Katie Merriman Featured on NBC Asian America

Katie Merriman Featured on NBC Asian America

Katie Merriman, a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic Studies in our department, is the founder of Muslim History Tours NYC, a walking tour of Harlem, New York covering important locations related to Muslim history in the city. (This was previously covered on our website here.)

Katie was just featured in a video on NBC discussing the tour:

The video can also be found here. Wonderful work, Katie!

Posted in Graduate Student News on October 22, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

Dr. Kent Brintnall at the McLester Colloquium

Dr. Kent Brintnall at the McLester Colloquium

BrintnallLast Wednesday, September 27, Dr. Kent Brintnall of UNC-Charlotte joined us for the first of our McLester Colloquia for the academic year. At Charlotte, Dr. Brintnall is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies as well as the Director of the Graduate Certificate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. This event was co-sponsored by the Program in Sexuality Studies here at UNC-Chapel Hill.

In a lecture titled “‘Forgetting Freud’: The Drive for Religion,” Brintnall offered a creative exploration of the development of Freud’s thought, drawing implications for contemporary understandings of religion. The lecture was thought-provoking and generated many questions and responses from the faculty and graduate students present. As usual, the lecture was followed by a time of casual conversation over refreshments.

Looking forward to the next McLester Colloquium!

Posted in Graduate Student News, News & Events on October 4, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

New Discoveries at the 2017 Huqoq Excavations

New Discoveries at the 2017 Huqoq Excavations

UNC students

The 2017 season of the archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee, led by Professor Jodi Magness, recently concluded at the end of June, and this season’s work uncovered new parts of the unique mosaic floor from the ancient synagogue at the site. Among the new mosaics are a Helios and zodiac cycle, a depiction of the biblical story of Jonah, and a scene of the construction of the Tower of Babel.

For more details on the discoveries, see the official press release here.

For reports from previous seasons of excavations at Huqoq, see here (9/14/2016), here (7/6/2016), and here (7/15/2014). You can also visit the excavation’s webpage at huqoq.org.


Part of the zodiac (Capricorn) from the Huqoq synagogue mosaic (photo by Jim Haberman)

Wood carver

Depiction of a wood carver from the Huqoq synagogue mosaic (photo by Jim Haberman)

Posted in Faculty News, Graduate Student News, Undergraduate Accomplishments on July 9, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

2017 Department Awards Ceremony

2017 Department Awards Ceremony


On Wednesday, April 19, 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 University Room at Hyde Hall and was followed by a wonderful time of conversation over refreshments. The many recognitions we noted that day include:

Undergraduate Student Awards:

Phi Beta Kappa inductee: Morgan Ferone

Honors Theses:

  • Averyl Edwards, “Beyond a Cisgender Genesis: Reading the Creation Narratives Through a Transgender Feminist Lens”
  • Amrithaa Gunabalan, “An Unknowable Ideal: Objectivism as a New Religious Movement and the Subsequent Institutionalization of Ayn Rand’s Ideas in American Politics”

Bernard Boyd Memorial Prize: Averyl Edwards

Graduate Student Awards:

Peck Prize for Graduate Student Teaching: Joanna Smith

Religious Studies Department Summer Research Awards: Patrick D’Silva, Brad Erickson, Shannon Schorey, Joanna Smith, and Tim Smith

GSOC Peer Recognition Teaching Award: Micah Hughes


Welcome from Prof. Randall Styers


Prof. Todd Ochoa with Averyl Edwards, winner of the Boyd Prize


Prof. Lauren Leve presents a summer research award to Patrick D’Silva


Joanna Smith and Isaiah Ellis presenting the coveted “ABD” mugs


Books published by our faculty over the past year

Posted in Faculty News, Graduate Student News, News & Events, Undergraduate Accomplishments on April 26, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

Virtual Reality Meets Archaeology: Visualizing Ancient Synagogues

Virtual Reality Meets Archaeology: Visualizing Ancient Synagogues

Brad Erickson, a doctoral student in Ancient Mediterranean Religions and a scholar of ancient Judaism, has incorporated 3-D virtual modeling in his archaeological research to aid in the visualization of ancient synagogues. On Thursday, April 6, Brad participated in the UNC Research Hub Showcase, an event in which scholars from across the university had the opportunity to demonstrate how the resources of the Research Hub have advanced their work. Brad’s station at the event allowed participants to walk through virtual models he created of the ancient synagogues at Sepphoris and Beit Alpha using a virtual reality headset.

