Welcome back to a new year, in which we announce the retirement on December 31, 2018, of Sam Gill after more than 35 years in the department.  See faculty news for more information. Congratulations to Elias Sacks, who was promoted to associate professor with tenure.  Sacks writes about Jewish thought and is currently working on a project about Nachman Krochmal, a 19th century Eastern European Jewish thinker, who served as a bridge between German philosophy and rabbinic Judaism.  Holly Gayley, fresh off her sabbatical where she did work in Bhutan, will be launching a new course called Meditation: Ancient and Modern, a partner course to Loriliai Biernacki’s Yoga: Ancient and Modern, as we create more thematic offerings aimed at student interests. In addition, we are proud to welcome Dr. Natalie Avalos, the 2018-9 Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies.  Learn more about her work here, but while on her postdoc fellowship, she will be completing her book manuscript titled "The Metaphysics of Decoloniality: Transnational Indigenous Religious Regeneration and Resistance." It argues that the reassertion of Indigenous metaphysics in diaspora not only de-centers settler colonial claims to legitimate knowledge but also articulates new forms of sovereignty rooted in just (and ideal) relations of power between all persons, human and other-than human. Avalos is a Chicana of Apache descent, born and raised in the Bay Area, who comes to us from Connecticut College where she spent three years as a visiting assistant professor.  In Spring 2019, Avalos will offer a course on religion and healing, which will be a profound and important addition to our curriculum.  

I see the Department of Religious Studies as a place on campus for students, staff, and faculty to wrestle with big questions about the meaning of life, the power of politics and the media to shape our understanding, and the way societies and individuals, past and present, invoke higher powers to explain the unexplainable.  Our faculty do so from a variety of disciplines and a diversity of religious traditions, but what we all have in common is our quest for understanding, our passion for justice, and a commitment to advancing knowledge for ourselves and our students.  This year, the faculty and department are teaching students and hosting visitors from around the world--including our co-hosting of the the 11th biennial conference of the International Society for Media, Religion and Culture, on “Media, Religion, and Public Scholarship in August and in September, our 2018 Lester Lecturer, Kecia Ali from Boston University, a specialist in Islam, whose talk will focus on the prophet Muhammad and his many representations over time.  In addition, our faculty are conducting groundbreaking research on such topics as interreligious interaction in the medieval Mediterranean; legal conflicts between native Hawaiians and scientists over land use on Mauna Kea; evangelicals and the communities they build online; the relationship between Islamic law and society; “the matter of wonder," which explores the connections between medieval Indian philosophy and contemporary neuroscience about what consciousness is; whether the Tower of Babel story in the book of Genesis is really about multilingualism.  

This year, the department saw an increase in community support thanks to K. Nuzum, whose inaugural scholarship went to Liliana Elliot, a senior specializing in Native American legal rights.  Thanks also to Dr. Douglas Sparks, who launched our new undergraduate students fund, which will support Religious Studies undergraduates and give them opportunities to meet with community supporters who will serve as mentors to them in thinking about their present and future professional lives with a degree in Religious Studies.  We welcome further opportunities from community members to support our students and advance our curricular development.  I look forward to another fantastic year of exploration with our students, staff, faculty, and community supporters, who make Religious Studies an intellectual community.


David Shneer-David Shneer

Chair, Department of Religious Studies