Graduate Student News
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.
On Wednesday, April 24, our department held its last McLester Colloquium of the academic year. The speaker was Dr. Rebecca Anne Goetz, Associate Professor of History at NYU and a current fellow at the National Humanities Center, who lectured on “‘The Unbridled Greed of the Conquistadors’: Native Enslavement in the Southern Caribbean, 1498-1545.” The meeting capped off a wonderful series of McLester lectures in 2018-19, and we are already looking forward to next year!
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.
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.
On Wednesday, February 20, we were pleased to welcome Dr. Jeffrey Stout, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Princeton University, for a meeting of our McLester Colloquium. His lecture was titled “Goodness beyond Melodrama: Compassionate Awareness in Ozu’s Tokyo Story,” and explored a film by Ozu Yasuji that is regularly ranked among the greatest films of all time. In addition to being co-sponsored by the Institute for Arts and Humanities, the Carolina Asia Center, and the Departments of Asian Studies and English & Comparative Literature, this talk also served as the second lecture in the American Academy of Religion’s 2019 American Lectures in the History of Religion, in which Dr. Stout explores–through a series of five lectures in North Carolina Triangle/Triad Region–the theme of “The Cinematic Sacred.” We are grateful for the opportunity to host Dr. Stout for this event and for the discussion that his presentation generated!
On Wednesday, January 30, our department was pleased to welcome Dr. Elizabeth Pérez as the speaker for our first McLester Colloquium of the Spring semester. Dr. Pérez, who is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is a specialist in Afro-Diasporic and Latin American religions. Her first book, titled Religion in the Kitchen: Cooking, Talking, and the Making of Black Atlantic Traditions (New York University Press, 2016), which was based on years of ethnographic research within a Lucumí community on the South Side of Chicago, examined practices surrounding the preparation of food for the gods and spirits within these traditions, arguing that they deserve analysis as religious rituals in their own right. This book was widely acclaimed, having won both the 2017 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion and the 2018 Women’s Spirituality Book Award, as well as being a finalist for the 2017 Albert J. Raboteau Prize for the Best Book in Africana Religions.
Her presentation at the McLester seminar was based on the research from this first book, and was richly illustrated with slides drawn from her ethnographic work. The lecture generated a lively and intellectually stimulating conversation afterwards. We look forward to the next McLester Colloquium!
Posted in Events, Graduate Student News on February 7, 2019
Samah Choudhury has been chosen as an American Examples scholar. Her dissertation delves into humor and Islam in America, specifically at how American Muslim comedians utilize humor as a mode of self-constructing and then articulating “Islam” for an American public. She is invited to attend a workshop that will culminate in a volume of papers to be submitted for publication in the NAASR Working Papers series published by Equinox.
“AE seeks scholars that see the Americas as an important site for analyzing and theorizing about religion. The study of religion in America, or American religious history, has most often sought to discover what is uniquely “American” about American religion.” -Read more about American Examples.
Congratulations, Samah!Posted in Graduate Student News, News & Events on November 12, 2018
On Wednesday, October 24th, Dr. Joel Baden of Yale Divinity School joined us for our second McLester Seminar. He spoke about his latest book, Bible Nation: the United States of Hobby Lobby, co-authored with Dr. Candida Moss, Professor at the University of Birmingham. His talk focused on the rise of the millionaires behind Hobby Lobby, their unparalleled acquisition of biblical antiquities for their Museum of the Bible, and the role and responsibility of academics in approaching this as a subject of study. As usual, the lecture was followed by casual conversation over refreshments.
Looking forward to the next McLester Colloquium!
Posted in Events, Graduate Student News, News & Events on October 31, 2018
Professor Su’ad Abdul Khabeer joined us for the the first of our McLester Colloquia for the Fall semester. Dr. Abdul Khabeer is Associate Professor of American Culture and Arab and Muslim American Studies at the University of Michigan and received her PhD in cultural anthropology from Princeton University. She is a scholar-artist-activist who uses anthropology and performance to explore the intersections of race and popular culture.
Dr. Abdul Khabeer’s talk included both prose and performance. She explored what the Black Muslim experience – belief, cultural practice, and intellectual thought – offers theoretically, methodologically and for political praxis within and outside the academy. The talk, directed towards graduate students, focused on the evolution of her research from Muslim Cool to umisarchive.com, and illustrated how personal family history can inform the approach to the history of Islam in America.
The lecture was thought-provoking and generated 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 Events, Graduate Student News, News & Events on September 25, 2018
From the New Yorker:
“For the past four years, Merriman has been giving Muslim-history tours of Trump’s home town, focussing on Harlem. ‘There are roughly three hundred mosques in New York City,’ she said the other day. ‘New York is one of the most, if not the most, diverse Muslim cities in the world. There is no such thing as a ‘Muslim world’ somewhere else.’
…This summer, Merriman will start a Wall Street-area tour, which will cover Little Syria and the site of the Ottoman mosque on Rector Street. She told the group, ‘Your job is to keep these stories alive.’”
Katherine’s Muslim History Tour of New York City was also recently featured in the New York Times.
Posted in Graduate Student News, News & Events on August 11, 2018
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
On Thursday, March 22, Dr. David Frankfurter joined us for our McLester Colloquium to speak on “Ancient Magic in a New Key: Refining an Exotic Discipline in the History of Religions.” Dr. Frankfurter is William Goodwin Aurelio Chair of the Appreciation of Scripture at Boston University.
In his talk, Dr. Frankfurter reconsidered the ways that “magic” has been embraced and treated in the study of Early Christianity. In his lecture, he subsequently advocated both a more rigorous approach to indigenous evaluations of ambiguous ritual and a more confident “etic” or descriptive use of the category magic. The fascinating lecture generated many questions and responses from the faculty and graduate students present and was followed by casual conversation over refreshments.
Posted in Events, Graduate Student News, News & Events on March 26, 2018
The 15th Annual Duke-UNC Graduate Middle East and Islamic Studies Conference on “Map, Territory, and Boundary” was held last week on Feb. 9-10 at Duke University, with participation from graduate students and faculty from both institutions. The conference explored geography and territoriality as not only the subjects of ongoing contestation, but also compelling paradigms to engage with broader interrelated questions pertaining to the modern makeup of the Middle East. Participants discussed the myriad of ways the themes of map, territory, and boundary open up new possibilities of insight in the contexts of the Middle East, Muslim communities, and their connected geographies. Congratulations to the conference organizers and participants on a successful conference!
Posted in Graduate Student News, News & Events on February 10, 2018
On Wednesday, January 31, Dr. Shahla Talebi joined us for the first of our McLester Colloquia for the Spring semester. Dr. Talebi is Associate Professor of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.
In a lecture entitled “Traversing Religiopolitical Metaphors in Contemporary Iran,” Dr. Talebi discussed the significant metaphor of the event of Karbala in the history of Iranian Shi`i tradition. The lecture was thought-provoking and generated questions and responses from the faculty and graduate students present. As usual, the lecture was followed by casual conversation over refreshments.
Looking forward to the next McLester Colloquium!
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
Last 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!
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.
Posted in Faculty News, Graduate Student News, Undergraduate Accomplishments on July 9, 2017
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
- 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
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.
Posted in Graduate Student News on April 13, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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!
See you soon at the next McLester colloquium!Posted in Alumni News, Events, Graduate Student News on February 23, 2017
Katie 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.
Posted in Graduate Student News on December 15, 2016
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.
Looking forward to the next McLester colloquium!Posted in Events, Faculty News, Graduate Student News on September 26, 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:
Samah 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.
Patrick 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.
Alejandro 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.
Micah 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.
Haley 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.
Tine 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.