To view some of Brad’s 3-D models for yourself, click here (synagogue models) and here (synagogue mosaics).


Brad Erickson explaining the intricacies of 3-D modeling


Prof. Joseph Lam gazing up at the ceiling of the synagogue


Getting accustomed to the VR headset


A rendering from inside the virtual reality model: the interior of the Sepphoris synagogue

Posted in Graduate Student News on April 13, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

Recent Lecture Events: J. Derrick Lemons and Jennifer Eichman (McLester Colloquium)

Recent Lecture Events: J. Derrick Lemons and Jennifer Eichman (McLester Colloquium)

On March 2, Dr. J. Derrick Lemons from the University of Georgia came to speak on the topic of how millennials read the Bible regarding the issue of same sex marriage. The talk was co-sponsored by the Department of Women and Gender Studies, the Program in Sexuality Studies, and the Provost’s Committee on LGBTQ life. Students who attended were highly engaged, as shown by their many questions after the talk and by the fact that the room was literally overflowing.

Lemons flyer

  Lemons lecture flyer


J. Derrick Lemons before the lecture attendees

On March 22, Dr. Jennifer Eichman of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London was featured for our last McLester Colloquium of this academic year. The lecture was titled “Women and Animals: Culinary Dilemmas and Karmic Entanglements,” and the talk explored issues surrounding women, Buddhist attitudes toward the eating of meat, and societal changes in China after the end of imperial rule. This event was similarly well attended and offered another opportunity for faculty and students to interact over a topic of critical interest in religious studies.


Jennifer Eichman at the McLester Colloquium

Eichman flyer

  Eichman lecture flyer

Posted in Events, Graduate Student News on April 7, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

McLester Colloquium with Benjamin Zeller

McLester Colloquium with Benjamin Zeller

On Wednesday of last week, our faculty and graduate students gathered in Graham Memorial Building for our first McLester colloquium of 2017. The speaker was Benjamin Zeller, Associate Professor of Religion at Lake Forest College and a PhD graduate (2007) of our department. In his lecture, titled “Religious Suicide and the Puzzling Case of Heaven’s Gate,” he gave a historical overview and analysis of the religious movement known as Heaven’s Gate, which drew media attention in 1997 after several dozen of its members committed mass suicide at their group residence in Rancho Santa Fe, California.


Prof. Benjamin Zeller


Question from the audience

At the beginning of the event, Susan McLester Kemmerlin, daughter of Bill McLester (after whom the colloquium is named), presented our department with a beautiful stitching of UNC’s academic seal!

UNC stitching

Susan McLester Kemmerlin with department chair Randall Styers

See you soon at the next McLester colloquium!

Posted in Alumni News, Events, Graduate Student News on February 23, 2017. Bookmark the permalink.

Katie Merriman Article in The Funambulist Magazine

Katie Merriman Article in The Funambulist Magazine

FunambulistKatie Merriman, a PhD student in our department specializing in Islamic Studies, has recently published an article in The Funambulist: Politics of Space and Bodies, an international magazine that bridges the worlds of design and critical research in the humanities. The November-December 2016 issue is on the topic of “Police,” and Merriman’s article, titled “New York City: Multiracial Struggles and Solidarities in Islamic Harlem,” describes a series of sites in Harlem, New York highlighting the multiracial history of Muslims in the city. The article is based on a free walking tour of the area that Merriman conducts on a regular basis. From the beginning of the article:

“Harlem is home to only a handful of New York City’s nearly 300 mosques, but its history is a testament to the presence of Muslim institutions, leaders, and literature as solace and a form of resistance to white supremacy. Moreover, Muslims are part of a larger tradition that sees Harlem as a sacred site for black brilliance and rejuvenation.”

