What should a conversation about religion look like in a public university? How should a public university foster deeper engagements with the historical and contemporary aspects of religious traditions? How can a public university help students and future leaders understand the changing dynamics of religious and secular life?

These are just some of the questions that form the research mission of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion (BCSR), UC’s dynamic platform for scholarship and community engagement on topics in religion.

Since its inception in 2012, BCSR has hosted dozens of public lectures and seminars, and awarded grants and fellowships to students and faculty. In the coming year, we are thrilled to announce the launch of the Berkeley Public Theology program, an initiative that integrates robust academic research, student participation and support, postdoctoral fellowships, and numerous lectures, workshops, and conferences to enliven BCSR’s rich roster of activities.

So, as the year comes to a close, we ask you to consider supporting BCSR’s new endeavors with a gift of any amount. Thank you for your commitment to fostering creative and critical scholarship on religion in the world!

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The Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion (BCSR) announces a postdoctoral fellowship as part of its Public Theology Program. For the academic years 2016-17 and 2017-18, BCSR seeks a top early career scholar to come to Berkeley for one year. The fellowship is dedicated to the furtherance of the very best new scholarship, and in particular the development of modes of inquiry that can chart new directions for the study of religion in the public university.

Fellows are integrated into the activities of BCSR and its Public Theology Program, a critical three-year research initiative funded by the Henry Luce Foundation dedicated to exploring the place of theology in public life, past and present. As participants in the intellectual life of the Center and the Luce initiate, fellows associate with a community of scholars from fields across the humanities and social sciences with specializations in a wide array of religious traditions. Fellows may pursue projects with varied disciplinary approaches to subjects including, but not limited to: theology and the institutions of secular life; theological aspects of politics; theology and law; art, literature, and theological inquiry; and theology and social formations.

Fellows also take part in an annual fall workshop that brings leading international scholars and intellectuals from universities, seminaries, divinity schools, and other institutions to Berkeley for intensive discussion on comparative approaches to theology. The program also supports new approaches to the study of religion through the development of model curricula. Fellows may elect to teach in a relevant UC Berkeley department in the second semester of residence.

The Public Theology Program builds upon Berkeley’s long tradition of challenging traditional categories of knowledge by opening a space for the study of theology in the public university. It also draws on the strengths of BCSR as a model for interdisciplinary work on religion, integrating robust academic research, student engagement, programming, and outreach beyond the university to the public at large. Through this program, BCSR seeks to reshape the landscape of religious studies at Berkeley and pioneer new approaches to the study of religion that can spread beyond Berkeley and reshape the field nationwide.

Recruitment for the 2016-17 fellowship opens November 2, 2015. Applications received by the initial review date of February 1, 2016 receive priority. For more information about the position, including required qualifications and application materials, go to:

BCSR is pleased to announce its 2015-16 program of public lectures and events. Scholars and artists from a wide range of backgrounds will address diverse topics in religion, from the lives of cloistered nuns in New Jersey, to fifteenth-century Persian painting, to the role of Christians in the articulation of religious identity in the Mongol Empire. The annual Berkeley Lecture on Religious Tolerance brings Professor Veena Das to explore the boundaries of the self and the tameness of the concept of religious tolerance.

The upcoming season also adds Theology and East Asian Traditions, a new series funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. Theology and East Asian Traditions will hold a lecture by Vincent Goossaert on the history of Chinese divine bureaucracy, followed by a two-day workshop on the reception of European categories in East Asia.

Radical Love: A Photographic Narrative of Cloistered Religious Life
Toni Greaves, Photographer
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
3335 Dwinelle Hall
Berkeley Seminars in Art and Religion

“Tablet of Being”: Persian Painting and the Demiurgic Artist in Fifteenth Century Iran and Central Asia
Lamia Balafrej, Assistant Professor of Art, Wellesley College
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
370 Dwinelle Hall
Berkeley Seminars in Art and Religion

Beyond the Second Commandment: Image Wars in Past and Present
Birgit Meyer, Professor of Religious Studies, Utrecht University
Thursday, November 19, 2015
370 Dwinelle Hall
Berkeley Public Forum on Religion

Theology and the Danish Politics of Offense
Noreen Khawaja, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Yale University
Thursday, February 4, 2016
370 Dwinelle Hall
Berkeley Public Forum on Religion

More than Religious Tolerance: Self, Other, and Mysteries of Erotics
Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler Hall
Berkeley Lecture on Religious Tolerance

Of Mistakes, Errors, and Superstition: Wittgenstein’s Remarks on Frazer
Colloquium with Veena Das

Wednesday, February 24, 2016, 4-6 pm
3401 Dwinelle Hall
Berkeley Lecture on Religious Tolerance

