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Faculty Updates

Religious Studies Faculty Updates for January, 2022

What are the faculty in our department doing this year? Read below to find out. 

Alex Angelov

Alexander Angelov, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

In the past academic year, Prof. Angelov continued his research on the history of the Orthodox Church in the modern period. Although he could not travel to Russia, he collected archival material available in the Library of Congress. In addition, he finished his ethnographic work on religious communities in the United States and the socio-political repercussions of Covid-19. In terms of teaching, Prof. Angelov was excited to introduce a new course (Christianity and Radical Politics), inviting students to evaluate dominant articulations of Christianity and to contribute to contested contemporary topics such as the future of globalism, the implications of technology, capital markets, and multiculturalism. Colleagues from the Medieval and Renaissance Studies elected Prof. Angelov to serve as the program’s chair. Excited at the prospect, Prof. Angelov organized an undergraduate research Symposium and launch an initiative to promote and publish research collaborations between students and faculty. He is looking forward to the new year and hopes to resume his traveling, research abroad, and international conferences.


Annie Blazer, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Professor Blazer has been working on a new book titled American Culture through Religion and Sport, under contract with Bloomsbury Press. One chapter that she has been focusing on recently investigates the history and use of Native American mascots in the U.S. While existing analyses of Native American mascot controversies are well aware of colonial narratives of whiteness, many leave out colonial missionary Christianity as original to ideas about American whiteness. Professor Blazer’s research brings religious history to bear on ongoing debates over Native American depictions in U.S. sports. Professor Blazer was invited to share her research on this topic at the University of California-Riverside’s Religious Studies Department Colloquium and presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Professor Blazer was a 2020 recipient of W&M’s Plumeri Award, an honor that recognizes faculty excellence in teaching and research. Over the past year, she has enjoyed teaching courses on New Religious Movements in America, Religion and Sports, and Theory and Method in the Study of Religion. In her spare time, professor Blazer plays bass in a 1990s cover band, takes long walks with her dog Banana, and makes elaborate stews in her slow cooker.

Patton Bruchett

Patton Burchett, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

At the end of the 2020-21 academic year, Professor Burchett was awarded tenure and promoted to Associate Professor. After two years away in Charlottesville, in the summer of 2021 he and his family returned to the Williamsburg area. His first book, A Genealogy of Devotion: Bhakti, Tantra, Yoga, and Sufism in North India (Columbia University Press), was published in 2019 and has, to date, been positively reviewed in nine different scholarly journals for its ambitious and wide-ranging contributions to the field of South Asian religious history. In the past year, Professor Burchett has particularly enjoyed bringing in new approaches to teaching and student engagement in his “Modern Hinduism” and “Spiritual But Not Religious” courses, along with substantive new content units in both courses on topics of vital contemporary concern like race/caste, social media/digital technology, consumerism and neoliberalism, and ecology/climate change and their intersections with discourses of “spirituality” and religious nationalism in India and America. When not brainstorming his next major research project (on discourses of “magic,” “science,” and “religion” in colonial-era and contemporary understandings of yoga and yogis), Professor Burchett enjoys hanging out with his two daughters, Ella (7) and Cate (5), cooking, exercising, fantasy NBA basketball, and drinking IPAs.


