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Religious Studies 50th Anniversary Guest Speaker Series

Upcoming Speakers

Jason Josephson Storm  November 17, 2020 at 4pm - virtually: register HERE
Professor of Religion and Chair of Science and Technology Studies at Williams College.

stormJason Ānanda Josephson Storm received his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Stanford University in 2006 and has held visiting positions at Princeton University, École Française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris and Universität Leipzig, Germany. He has three primary research foci: Japanese Religions, European Intellectual History, and Theory more broadly. The common thread to his research is an attempt to decenter received narratives in the study of religion and science. His main targets have been epistemological obstacles, the preconceived universals which serve as the foundations of various discourses. Storm has also been working to articulate new research models for Religious Studies in the wake of the collapse of poststructuralism as a guiding ethos in the Humanities.

"Religious Studies as a Vocation"

What does it mean to be a scholar of religion in the contemporary academy? What is the value of the study of religion? And what place should values and value-neutrality have in Religious Studies? The German sociologist of religion—Max Weber—revolutionized the field of sociology at the dawn of the twentieth century in part by turning the techniques of sociology inward to examine itself. By examining how academic vocations served as the preconditions for the production of their forms of knowledge, Weber was able to show how academic professionalization produced perverse incentives and alienating forms of hyper-specialization. Although he put it differently, Weber effectively suggested the importance of producing a sociology of sociologists. This talk will begin to extend this insight to Religious Studies by reckoning with ways in which the unspoken norms and systems of power behind the academic study of religion – in a range of disciplinary formations – have produced various disciplinary blind-spots and dead-ends. We will look at the discipline’s messy, magical, post-colonialist, transnational history, see how the discipline’s main players have long been engaged with various forms of occultism, theosophy, and spiritualism, and we will think about the contemporary relationship between objectivity and value-laden research, taking inspiration from Weber’s famous lecture, “Science as a Vocation.”

Previous Speakers in the Series

Samira Mehta November 10, 2020 at 4pm - virtually
Assistant Professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies and Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado.


Samira K. Mehta is an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies and of Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research and teaching focus on the intersections religion, culture, and gender, including the politics of family life and reproduction in the United States. Her first book, Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Blended Family in America (University of North Carolina Press, 2018) was a National Jewish book award finalist. Mehta’s current project, God Bless the Pill: Sexuality and Contraception in Tri-Faith America examines the role of Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant voices in competing moral logics of contraception, population control, and eugenics from the mid-twentieth century to the present.

"The Diaphragm Debates: Protestants, Jews, Catholics, and a Changing Culture of Contraception"

On the eve of the 1960 FDA approval of the birth control pill, debates about how American should understand contraception raged. Using fictional depictions of unmarried women seeking diaphragms and a debate about whether diaphragms should be available in public hospitals, Professor Mehta explains how society understood contraception in the late 1950s. Taken together, these depictions allow us to delve into a network of complicated issues including religious freedom; interfaith approaches to contraception; the surveillance of women, their bodies, and the sexuality; and the implications of that surveillance for women’s access to and feelings about contraception.

Michael Joseph Brown February 12, 2020 - Divinity School G33, 4:10pm
President of Payne Theological Seminary.

president brown

"Everything Old is New Again: Living in a Multireligious Environment"

Rev. Michael Joseph Brown, Ph.D., President, at Payne Theological School in Wilberforce, Ohio is an internationally recognized biblical scholar, minister, and public intellectual. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Vanderbilt University, a Master of Divinity degree and Doctor of Philosophy degree from University of Chicago. Prior to joining Payne, Dr. Brown served as Associate Dean of Wabash College, and was the Director of the Malcolm X Institute on Black Studies (2011-2013). Dr. Brown has authored four books, What They Don't Tell You: A Survivor's Guide to Academic Biblical Studies, Blackening of the Bible: The Aims of African American Biblical Scholarship, The Lord's Prayer through North African Eyes: A Window into Early Christianity and The Lord's Prayer and God's Vision for the World: Finding Your Purpose through Prayer. In addition, he was a leading contributor to the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible.

Sylvia Chan-Malik
January 22, 2020 - Buttrick Hall 101, 4:10 pm
Associate Professor in the Departments of American Studies and Women's and Gender Studies
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

sylvia chan-malik headshotSylvia Chan-Malik is Associate Professor in the Departments of American and Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where she directs the Social Justice Program, chairs the Faculty Advisory Board of the Center for Islamic Life (CILRU), and teaches courses on race and ethnicity in the United States, Islam in/and America,, and social justice movements. In 2018, she received Rutgers School of Arts And Sciences Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education. She is the author of Being Muslim: A Cultural History of Women of Color in American Islam (NYU Press) which offers an alternative historical narrative of American Islam in the 20th-21st century that centers the lives, voices, and representations of women of color. Being Muslim was named an 2018 Outstanding Title by Choice Magazine. Dr. Chan-Malik is currently working on two book projects. The first examines the relationship between Islam and critical and ethnic studies scholarship and activism, and the second, tentatively titled Songs in the Key of Islam, explores Islam's impact and legacy in American music. She speaks and lectures frequently on issues of U.S. Muslim politics and culture, Islam and gender, and racial and gender politics in the U.S., and her commentary has appeared in venues such as NPR, Slate News, The Intercept, Daily Beast, PRI, Huffington Post, Patheos, Religion News Service, and others. She holds a Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Mills College. 

"How to Talk about Race, Gender, and Islam in America"

What does it mean to “racialize” Islam and Muslims in the United States? Why are Muslim women constant sources of fascination and subjects of scorn in American culture? How do race and gender shape how Americans talk about Islam and Muslims in politics, the media, and culture, and what effects do these discourses have on U.S. Muslims themselves? In this lecture  Professor Sylvia Chan-Malik addresses these questions through a consideration of how Islam and Muslims have historically been framed through U.S. logics of race, gender, citizenship, and nation. Through an exploration of how these categories have shaped U.S. Muslim history, Chan-Malik proposes new ways of talking about Islam and Muslims in academia and the public sphere that reflect Islam’s longstanding presence as both cultural trope and lived religion in the U.S. She argues that this type of “talk”—one that situates and contextualizes Islam through histories of race and gender—is urgently needed to produce vital narratives of racial and religious belonging for 21st-century America.

Helen Hardacre

helenThe inaugural lecture of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Department of Religious Studies was delivered by Helen Hardacre, Reischauer Institute Professor of Japanese Religions and Society and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, The title of her talk was  “The Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies in 2019 in Historical Perspective.” The event took place on Friday, 06 September 2019 at 4:10 pm in 216c Kissam Center.

It was especially fitting that Prof. Hardacre delivered the inaugural lecture for she is a Vanderbilt University alumna and the second person to receive her degree from the Department of Religious Studies after its founding. After taking her advanced degrees from The University of Chicago, she taught at Princeton University, Griffith University in Australia, and, since 1992, Harvard University. She is the author of eleven books and numerous articles on Japanese religion and society, including Marketing the Menacing Fetus in Japan (California, 1997), which won the Arisawa Hiromichi Prize, and most recently a monograph titled Shinto: A History (Oxford, 2016). She has also published extensively in Japanese. She was awarded a J. S. Guggenheim Fellowship in 2003 and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. Just last year, she received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, from the Japanese government for her contributions to Japanese studies and promotion of understanding of Japanese culture and society.

Prof. Hardacre’s presentation was the first in a series of six celebratory moments this academic year as the Department of Religious Studies recognizes the legacy of its distinguished alumni. Interspersed with these lectures, the Religious Studies faculty have chosen younger scholars who signal the promise of the new directions in the academic study of religion across the US.