The Mongols and the Church of the East
Joel Walker, Jon Bridgman Endowed Associate Professor of History, University of Washington
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
3335 Dwinelle Hall
Berkeley Public Forum on Religion

A Brief History of the Chinese Divine Bureaucracy
Vincent Goossaert, Directeur d’études, Sciences religieuses, École Pratique des Hautes Études
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
3335 Dwinelle Hall
Theology and East Asian Traditions

Workshop | The Reception and Impact of “Theology,” “Religion,” and “Philosophy” in East Asia
Thursday, March 17 and Friday, March 18, 2016
3335 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley
Berkeley Public Theology Program: Theology and East Asian Traditions

If I Give My Soul: Pentecostalism in the Prisons of Rio
Andrew Johnson, Filmmaker and Co-Director
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Film Screening and Discussion
Sibley Auditorium
Berkeley Seminars in Art and Religion

All events take place at UC Berkeley and start at 5 pm unless otherwise noted. Free and open to the public.

By connecting scholars, students, and the global community, BCSR fosters critical and creative scholarship on religion and activates this scholarship for UC Berkeley students and the public at large.

Presented with the support of UC Berkeley’s Division of Arts and Humanities, and the Endowed Fund for the Study of Religious Tolerance. Theology and East Asian Traditions is presented with the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation. Selected events co-sponsored by the History of Art Department, Late Antique Religions et Societies, and the Eliaser Chair in International Studies.

The Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion has received a $1 million grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to fund the three-year Berkeley Public Theology Program. For the offical announcement, click here. Please continue to check the BCSR website in the coming months for more information on forthcoming programs funded by this grant.

The Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion (BCSR), an academic center for independent and innovative research in religion, announces the twelve recipients of the 2015 Graduate Student Summer Research Grants. These projects explore a rich variety of topics in religion, from transnational Sufi practices to Puritan theology to the influence of religion on post-war military operations. The twelve recipients were drawn from a competitive pool of promising proposals received from an open call to UC Berkeley graduate students. Over $58,000 in awards was distributed.

“Berkeley graduate students pursue the most creative, interdisciplinary work on religion anywhere – we are delighted to support such an innovative group of projects in field all across the humanities and social sciences.” – BCSR Co-Directors Mark Csikszentmihalyi and Jonathan Sheehan

The following twelve students and their research projects were awarded:

Kris Anderson, Buddhist Studies
Anderson’s research focuses on the development over time of the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana tantra and its related ritual literature and practice traditions in Indian, Newar, and Tibetan Buddhism. She will spend the first part of the summer doing additional research in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she has been based for the past year. In the remainder of the summer she will visit the Royal Asiatic Society Library in the U.K. to obtain and work with additional relevant manuscripts held there.

Youssef J. Carter, Anthropology
This summer, Carter plans to continue an ethnographic study of the way in which bodily performances play a part in the dissemination of knowledge and recognition of spiritual authority for Muslims of varying African descent who are part of a transnational Senegalese Sufi tradition – the Mustafawiyy Tariqa. Designed primarily as a multisite project that takes place in both Moncks Corner, South Carolina and in the country of Senegal (particularly in Thiés and Dakar), this project will attend to how language plays a part in interactions between students, and between student and teacher, in order to determine whether, and to what extent, the use of Wolof (for example) in common speech with and among Wolof-speakers and non-Wolof speakers in South Carolina informs how Muslims of varying ethnicities imagine themselves as a members of a widening diasporic network. This study will shed light upon how people and materials themselves move between varying sites of pilgrimage and how a shared sense of spiritual cultivation bears upon students within the Sufi order as they strive to increase their own religious knowledge. Secondly, Carter will gain a deeper sense of the relationships between people, place and history, in relation to questions of embodiment, remembrance, and healing practices.

Kathryn Crim, Comparative Literature
Crim’s dissertation, “Mobile Reformations: Faith and the Counterfeit in Early Modern Writing,” is a comparative reevaluation of the relationship between iconic and evidential reading in 16th and 17th century English and French literature. With the support of the Summer Research Grant, she will do archival work at the British Library and the Royal Society, in London, and at the Bibliothèque Nationale, in Paris; and visit churches and other sites of post-Reformation iconoclasm in London, Exeter, and the Isle of Wight.

