Department of Religious Studies


Biographies, faculty page links, and bibliographic information

Adam H. Becker is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Classics at New York University. He is currently (2011-2012) a fellow at the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice at NYU Law School. His research focuses primarily on the cultural history of the Syriac (Christian Aramaic) tradition in what is now Iraq, Iran, and Turkey in late antiquity and the early Islamic period. His first book, Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: the School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in late Antique Mesopotamia (UPenn, 2006), provided a history of Christian schools in late antique Mesopotamia, as well as a close analysis of the reception of Greek philosophy and Greek patristic thought in the Syriac milieu. Other topics upon which he has published include Syriac martyr acts in Pre-Islamic Iran and Jewish-Christian relations in antiquity. He is currently finishing a book addressing the interaction between American Evangelical missionaries and members of the Church of the East (the "Nestorians") in Iran in the nineteenth century and the secular nationalist culture resulting from this encounter.

Suggested Reading for Adam Becker:

Ra'anan Boustan is Associate Professor in the Departments of History and Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA, where he also directs the Center for the Study of Religion. He is currently at UT Austin as a Harrington Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies. His first book, From Martyr to Mystic: Rabbinic Martyrology and the Making of Merkavah Mysticism (Mohr Siebeck, 2005), analyzed the relationship between early Jewish mysticism and rabbinic martyrology within the context of Jewish-Christian relations in Byzantine Palestine. He has co-edited four volumes, most recently Jewish Studies at the Crossroads of Anthropology and History (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). His current project, The Holy Remains: Jewish Tokens of Cult and Kingship in a Christianizing Empire, explores the persistent and contested significance of relics and other sacred objects from the "biblical" and "Jewish" past among Jews and Christians in late antiquity.

Suggested Reading for Ra‘anan Boustan:

Donald Cosentino received his Ph.D. in African Languages and Literatures from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1976. His research interests include oral narrative traditions, myths, rituals and popular cultures. He has done extensive fieldwork in Nigeria (1966- 68; 1976-78); Sierra Leone (1972-3; 1983); Haiti (1986-present); Napoli (1999; 2006) and Los Angeles (1979-present). He is the author of Defiant Maids and Stubborn Farmers: Tradition and Invention in Mende Story Performance (Cambridge, 1982; reprint 2007) and Vodou Things: The Art of Pierrot Barra and Marie Cassaise (University of Mississippi Press, 1998). He is the editor and chief writer of the award winning book The Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou (UCLA Fowler Museum, 1995; reprint 1998) and for Divine Revolution: the Art of Edouard Duval-Carrie (UCLA Fowler Museum Press, 2004). As a Guggenheim Fellow (2006), Cosentino completed fieldwork for a book he is writing on Afro-Angeleno Spiritism. Cosentino is also currently acting as curator and chief writer for In Extremis: Death and Life in Twenty-First Century Haitian Art, an exhibition which will open at the UCLA Fowler Museum in Fall, 2012.

Suggested Reading for Donald Cosentino:

Benjamin Fleming's research focuses on ritual, myth, and iconography in medieval South Asia, with a particular concern for traditions about pilgrimage and sacred geography. He holds a BFA, BA and MA from the University of Regina and a PhD from McMaster University. His dissertation, "Cult of the Jyotirliṅgas and the History of Śaivite Worship" (2007), investigated the relationship between ritual, storytelling, and pilgrimage in Śaivism. His publications include articles in the International Journal of Hindu Studies, Religion Compass, and the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. He recently held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches courses about Hinduism and Asian religions and catalogues Sanskrit manuscripts for the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Suggested Reading for Benjamin Fleming:

Cynthia Hahn is Professor of Art History at Hunter College and the Graduate Center at CUNY. She has written two books and many articles on illustrated narratives of saints' lives, including, Portrayed on the Heart: Narrative Effect in Pictorial Lives of the Saints from the Tenth through the Thirteenth Century, published by University of California Press in 2001. More recently, she has been working on the rhetorical presentation of reliquaries, considering materials from across Europe that span from the period of early Christianity through the thirteenth century. She has presented preliminary studies at many venues and has published several through various venues, including Numen, Gesta, and Word and Image. The full study has been supported by fellowships from the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and will be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press this spring as Strange Beauty: Origins and Issues in the Making of Medieval Reliquaries 400-circa 1204.

Suggested Reading for Cynthia Hahn:

James Robson is an Associate Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, specializing in the history of Medieval Chinese Buddhism and Daoism. He is the author of Power of Place: The Religious Landscape of the Southern Sacred Peak [Nanyue 南嶽] in Medieval China (Harvard University Press, 2009), which was awarded the Stanislas Julien Prize for 2010 by the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres and the 2010 Toshihide Numata Book Prize in Buddhism. He is also the author of "Buddhism and the Chinese Marchmount System [Wuyue]: A Case Study of the Southern Marchmount (Mt. Nanyue)" (2004); "Signs of Power: Talismanic Writings in Chinese Buddhism" (History of Religions 2008); "Faith in Museums: On the Confluence of Museums and Religious Sites in Asia" (PMLA 2010); and "A Tang Dynasty Chan Mummy [roushen] and a Modern Case of Furta Sacra? Investigating the Contested Bones of Shitou Xiqian" (2003). He is also engaged in a long-term collaborative research project on animated icons from Hunan province in China.

