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Fall 2004 Faculty Fellows

Fall Seminar: The Work of Religion: Past, Present, Future

Robert Abzug, Oliver H. Radkey Regents Professor History and Professor of American Studies, is a former director of the Religious Studies Program at UT and on the founding board of Res Publica, a national organization of religious studies academics.  His current research “focuses on a new description of the spiritual/religious fabric of American life with an approach informed by the long view of historical continuity and change since the colonial period.”  Previous books, especially Passionate Liberator:  Theodore Dwight Weld and the Dilemma of Reformand Cosmos Crumbling:  American Reform and the Religious Imagination, have explored “the translation of various cosmologies of the Protestant experience into such pre-Civil War reform movements as antislavery, feminism, temperance, vegetarianism, and phrenology.” 

Susan Boettcher, Assistant Professor of History, is currently at work on Martin Luther “of blessed memory”:  Cultural Tension and the Search for the Lutheran Past in the Late Reformation Her work focuses “on the development of an image of Martin Luther in the public sphere in the later sixteenth century,” a period “in which religious people were dealing with a challenge to tradition and the tension between past and present.”  Another area in which Dr. Boettcher has done substantial research is “the construction of historical narratives in the Reformation” as a “re-assessment of information about the past and the incorporation of new information about the divine plan for human history accommodated to historical tropes of transformation.” 

Joanna Brooks, Assistant Professor of English, documents the importance of religion to two major American literary traditions in her first book, American Lazarus:  Religion and the Rise of African American and Native American Literatures In this book Dr. Brooks examines how Black and Indian authors and intellectuals in the eighteenth century “reinvented transatlantic evangelicalism and redirected its democratizing, charismatic, and separatist energies into the formation of new postslavery and postcolonial communities and new categories of racial identification.”  Her next book, Lost Arts of Revenge and Forgiveness, “will trace changing theological conceptualizations of sin, emerging state institutions of criminal justice, and popular imaginations of justice and redress in the American seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.”
Joanna Brooks is now at San Dieago State University.


Lorenzo Candelaria, Assistant Professor of Musicology, has interdisciplinary interests in art history and popular religion and specializes in music and liturgy in Spain and the Americas during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  He is currently writing a book on the Roman liturgy entitled The Beinecke Kyriale: Prayer and Patronage in Early Renaissance Toledo Dr. Candelaria is also a former professional mariachi musician who is now investigating how this secular music, which after the Second Vatican Council became a means to advance the principal drama of the Mass on high feast days and other special occasions, performs the work of religion. 

Syed Akbar Hyder is Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and Islamic Studies.  His first book is To Die and Yet Live:  Invoking the Memory of Karbala in South Asia, a study of the legacy of the battle of Karabala, an event of pivotal significance for millions of Muslims “as the archetypal martyrdom paradigm,” and one that for Dr. Hyder allows us to “assess how multiple, at times conflicting, approaches to religion can be knitted together on a common site.”  His current research “explores the ideas of religious pluralism and cosmopolitanism as articulated in the pre-colonial discourses of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century South Asia.” 

Lawrence Sager is the Alice Jane Drysdale Sheffield Regents Chair in the School of Law, and for the past decade he has been researching the constitutional status of religious liberty and themes of cultural diversity.  He is currently working on a co-authored book that argues for a view of religious liberty that he calls “equal liberty.”  As a member of a Social Science Research Council working group on law and the interaction of diverse cultures, Professor Sager has studied how cultural impulses and conflicts that do not have recognizable religious origins frequently reflect religiously inspired differences-- differences that can provide a conceptual backdrop for other cultural conflicts.


Margo Sawyer is Professor of Sculpture in the Department of Art and Art History. Her entry point into this year’s seminar comes at least partly in the form of questions:  historically, how have artists chosen to give form to the spiritual, and how do contemporary artists address spirituality now?  What creates a sacred space or sacred experience?  An artist who is committed “to creating artwork capable of restoring a quality of sacred space within a contemporary vocabulary,” Professor Sawyer has had recent solo shows at the Art Museum of the University of Houston, the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA, and galleries across Texas. 

Juliet Walker, Professor of History and founder and Director of the Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship, and Technology, specializes in African American business history.  Her current project is a book entitled Oprah Winfrey: An American Entrepreneur, in which she is exploring Oprah’s “evangelizing” strategies for self-empowerment and “living your best life.”  The “Oprah Phenomenon” is an investigation into the historical ways “that Blacks have transformed Christianity to ensure their survival in a global economy propelled by the profit motive of free enterprise that supported slavery and colonialism.” 

Robert Woodberry is Assistant Professor of Sociology; his most recent research has focused on the long-term impact of missions and colonialism on non-western societies.  Dr. Woodberry’s scholarship is heavily interdisciplinary, and he will bring to the seminar experience with historical research, advanced statistical analysis, and a broad range of knowledge about, and first-hand experience with, religious traditions in various parts of the world.  Dr. Woodberry has recently co-authored two articles on American religion,  “Protestantism and Democracy” in theJournal of Democracy and “The Measure of American Religion:  Toward Improving the State of the Art” in Social Forces.