Katherine Ding, English
Ding is interested in the insistent call for honesty throughout William Blake’s works as terrain for rethinking this term without resorting to an essentialist concept of a “true self.” In the wake of the postmodern deconstruction of the subject’s authenticity how can honesty and sincerity still be meaningful? Can honesty signal something other than the mark of its own erasure, the lament for its own impossibility? This summer, Ding will be visiting the Blake holdings at the Fitzwilliam Museum, the British Library and the British Museum to prepare for two chapters that respectively explore Blake’s concept of confession without subjectivity and embodied inspiration that deactivates the demand for self-possession which currently undergirds all notions of sincerity as an exhibition of one’s true self or real intentions. (Yeary Endowment)

Maggie Elmore, History
Elmore’s dissertation, “‘Building Community through Politics’: the Church, the State, and Ethnic Mexicans in the US Southwest, 1933-1986” examines the impact of the symbiotic relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the US federal government on ethnic Mexicans. In addition, the project shows how ethnic Mexicans made strategic use of that relationship to combat political, economic, and social inequality. She will spend the summer in Washington, DC, conducting research at the Catholic University of America, the archival headquarters for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Kathryn Heard, Jurisprudence and Social Policy
With the support of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, Heard will conduct archival research aimed at elucidating: 1) how legal actors use discourses of reason to regulate the public life of religion in liberal democracies and 2) what impact this has on the material and metaphysical lives of devout individuals. By examining the depositions, oral arguments, and personal correspondence pertaining to three key Supreme Court cases, she will endeavor to show how the positive public accommodation of religious conduct rests on the practitioners’ performance of a particular – and ultimately disenfranchising – form of secular reason. (Yeary Endowment)

Jason Klocek, Political Science
Klocek’s dissertation examines the impact of religion on the strategic decision making of counterinsurgent forces, with a focus on British operations during the early post-war period. It demonstrates how military planners’ perceptions of religion shapes both the way they construe and fight rebel groups. This summer he will collect and analyze new micro-level quantitative and qualitative data on the Cyprus and Kenya Emergencies from several military archives in the United Kingdom. These data will contribute to chapters on each conflict, respectively.

Sara Ludin, Jurisprudence and Social Policy
Ludin’s dissertation examines the Protestant Reformation in the early modern German lands at the level of dispute resolution in courts. At the center of these cases between clergy and reforming princes and magistracies was a question intended to clarify the jurisdictional competence of a court in a given case: is the dispute a “matter of religion” (Religionsache)? Ludin’s dissertation uses case files to consider how routine modalities of settling individual disputes produced “religion” as a modern legal category. This summer, Ludin will travel to several archives in Germany to continue reading case files.

Milad Odabaei, Anthropology
Milad Odabaei’s research concerns the practices of reading and translation of Western though in modern Iran. He examines the contemporary post-Revolutionary translation efforts in contradistinction to translation in nineteenth century Iran prior to the Constitutional Revolution, and in the twentieth century around the 1979 Revolution. His research thematizes translation in relation to the Shi’a Islamic tradition, and its forms of religious critique, and ijtehad (“learned judgment”) in the modern period. Drawing on the support of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, he will be conducting ethnographic and archival research and writing in Tehran and Qom, Iran.

Spencer Strub, English and Medieval Studies
Strub’s dissertation, Publishing before Print: Sins of the Tongue and the Public of Middle English Poetry, explores how a commonplace of medieval Christian religious instruction, the so-called “sins of the tongue,” came to play a central role in late medieval English poets’ sense of their own vocation and audience. Strub will travel this summer to the Bodleian Library, the British Library, and the Cambridge University Library, where his research will focus on manuscripts of catechetical and pastoral writing on speech.

Rachel Trocchio, English
My dissertation considers how Puritan literature produced ways of thinking that manifest its particular theology of grace. Specifically, it asks how a people who held that God determined one’s salvation or damnation before the beginning of time endeavored to represent both divine majesty and the failure of human intellection. Exploring the work and function of that representation across generation and literary form in the writing of Thomas Hooker, Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards, I suggest that failure becomes visible as a distinctly Puritan idea when we attend to the styles it engenders, both of rhetoric, and through rhetoric, of thought. (Yeary Endowment)

Hannah Waits, History
Waits’ dissertation, “Missionary Positions: American Evangelicals and the Transnational History of the Culture Wars,” is the first comprehensive history of US missionaries in the late twentieth century, and the project explores a paradox – how did white US Christians become more progressive in their critiques of racial hierarchies, yet more conservative in their politics of gender and sex? By examining post-colonial changes in the Global South during the 1950s-1970s and the American culture wars of the 1960s-1990s, this project uses a transnational frame to show how the biggest domestic processes were embedded in international ones – how the US culture wars were but a local phase of a global transformation. Waits will spend the summer on research trips to conduct oral history interviews and ethnographic work in Guatemala and Honduras, and to conduct archival research in missionary organizational archives in Orlando, Florida.


Support for the BCSR Student Summer Research Grants was provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award granted to Professor Thomas Laqueur and the Frank and Leslie Yeary Endowment for Ethics in the Humanities.

