Faculty Lecture

The Religious Studies Program offers yearly faculty lectures on a variety of different topics involving the intersection of religion, culture, life, and ethics.

2020: Kirsten Fischer 

On October 20, 2020, Kirsten Fischer, Associate Professor in the History Department, and a long-time affiliate of the Religious Studies Program presented a lecture titled “Re-thinking Freethought.”

Dr. Kirsten Fischer discussed her latest book, American Freethinker: Elihu Palmer and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in the New Nation, in which she details the life of Elihu Palmer, a freethinker who was at the heart of the early United States' protracted contest over religious freedom and free speech.

2016: Penny Edgell

On April 6, 2016, Penny Edgell, Professor of Sociology, presented a lecture titled “Post-Secular America? Attitudes toward Public Religious Expression in the United States.”

The secularization narrative, foundational to social scientific accounts of modernity, has been challenged by a late-twentieth-century global religious revival and a resurgence of religiously-based political activism. These trends have been concentrated in the global South, but Western democracies have been affected as well. In the United States, the emergence of the religious right as a national political movement in the 1980s was followed, in the 1990s, by a decline in religious identification, motivated in part by disaffection with the politicization of religion. Some scholars now wonder if an emerging secular coalition will help to solidify and perpetuate a “culture war” between religious and nonreligious Americans.

In this talk, Professor Edgell used data from the Boundaries in the American Mosaic Project survey (2014) to analyze how Americans feel about religious expression in the public realm. She drew upon a theory of symbolic boundaries to explain cultural divisions over the legitimate place of religion in public discourse, politics, and social policy.

2015: Ann Waltner

On April 21, 2015 Ann Waltner, Professor of History and Asian languages and literatures, presented a lecture titled “Disruption and Containment: Thinking about Tanyangzi in Comparative Perspective.”  

Religious women are often disruptive: They may violate gender norms by refusing to marry. They may violate social norms by refusal to eat or engaging in other ascetic practices. They may stretch common sense credulity thorough heroic practices.

Tanyangzi was a young woman from an elite family in south China who ascended heavenward in broad daylight in 1580 in front of an audience of tens of thousands of people. This talk told her story and discuss ways in which her contemporaries made sense of the story. It will also draw on the stories of other disruptive women to help us illuminate ways in which we might pose questions that will enable us to think about her story.

2014: Nabil Matar

On March 27, 2014 Nabil Matar, Professor of Religious Studies and English, presented a lecture titled "Church and State: John Locke and Islam 1632-1704."

This lecture examined the writings of John Locke from 1660 until 1690 and focused on the transformation in his thought regarding toleration of non-Christians. In particular, it showed how Locke was the first European philosopher to argue not only for the “civil rights” of Muslims in the Christian polity, but also advocated their naturalization as subjects of the Stuart Crown.

View the lecture here

2013: Paul Rouzer

On April 5, 2013, Paul Rouzer, Professor Asian languages and literatures, presented a lecture titled “Bodhisattva as Poet: Hakuin’s Readings of Cold Mountain.”

The body of medieval Chinese poems attributed to the recluse Hanshan (Cold Mountain) has played a prominent part in the religious lives of educated East Asian Buddhists, especially those active in the Chan (Zen) movement. However, few modern scholars have read the poems in the light of a hagiographical tradition that portrays Cold Mountain as an incarnation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom. This lecture examined the impact of this claim on the interpretation of the poems, with special attention paid to the book–length commentary on them composed by the eighteenth–century Japanese Zen master Hakuin Ekaku (1686–1768).

2012: Iraj Bashiri

On March 29, 2012, Iraj Bashiri, Professor of History, presented a lecture titled "Mahdism in Iranian Religio-Political Life."

The idea of a Savior or a Redeemer is deeply rooted in ancient Iranian thought. In the 16th century, under the Safavid dynasty, this concept undergoes a transformation and emerges as a religio-political factor establishing the newly adopted Shi'ite faith. Since then it has continued to play a significant, often even critical, role in shaping the religious and political dynamics of the country.