyson, Jr. (1930-2019)

Ruel W. Tyson, Jr. (Photo: Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Ruel W. Tyson, Jr., Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, as well as the founder of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, on Thursday, May 30, 2019. He was 88.

It is difficult to overstate the profound influence that Prof. Tyson had on our department and on the study of the arts and humanities at UNC. He joined the Carolina faculty in 1967 and was a beloved teacher and visionary leader for the next four decades. We also remember him as an exceedingly generous and supportive colleague.

We will have more in the coming days, but for now, see the news story on the IAH website.

The IAH has also created a special page as a tribute to Prof. Tyson here.

Posted in Faculty News, News & Events on June 3, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

Encountering Nepal’s Sacred Sites through 3D Models

Encountering Nepal’s Sacred Sites through 3D Models

In summer 2018, Prof. Lauren Leve won a CFE/Lenovo Instructional Innovation Grant from the UNC Center for Faculty Excellence to develop digital tools for visualizing sacred sites in Nepal, with the assistance of PhD candidate Brad Erickson. The goal was to enable students to explore, as authentically as possible, the wonder and beauty of these sites even if they were not able to visit them in person. Recently, they were featured on the Lenovo Story Hub for this work, which involved a five-day training session on photogrammetry and virtual reality techniques held in Kathmandu, with participants that included a wide variety of Nepali professionals interested in cultural preservation.

For the full story, see here.

To view Brad’s 3D models of the Swayambhunath site in Kathmandu (and of many other objects and sites), click here.


Prof. Leve with camera equipment at Swayambhunath


The photogrammetry and VR modeling workshop (with Brad Erickson, top right)

Posted in Faculty News, Graduate Student News on May 21, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

Immanent Frame Forum on Divine Motherhood by Prof. Juliane Hammer

Immanent Frame Forum on Divine Motherhood by Prof. Juliane Hammer

presentationFollowing on last year’s Immanent Frame forum on divine fatherhood, Prof. Juliane Hammer, along with Prof. Vincent Lloyd of Villanova University, have co-curated a new online forum on divine motherhood that will be published over the coming weeks. From the introduction to the new forum:

What if God is not Father but Mother, or both? What if God is not even a parental figure at all?… Rather than posing a straightforward answer to Mary Daly’s implicit question of what lies beyond God the Father, perhaps the most generative way of engaging with divine motherhood is to ask how it might invite us to fundamentally alter what we mean by motherhood and what we mean by divinity.

For the main page of the forum, see here, where newly published pieces will appear in the weeks ahead.

You can also read the Introduction to the forum and the first contribution, “Must a female God mother?”, by Rebecca Todd Peters.

Posted in Faculty News, Faculty Publications on May 10, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.

Departmental Honors Event and Awards Ceremony

Departmental Honors Event and Awards Ceremony

On Wednesday, April 17, our department held two events celebrating the achievements of our students and faculty.

The first was an Honors Event that recognized the undergraduate students who completed a Senior Honors Thesis this year as well as those seniors whose academic excellence was sufficient to earn membership into Theta Alpha Kappa, the National Honors Society for students in the fields of religious studies and theology. The Honors Thesis writers each gave a description of their research, while the Theta Alpha Kappa inductees received certificates, pins, and cords to mark their achievement.


Students describing their honors theses: Kristen Roehrig, Brodie Heginbotham, and Ashley Cantu


The presentation of certificates, pins, and cords

The second was our annual Awards Ceremony, in which we acknowledged the various achievements of our undergraduates, graduate students, as well as faculty. This year we had a number of honored guests, including former faculty members in our department, who joined to add special meaning to the ceremony. A great time was had by all.


Our department chair, Barbara Ambros, welcoming everyone


Display table with memorabilia


Time of refreshments afterwards

Posted in Events, Faculty News, Graduate Student News, Undergraduate Accomplishments on April 30, 2019. Bookmark the permalink.