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

My research this year led to some rich areas of inquiry. It began with editing an issue for the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, in which eight scholars engaged a significant monograph on John the Baptist: John the Baptist in History and Theology, by Joel Marcus, Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke Divinity School. The issue caught the attention of the Board of Directors for a major association for the study of early Judaism, the Enoch Seminar; and this led to an international online conference on ‘John the Baptist: History and Reception’ in January, which I co-chaired with the Director, Gabriele Boccaccini.
Throughout the year I wrote five articles. Two were for Festschriften (literary celebrations) honoring the life’s work of esteemed colleagues: one, on the use of Isaiah 40:3 to identify John the Baptist; the other, on the christological dynamic which occurs in the biblical quotations which appear in the crucifixion episode of the Fourth Gospel. The other three articles were for a volume which I have co-edited with my colleague, Dorota Hartman, who teaches at Università degli Studi di Napoli ‘L’Orientale’: the Introduction, the Conclusion and a piece on scriptural citations in manuscripts from the Judaean desert that correspond to biblical quotations in the Gospel of John. The volume itself is titled Creative Fidelity, Faithful Creativity: The Reception of Jewish Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity. It consists of some fourteen contributions from specialists in Second Temple Judaism, Rabbinics, the New Testament and Patristics; and Dorota and I have now submitted it for peer review to UniorPress at the University of Naples.
I also delivered four academic papers. The first, at the conference sponsored by the Enoch Seminar, was drawn from my article on Isaiah 40:3 and John the Baptist. A second, given at the 7th Annual Meeting on Christian Origins, Centro Italiano di Studi Superiori sulle Religioni (outside Bologna), concerned a saying on the ‘destruction’ and ‘raising’ of the sanctuary ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels of Mark, John and Thomas. And the last two, presented at the Society of Biblical Literature annual conference in San Antonio, treated the so-called ‘Jerusalem church’ in the Acts of the Apostles: one, on the use of pilgrimage by early adherents to Jesus; the other, on the long held observation that the profile of this ‘Jerusalem church’ resembles that of the Essenes. As the year ends, I am working with friend and colleague Gregory Glazov, Professor of Old Testament at Seton Hall School of Theology, to edit a volume of proceedings from the Catholic Biblical Association’s long running ‘Task Force on the Use of the Old Testament in the Gospel of John’.
At the College I enjoyed the privilege of beginning my second year chairing the department. With a course reduction due to that responsibility, I taught two upper level seminars: in the spring, ‘Paul, Pharisee and Apostle’; this fall, ‘Judaism Before the Rabbis’. I am altogether impressed with the investment students made in these courses. And I am deeply grateful that, through the good offices of our Program in Judaic Studies, we were able to invite eminent scholars to speak with those students on issues in which they specialize. For the spring course on Paul, Mark Nanos, a leading voice in ‘Paul Within Judaism’ research, delivered a lecture titled, ‘Does Paul Oppose Torah in Galatians’?; and Kathy Ehrensperger, Research Professor of the New Testament in Jewish Perspective, Universitaet Potsdam, spoke on ‘Paul’s Judaism and the Question of Gender’. For this fall’s course on early Judaism, Ithamar Gruenwald, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Jewish Philosophy and Program in Religious Studies, Tel Aviv University, addressed the class on ‘Apocalypticism Between Interpretation and Visionary Experience’ and delivered a campus-wide lecture titled ‘Rituals and Religion’; and Albert Baumgarten, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry, Bar-Ilan University, spoke on ‘The Intersection of Greco-Roman and Ancient Jewish Histories: How You Get There Matters’! This year I have also supervised two honors theses: one, concluded in the spring, treated quotations of Jewish scripture in the Gospel of Matthew; the other, underway this fall, concerns the relationship between Pauline and Johannine christology.
More dear to me than all the items listed above, however, is the notice I received last March (as did some of my colleagues) that amidst the pandemic a student kindly named me as a ‘Class of 2020 Influencer’, someone deemed ‘most influential to their William & Mary education…during a time when connections were of utmost importance’.


Maggie Kirsh, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Professor Kirsh has been working on her book manuscript, Writing the Recovery: Stories of Rehabilitation in the Post-Holocaust Era. Although progress has been slow thanks to archival closures due to Covid, she has gotten creative when it comes to tracking down the stories of amateurs and professionals who contributed to the rehabilitation of young Holocaust survivors who settled in Ireland, Great Britain, Israel, and the US. Professor Kirsh continues teaching a variety of Judaic studies courses and has recently revamped a class on gender and Judaism. Her favorite class to teach is Writing the Self: An Exploration of Jewish History through Memoirs. This COLL150 course culminates with the opportunity to write critical memoirs, and the students amaze her, semester after semester, with their beautiful prose and insightful commentary. She was recently invited by the Virginia Beach Public Libraries to give the keynote address, “Jewish Journeys at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”, for The Yiddish Book Center’s ‘Coming to America’ Reading Groups for Public Libraries. When she’s not in Wren, Professor Kirsh can be found trying to keep up with her very active children, hanging out with horses, stress baking, and writing creative non-fiction.


Mark McLaughlin, Senior Lecturer of South Asian Religions

Professor McLaughlin is working on a book under contract with SUNY Press titled Seven Hundred Years in Meditation: Samādhi Burial and the13th-Century Samādhi Shrine of Jñāneśvar Mahārāj. The book, on Hindu samādhi mandirs, tomb-shrines for revered gurus, charts the development of Hindu samādhi burial practices and the eventual emergence of worship traditions focused on the meditating body of the buried saint that mirror the rituals of Hindu temple traditions focused on the embodied presence of a deity. Over the past year, Professor McLaughlin co-edited a special double issue of the Oxford Journal of Hindu Studies on samādhis, Sufi tombs, and relics. For it, he co-authored an introductory essay, “Death Matters: Samādhis, Dargāhs and Relics in South Asia,” and provided the lead article for the issue, “Tracing the Roots of SamādhiBurial Practice.” This spring, in addition to teaching Hinduism and a freshmen seminar on sacred space in India, Professor McLaughlin is particularly looking forward to running his upper level seminar on feminine power and female voices in the Hindu traditions. When not on campus, Professor McLaughlin can often be found plying the waters of the local tidal creeks on his paddle board with his beloved dog, Pehlu, riding out front.

