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Faculty Updates Spring 2024

What have the Religious Studies faculty been up to? Read on to learn about their recent work and what they're looking forward to in the new year. 


Alex Angelov

Alexander Angelov, David L. Holmes Associate Professor of Reformation Studies and American Religious History

No update available at this time, but reach out via email or learn more about Professor Angelov's research and interests here. 


Annie Blazer, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Professor Blazer continues to work on her second book, titled American Culture through Religion and Sport, under contract with Bloomsbury Press. She has published several articles and book chapters from this stream of research on topics such as doping in elite sports, gender policing, youth sports, and narratives of prosperity gospel. She has enjoyed teaching on these topics in her course titled Religion and Sports in the United States. The course tends to enroll athletes that bring their lived experience to the classroom and increase the depth of engagement. Additionally, Professor Blazer had enjoyed teaching Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, the capstone of our religious studies major. It is a pleasure to shepherd students’ own research projects and see the wide range of topics that our majors investigate. Professor Blazer continues her work as co-chair of the Feminist Theory and Religious Reflection program unit for the American Academy of Religion and was pleased that this program unit could be the home for the first Fat Studies panel at the annual meeting in over a decade. 

Patton Bruchett

Patton Burchett, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Professor Burchett has been working on a number of different research projects. He won the Drapers’ Faculty Fellowship from the Reves Center in 2023 to support research for his second book project, tentatively titled The Authentic Yogi: Yoga and Tantra between Science, Religion, and Magic, and will be conducting archival research in London and Cambridge, England for this project in March and April 2024. In December of 2023, Burchett was awarded the W&M’s 2024 Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence. 

Burchett is also involved in research for two different interdisciplinary projects, both of which are funded by grants from the Provost Office Interdisciplinary Research Innovation Fund. For the first, he is one of six Primary Investigators (including Prof. Vose & Prof. McLaughlin in RS)—along with W&M faculty in Psychological Sciences, Neuroscience, Applied Science, and Philosophy—studying the cultural and social forces affecting contemplative practices today and differences between secular and religious motivations of contemplation in order to elucidate the most effective means of obtaining psychological, cognitive, and emotional benefits from these practices.  For phase For the second, he is a Primary Investigator in a project for the Nepal Water Initiative, a collaborative research venture involving W&M faculty at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science [VIMS], the Global Research Institute [GRI], and the Institute for Integrative Conservation [IIS].  His role in this larger initiative is a project entitled “Understanding Indigenous Knowledge and the Cultural and Religious Significance of Nature for Integrative, Holistic Water Conservation Strategies in Nepal” that has Burchett doing ethnographic research in Nepal on religion, ecology, and indigenous knowledge over the next several years.  His first research trip to Nepal was in May-June 2023, when he conducted over thirty extended, qualitive interviews with members of Hindu, Buddhist, and diverse indigenous communities at sites all over Nepal to gain information about their specific ways of understanding and relating to (i.e. their beliefs about and practices involving) fresh water resources, particularly rivers, in the context of rapid environmental changes brought on by climate change and development projects. 

Burchett has also recently devoted substantial time and effort to launching and coordinating the W&M Mind, Brain, & Wellness (MBW) Seminar, which provides a forum for W&M faculty and students with a shared interest in the broad, interdisciplinary study of the mind and brain (both from a practical, instrumental perspective aimed at improving human well-being and a more theoretical perspective aimed at exploring the mind-body problem and the mysterious nature of consciousness itself), by conducting a regular (2x/month) reading group and  facilitating interdisciplinary conversations and informal presentation of research ideas.  

Burchett (along with Professor Angelov) re-vamped the department’s RELG 201 course as “Religions of the World: The Human Religious Experience” as a mass-enrollment “gateway” course into the field of Religious Studies; in the Fall he taught this re-conceived course for the first time. 

In Spring 2024, Burchett joined department colleague Prof. Andrew Tobolowsky on in W&M’s intramural basketball league on a team named “Grumpy Old Men.”  Competing against W&M students in this forum has been a fun and humbling “educational” experience. 

Daise Square

Michael Daise, Department Chair and Endowed Professor of Judaic Studies in Religious Studies

No update available at this time, but reach out via email or learn more about Professor Daise's research and interests here. 


Rahel Fischbach, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Dr. Fischbach is currently finishing her book, "Between God and History: Politics of Modern Muslim Qur'an Hermeneutics," which will be published by the end of this year by De Gruyter. Learn more about Professor Fischbach's research and interests here. 

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Joanna Homrighausen, Adjunct Lecturer for Judaic Studies and Religious Studies

Professor Homrighausen has been franticly preparing for her doctoral defense on April 2, 2024, for her PhD in Religious Studies from Duke University. Her dissertation, Writing Esther, looks at the role of the Book of Esther in the Jewish bibliographic imagination, liturgy, and art, and how that intersection applies to interpretive questions arising from the biblical text. Like any roller coaster, the project was a wild ride but must come to an end! She is in talks with a monograph series editor to publish part of the project as a book. 

In her other scholarly life, Homrighausen writes about religion and art, especially contemporary calligraphy and lettering arts. She has a chapter under review on Hebrew calligrapher and tattoo artist Gabriel Wolff, for a volume on tattoos and religion. In February 2024, she’ll be speaking about artworks by Ewan Clayton and Nava Levine-Coren which play with queer readings of biblical texts, for the UC Riverside symposium on Queer and Trans Studies in Religion. She has also been at work on a special issue of Scripsit (a periodical for lettering artists) about graffiti writing and calligraphy. Otherwise, her days typically revolve around the whims of her three anxious dogs and their varied emotional needs. 