The Politics of Religious Freedom (PRF) website is a resource for scholars, students, and practitioners across disciplines interested in research and pedagogy at the intersection of religion, law, and politics. The PRF project was established in 2010 to study the legal and political contestation surrounding religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and South Asia. The project explored different understandings of religious freedom in an attempt to de-center conceptualizations that have long dominated the discussion in North American and international policy circles. It discerned and engaged with a broader and more diverse field of practices than conventionally designated and defended under the rubric of “religious freedom” in most mainstream debates. By making these alternatives available, the project has provided new templates for thinking about the question of religious freedom in relation to the politics of human rights, conflict resolution, the role of law, government policy, and the politics of religious difference, both within and among religious communities. This interdisciplinary and cross-cultural work is designed to inform contemporary academic and policy debates, international human rights circles, and local civil society organizations involved in these issues.

The website, which will be housed at Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Religion, will also feature a webpage that will make available in open source format teaching materials on the politics of religious freedom generally, as well as on specific case studies developed by the project team in collaboration with experts on those cases, intended for easy adoption by instructors anywhere.

Funded by the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs, Politics of Religious Freedom brings together academics, human rights and civic society organizations, and jurists and policy makers who have helped to reshape the debate on religious freedom in the United States, the European Union, India, Egypt, and South Africa. The project was developed by Professors Saba Mahmood (UC Berkeley), Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University), Winnifred Sullivan (Indiana University), and Peter Danchin (University of Maryland Law).

BCSR’s Graduate Student Event Grants support innovative proposals for graduate student-led lectures, seminars, and conferences for public and campus audiences. BCSR has awarded three $500 grants in support of the following,

Joseph Albernaz (English)
Deus Sive Veruft: Schelling’s Transformation of Spinoza’s God – March 18, 2015

Yitzhak Melamed (Professor of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University), will give a lecture examining the complicated influence of Spinoza on the early philosophy of the German Idealist Schelling, and should interest anyone working in the fields of theology, philosophy, or their intersection.


Daniel Fisher (Near Eastern Studies)
Biblical Lives: The Hebrew Bible and the Construction of Jewish Life, September 1, 2015-June 30, 2016, Opening Panel: September 17, 2015

Biblical Lives explores the relationship between Judaism and material culture, through an exhibition and year of programming at The Magnes Collection. The project investigates the range of material ways Jews have connected with their shared biblical past — tangibly constructing themselves and their world in relation to the text with remarkable creativity.


Ashwak Hauter and William Stafford (Anthropology)
Classification, Instrumentation, Technique: Exploring the Thin Line Between Religion and Science, April 25, 2015

This conference intends to explore concepts and methods that index the thin line between science and religion. We will explore forms of classification, instrumentation, and technical practice as they frame this distinction, and questions of knowledge and its objects which arise therein.


UC Berkeley graduate students organizing events for Fall 2015 are invited to apply by the next application deadline of Thursday, April 30 (4 pm). Awards range from $250 to $500 for a lecture, and up to $1000 for a conference. Contact for more information.

Past Recipients

Between the Visible and the Invisible: Cosmology, Ritual, and Hermeneutics in Historical and Contemporary Chinese Worlds
Jesse Chapman (East Asian Languages and Cultures) and Yueni Zhong (Art History)

Leaps of Faith – Figurations of Belief in Literature and Critical Thought
Simone Stirner (Comparative Literature)

The Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion is offering five to ten summer research grants in the amount of $5000 each for advanced graduate students working on topics in the study of religion, broadly construed. Applications are welcome from all UC Berkeley Ph.D. students who have advanced to candidacy, with preference given to those who are close to completion of their dissertations. Grants are awarded for summer research travel and related expenses only.

To apply, please submit:

• A cover letter explaining your research plan, budget, extant summer funding (whether departmental or otherwise), as well as other sources of funding for which you have applied.
• A description of your dissertation project. This can be in the form of a grant proposal or an abbreviated dissertation prospectus, but it should not exceed 1500 words.
• A current CV, with your committee members listed.
• A letter of recommendation from your committee chair or major advisor.

Completed applications (including all supporting materials) should be submitted to BCSR directors c/o and received by Monday, March 2 at 4 pm. Electronic files are preferred. Please send as a single PDF. Applicants can expect to hear from BCSR by the end of the Spring 2015 semester.

Due Dates:
Deadline for applications: March 2, 2015 by 4 pm
Award Announced: Week of March 30
Award Period: Summer 2015
Award Amount: $5,000 for summer research travel and related expenses

Past Recipients:
Lauren Bausch (South and Southeast Asian Studies), Erik Born (German), Graham Hill (Sociology), Nicholas Junkerman (English), Jean-Michel Landry (Anthropology), Christopher Mead (English), Samuel Robinson (History), Tehila Sasson (History), Kris Trujillo (Rhetoric)

Support for the BCSR Graduate Student Summer Research Grants was provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award granted to Professor Thomas Laqueur and the Frank and Leslie Yeary Endowment for Ethics in the Humanities.