Suggested Reading for James Robson:

Jalane Schmidt is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, where she teaches about Latin American and Caribbean religions as well as anthropology of religion. She earned her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Harvard University in 2005, and she conducts field research on popular Catholicism and African diaspora religions in Cuba. She is the author of a forthcoming book on Cuban devotion to the nation's patron saint, Our Lady of Charity. Her new research investigates Cuban spiritist mediums' navigation of emotional landscapes during ritual performances of slavery.

Suggested Reading for Jalane Schmidt:

Gregory Schopen's work focuses on Indian Buddhist monastic life and early Mahāyāna movements. By looking beyond the Pali Canon in favor of less commonly used sources, such as the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya and Indian Buddhist stone inscriptions, his numerous scholarly works have shifted the field away from Buddhism as portrayed through its own doctrines and toward a more realistic picture of the actual lives of Buddhists, both monastic and lay. In this sense, he has seriously challenged many assumptions and myths about Buddhism that were perpetuated in earlier Western scholarship. In addition to his major impacts on Buddhist studies and the larger field of Religious Studies, Dr. Schopen continues to be a dominant force on the basketball court for the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA.

Suggested Reading for Gregory Schopen:

  • Gregory Schopen, "Relic," in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, ed. Mark Taylor (Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 256­-68.
  • Gregory Schopen, "Burial ‘ad sanctos' in the Physical Presence of the Buddha in Early Indian Buddhism," Religion 17 (1987): 193-225. Reprinted in Gregory Schopen, Bones, Stones, and Buddhist Monks: Collected Papers on the Archaeology, Epigraphy, and Texts of Monastic Buddhism in India (Hawai'i: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997), 114­-47.

Chad Seales is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His research addresses the relationship between religion and culture in American life, as evident in the popular religious practices of Latino migrants, the social expressions of southern evangelicals, and the moral prescriptions of corporate managers and business leaders. He has published articles on the interplay between religion and industrialization, on the changing religious landscape of the American South, and on the religious politics of U2's Bono.

Suggested Reading for Chad Seales:

  • Chad Seales, "An Old Love for New Things: Southern Baptists and the Modern Technology of Indoor Baptisteries," Journal of Southern Religion XIII (September 2011). Available online at

Patricia Spyer holds the Chair of Cultural Anthropology of Contemporary Indonesia at Leiden University and was the FAS Global Distinguished Professor at New York University's Center for Religion & Media and the Department of Anthropology from 2009-12. She is the author of The Memory of Trade: Modernity's Entanglements on an Eastern Indonesian Island (Duke 2000), editor of Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces (Routledge 1998), and co-editor of the Handbook of Material Culture (Sage 2006). She has published, among other topics, on violence, media and visual culture, materiality, and religion. Her current book project Orphaned Landscapes: Religion, Violence, and Visuality in Post-Suharto Indonesia focuses on the mediations of violence and postviolence in the recent religiously inflected conflict in the Moluccas, Indonesia. She is also a co-editor with Mary Steedly of Images That Move, a forthcoming volume that will be published through the School of Advanced Research Press.

Suggested Reading for Patricia Spyer:

Rolf Strootman is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. His principal field of study is the history and culture of the Middle East, Iran and Central Asia in the Hellenistic Period. His research focuses on imperialism, court culture, monarchical ritual and the interaction between religious and political institutions. He is also interested in the development of Constantinople as an imperial center.

Suggested Reading for Rolf Strootman:

Annabel Wharton holds the William B. Hamilton Chair of Art History at Duke University. She received her PhD at the Courtauld Institute of the University of London in Byzantine Art, the focus of her early publications. Her research interests later shifted to Late Antique urbanism (Refiguring the Post Classical City: Dura Europos, Jerash, Jerusalem and Ravenna, Cambridge, 1995) and then to the effect of modernity on the pre-modern past and its landscapes (Building the Cold War: Hilton International Hotels and Modern Architecture, Chicago, 2001; and Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks, Chicago, 2006). Professor Wharton is now working on a new book project, tentatively entitled Building Pathologies: Museums, Hotels, Casinos, Video Games, which argues the case for architectural agency by analyzing dangerous spaces.

Suggested Reading for Annabel Wharton:

  • Annabel J. Wharton, "The Tribune Tower: Spolia as Despoliation," in Reuse Value: Spolia and Appropriation in Art and Architecture from Constantine to Sherrie Levine, eds. Richard Brilliant and Dale Kinney (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 179-98.