Along the way, Merriman discusses a wide range of events, figures, and themes, including: the Bengali labor strikes, Malcolm X, a Senegalese Sufi saint, international intellectual networks, multiracial civic initiatives, halal restaurants, police brutality, immigration law, and the growing impact of gentrification on communities and their sacred spaces.

To see the contents of the issue, and to purchase access to the full article (digital and/or print versions), click here.

Masjid Malcolm Shabazz

Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, Harlem, New York

Posted in Graduate Student News on December 15, 2016. Bookmark the permalink.

McLester Colloquium with David Lambert

McLester Colloquium with David Lambert

On Wednesday, September 21st, our faculty and graduate students gathered in Hyde Hall for the first McLester colloquium of the academic year. The speaker was our own David Lambert, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, who gave a lecture titled “Toward a History of Tendentiousness: Biblical Studies and the ‘Penitential Lens.’” Drawing from his award-winning book, How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture (Oxford University Press, 2016), Professor Lambert argued that attending to the reading strategies we adopt toward ancient texts such as the Hebrew Bible can reveal much about our modern notions of the “self.” As is typical of McLester colloquia, the lecture was followed by a wide-ranging critical discussion as well as plenty of time for informal conversation over refreshments.


Prof. David Lambert


Question from the audience

Looking forward to the next McLester colloquium!

Posted in Events, Faculty News, Graduate Student News on September 26, 2016. Bookmark the permalink.

Graduate Student Recap: Summer 2016

Graduate Student Recap: Summer 2016

This past summer was an enriching and productive time for the graduate students in our department. The following is a sample of their activities:

ChoudhurySamah Choudhury (Islamic Studies) spent the summer in an intensive language immersion program with the American Institute for Indian Studies studying Urdu in Lucknow, India. Their language studies were primarily through the lens of Urdu poetry and the history of Partition in South Asia. Attached is a photo (click to enlarge) of Samah and her classmates in front of a Qalandari Sufi shrine in Kakori, just outside of Lucknow.

D'SilvaPatrick D’Silva (Islamic Studies) received a Summer Research Fellowship from UNC’s Graduate School for his project, “Translating Muslim Yoga: Translating Two Indian Manuscripts on the Science of the Breath.” Working from manuscripts, Patrick edited and translated two Persian texts on ‘ilm-i dam, “the science of the breath.” Analyzing these manuscripts – their text, reception, and classification by Indian Muslims and British colonial administrators – is central to his dissertation.

EscalanteAlejandro Escalante (Religion in the Americas) presented his paper at the international Marcella Althaus-Reid Conference at the University of Winchester. Panelists from Latin America, Europe, and the United States presented papers covering a wide range of topics from politics and gender to economics and sexuality. Alejandro’s paper argued that Althaus-Reid’s materialist theology can be best leveraged when complemented with erotic and queer phenomenologies, especially in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands. Conference proceedings will be published in the journal Feminist Theology.

HughesMicah Hughes (Islamic Studies) spent six weeks in Istanbul, Turkey on a Pre-Dissertation Travel Award from the Center for Global Initiatives to do preliminary dissertation research. Spending most of his time in various libraries, such as the Beyazıt Devlet Kütüphanesi, he collected research materials such as journals and periodicals to be used in crafting his prospectus and dissertation.

PetersenHaley Petersen (Religions of Asia) spent the summer in Kyoto, Japan, where she studied Japanese and visited many historical sites, including several of the oldest Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in the country. In addition, she attended Gion Matsuri, one of the largest festivals in Japan, and a week in the Japanese Alps, where she lived in a very small town, which has been preserved just as it was 300 years ago.

RassalleTine Rassalle (Ancient Mediterranean Religions) spent two months at the Oriental Institute in Chicago where she worked on the registration and digitization of material from Megiddo, Israel. Many of the objects in the OI’s collection, ranging from figurines to human bones, had been put in in the depot over 50 years ago and have since then never been looked at. During her time there, Tine analyzed the materials, put them in a digital database and made them available to the public through their website. She also digitized several Syriac manuscripts from the 13th century and helped with the planning of the rehousing of the permanent museum collection into new showcases.

Posted in Graduate Student News on September 16, 2016. Bookmark the permalink.