Maggie Kirsh, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Professor Kirsh has been making steady progress with her book manuscript, Writing the Recovery: Stories of Caretaking and Rehabilitation in the Post-Holocaust Era. She received some great help in the form of the Kranzberg research travel award which enabled collaborative archival research with W&M student, Lilly Tanenbaum. Lilly’s diligent work in three archives, coupled with her knowledge of the history of psychology, resulted in some thoughtful discussions and fascinating finds relating to family building, trauma, healing, and storytelling in the aftermath of the Holocaust.  

 Professor Kirsh continues teaching a variety of courses: the Holocaust, Gender and Judaism, Modern European Jewish History, and Writing the Self: An Exploration of Jewish History through Memoirs. One of her favorite parts of teaching has been the insightful and engaging student projects that she gets to read — everything from modern-day midrash to analysis on material culture and the Holocaust.  

Last fall, she enjoyed the arduous but rewarding work of serving as a judge for the National Jewish Book Award. As a result, her shelves are filled with new reads and her mind is filled with new ideas for future readings assignments for upcoming classes. 

When not in Wren, Professor Kirsh spends her time hanging out with horses in Toano, learning Russian words and phrases from her kids, perfecting her Belgian chocolate cake making skills, and trying to see every play that comes to town. 

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Mark McLaughlin, Teaching Professor of South Asian Religions

After leading the W&M abroad trip to India last summer, this fall Professor McLaughlin taught Hinduism and his popular Meditation & Wellness course, which had 140 override requests (see W&M News story here). This semester he is teaching Hinduism and the seminar Feminine Power and Female Voices in Hindu Traditions. He recently received the Building Connections and Bridging Differences teaching award. He continues work as a principal investigator, along with Professors Vose and Burchett, on a two-year, seven-member project, “Unraveling Contemplative Practices: A Holistic Interdisciplinary Approach,” funded by a $75K grant in 2023 from the Office of the Provost’s Interdisciplinary Research Innovation Fund, for which he hopes to present an update on at the International Society of Contemplative Research this summer in Padua, Italy. And on a less academic level, he has recently collaborated on a planetarium project called InnerStellar Temple Journey to premier at the Fiske Planetarium on the campus of UC Boulder this March. The show blends his 360º immersive video content from temples in India with James Webb Telescope images of the universe accompanied by live Indian music from Sheela Bringi (see trailer here). This summer, he’ll continue work on his book Seven Hundred Years in Meditation: Samādhi Burial and the Samādhi Shrine of Jñāneśvar Mahārāj, under contract with SUNY Press. 

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Randi Rashkover, Director of Judaic Studies and Sophia & Nathan Gumenick Associate Professor of Judaic Studies

No update available at this time, but reach out via email or learn more about Professor Rashkover's research and interests here. 

Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh, Hans Tiefel Associate Professor of Ethics

Professor Sheikh was on sabbatical during the 2022-2023 academic year. He did field research in Turkey and Pakistan for two different research projects focused on i) the role of religion in medical ethics (especially in intensive care and palliative care environments) and ii) the nature and scope of religious dissent in contemporary South Asian Muslim thought respectively. Professor Sheikh developed a new course called "Illness and the Religious Imagination" that he is currently teaching. During his sabbatical, he also contributed a chapter to an important edited volume in the field of religious ethics due to be released in 2024 by Springer Press. The title of the chapter is “Does Miller Square the Triangle? Religious Authenticity, Moral Selfhood & Human Dignity”. He also wrote essays in response to essays written by three religious ethics scholars for a Syndicate Symposium on his book, Forging Ideal Muslim Subjects. Professor Sheikh will be spending the next few years learning Turkish at the advanced level and conducting more field visits both to Turkey and Pakistan and hopes to eventually publish book-length manuscripts on both topics that he is researching. He is also in the process of developing a "comparative environmental ethics" class that will survey key religious teachings and practices from across religious traditions and their relevance for addressing contemporary and future environmental challenges that face us as a global community.  


Andrew Tobolowsky, Robert & Sarah Boyd Associate Professor of Religious Studies

In 2023, Professor Tobolowsky completed his third book, "Ancient Israel, Judah, and Greece: Laying the Foundations of a Comparative Approach for Sheffield Phoenix Press", received a contract for a fourth book - on Israelite identity in Late Antiquity, from Cambridge University Press and published an article on Israelite origins with Method and Theory in the Study of Religions. Tobolowsky was on sabbatical in the Spring, but taught History and Religion of Ancient Israel and Poets and Prophets, a course comparing biblical and Greek traditions in the Fall. In January of this year, he gave an invited lecture at Michigan State University and in April, will give one at UCLA. Mostly, however, Tobolowsky has enjoyed continuing to explore the Williamsburg area and playing with his rambunctious almost-three year old.


Kevin Vose

Kevin VoseWalter G. Mason Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Along with Professors Burchett and McLaughlin (and professors from Applied Science, Philosophy, and Psychology), Professor Vose began work on an interdisciplinary research project designed to understand the relationships between motivations for practicing meditation and the tangible results of those practices. The group designed a survey that was completed by hundreds of students and dozens of community members and now is getting to work on the laboratory portion of the project, in which students and community members will meditate while wearing an EEG device. The project is funded by William & Mary’s Provost’s Office for a two-year pilot and aims to secure external funding to pursue the work beyond that period. Professor Vose continues work on the editing and translation of 12th century Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts with a colleague at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and will travel to Vienna in the summer in the hopes of completing the project. In summer 2023, Professor Vose led a group of William & Mary students to Bhutan to study at the Royal University of Bhutan’s College of Language and Culture Studies. The group learned about Himalayan Buddhism and “Gross National Happiness,” Bhutan’s model of sustainable development, and visited many of Bhutan’s most important temples and monasteries.