Randi Rashkover

Randi Rashkover, Sofia and Nathan Gumenick Associate Professor of Religious Studies

For information on Professor Rashkover, please see her New Faculty Profile here

Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Over the past year, Professor Sheikh has been exploring Islamic virtue ethics with a particular focus on different accounts of open-mindedness and the exegetical approaches that might reconcile this virtue with the nurturing of deep faith commitments and asense of religious identity. He has also been engaged in a disciplinary conversation about the current state and future of religious ethics as a field of study. He participated in a roundtable on the subject at this year’s annual AAR conference. In January 2022, Professor Sheikh is scheduled to read a paper about teaching religious ethics in a university setting at the annual Society for Christian Ethics conference. He will also present a paper on the relations between topography and moral agency in Punjabi poetry at the annual Society for the study of Muslim Ethics meeting. He published his first book, titled Forging Ideal Muslim Subjects with Lexington Press, which came out in August 2020. The book has been very well-received among scholars of religious ethics and Islamic ethics. It is the focus of an upcoming Syndicate symposium. Prof. Sheikh developed and taught a new course titled “Religion and Social Criticism” as well as courses in Religion and Ethics and Muslim Ethics. Prof. Sheikh enjoys cooking for and entertaining friends and family and especially cherishes the time he spends chatting, playing soccer, taking walks and riding bikes with his twelve-year-old son. He is fighting a losing battle against an extending waistline.


Andrew Tobolowsky, Associate Professor of Religious Studies

We Professor Tobolowsky has been working on a forthcoming book titled The Myth of the Twelve Tribes of Israel with Cambridge University Press, which should be out in early 2022. The book explores a hidden history, the history of peoples around the world who have identified as Israel, starting from the premise that their acts of "becoming Israel" are not really so different from the Hebrew Bible's own. Taking the long view here allows for a series of fruitful reflections on the subject of what the tradition of the twelve tribes of Israel has meant to whom, what it has been used to do, and its general historical importance, while also providing a platform for meditations on the role traditions about the past play in society more generally. Professor Tobolowsky has also enjoyed teaching courses about the Hebrew Bible, the inheritance of its traditions, and the history of the ancient world, and engaging students in questions about what these so important traditions have done and meant. He has also recently become a father, and spends a lot more time sitting on the floor, handing a baby things to chew. 

Semiha Topal thumbnail

Semiha Topal, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies



Jonathan Homrighausen, Adjunct instructor for Judaic Studies and Religious Studies

I am delighted to be teaching in Judaic Studies this year as I complete my doctoral program at Duke University. My area is Hebrew Bible, and at William & Mary I am teaching the first-year Biblical Hebrew sequence. I am also teaching a new first-year writing seminar, “The Book of Esther: Gender, Ethnicity, and Genocide,” in which we chart how one potent biblical story has served as both a mirror and a lens for people engaging difficult issues of ethics and identity, both ancient and contemporary. This seminar parallels my dissertation, which analyzes writing and textuality in the Book of Esther and how interpreters (mostly Jewish) have engaged and ritualized those themes for the past two millennia. I also have an ongoing side interest in religion and the arts, especially contemporary calligraphy and lettering arts. In 2021, I curated a virtual exhibit of such works, Visual Music: Calligraphy and Sacred Texts, for the Luce Center for Religion and the Arts at Wesley Theological Seminary. My next book on that topic, Planting Letters and Weaving Lines: Calligraphy, The Song of Songs, and The Saint John’s Bible, is due out with Liturgical Press in fall 2022. When I’m not teaching Hebrew grammar, I like to spend time with my husband Michael (the Digital Archivist in Swem Library’s Special Collections) and our three rescue dogs, Vincent, Sarah, and Ezri.

Kevin Vose

Kevin VoseWalter G. Mason Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Kevin Vose was fortunate to spenthe first half of 2021on a research sabbatical, completing a draft of a book manuscript on the Buddhist “Middle Way” philosophical tradition.The book, titled Splitting the Middle: A Natural History of Madhyamaka Reasoning,utilizes recently discovered 12thcentury Tibetan manuscripts that allow us access for the first time to the thought of Tibet’s foundational religious figures. Prof. Vose’s translations from these manuscriptsand from Sanskrit works of Indian Buddhist masters form the basis for his examination of the emergence of the dominant form of Buddhist philosophy in Tibet. Prof. Vose additionally continued work on a research project on medieval Tibetan manuscripts with Pascale Hugon, a colleague at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The two began the project in Vienna pre-pandemic and now meet regularly over Zoom. Prof. Vose continues to teach courses on Buddhism and East Asian religions.He will lead a group of William & Mary students to Bhutan in the summer, restarting a study abroad program that he established in 2018. The program examines Himalayan Buddhism and “Gross National Happiness,” Bhutan’s model of sustainable development.