Lectures and Events 
  • head shot of Ira Helderman

November 6, 2019 - 4:45 pm
Bonchek Lecture Hall - LSP 142

Mindfulness Boom and Backlash: Psychotherapeutic Mindfulness Practices and Buddhist Traditions

The massive popularity of therapeutic mindfulness practices derived from Buddhist traditions has spurred a mindfulness backlash.  A debate now rages between those who view the secularization of Buddhist meditation practices as too accommodating to mainstream American values and those who see it as a benign adaptation of Buddhism to a new culture comparable to previous adaptations. What is behind these debates and where do we go from here?

Ira Helderman is a religious studies scholar, psychotherapist in private practice, and adjunct assistant professor in Vanderbilt University’s Department of Human Development Counseling. His book Prescribing the Dharma: Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions, and Defining Religion (University of North Carolina Press) is the first comprehensive study of the surprisingly diverse ways that psychotherapists have approached Buddhist traditions. 


  • Noam Sienna Headshot

November 13, 2019 - 6:00 pm
Klehr Center Multipurpose Room

  • “Spinning A Rainbow Thread: Reflections on Writing Queer Jewish History.”
    What is the place of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Jews in history? Over the past two years, Noam Sienna has worked to uncover documents that until now have been scattered across the globe, and largely unrecognized. Pulling together these varied sources, written in over fifteen languages — which include poetry, literature, law, midrash, and memoir – Sienna has created the very first anthology of queer Jewish history, released in February 2019. Drawing on this publication, Sienna spins a complex story about Jewish sexuality and gender across time and space. 

    Noam Sienna is a Jewish educator, artist, and doctoral candidate in Jewish History and Museum Studies at the University of Minnesota. He also holds degrees in Anthropology and Religious Studies from Brandeis University and the University of Toronto. He has taught and lectured about Jewish cultural heritage at academic and community venues around the world, and he has published articles about Jewish history, culture, and art in both scholarly and popular journals.

    His academic work has focused on the history and culture of Jewish communities in the Islamic world, from the Middle Ages to the present. A Rainbow Thread: An Anthology of Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969 is his first book.

  • Headshot of Moriel Rothman-Zecher
Public Reading with Visiting Israeli Novelist Moriel Rothman-Zecher

April 15, 2019 - 7:30 pm
Philadelphia Alumni Writers House

Moriel Rothman-Zecher, an Israeli American novelist and poet, is a National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ Honoree, and the recipient of a 2017 MacDowell Colony Fellowship in Literature. His writing has been published in The New York TimesThe Paris Review’s “The Daily,” HaaretzZYZZYVAThe Common, and elsewhere. 

"Sadness follows Jonathan/Yonatan, a border-bouncing young Jew who shares some biographical details with the author --Israeli-American upbringing, facility in Arabic, Palestinian relationships -- with a crucial distinction: Yonatan (the Israeli version of his name) eventually joins the Israel Defense Forces, while Rothman-Zecher was jailed for refusing to enlist." (-ABCNews).

"Searing in its beauty, devastating in its emotional power, and dazzling in its insights, Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s debut novel, Sadness Is a White Bird, is, I promise you, like nothing you’ve ever read.” (-Washington Independent Review of Books).

  • headshot of Sylvia Chan-Malik
Being Muslim: Women of Color in American Islam

April 8, 2019 - 4:30 pm
Bonchek Lecture Hall in LSP

In her lecture, Professor Chan-Malik will discuss the ways U.S. Muslim women's identities are expressions of Islam as both Black protest religion and universal faith tradition. Drawing on archival images, cultural texts, popular media, and interviews, she will show how communities of American Islam became sites of safety, support, spirituality, and social activism, and how women of color were central to their formation. By accounting for American Islam's rich histories of mobilization and community, she will highlight the forms of resistance that Muslim women engage in the United States. 

  • Headshot of Madiha Tahir
Wounds of Waziristan: The Multiple Lives of the War on Terror
Film screening and talk with film director Madiha Tahir

April 1, 2019 - 4:30 pm
Stahr Auditorium - Stager Hall

Is it possible to write a theory of the drone from the ground? With the advent of weaponized drones, critical work on (semi) autonomous warfare has largely focused on the techno-politics of drones and war-at-a-distance with little attention to how states that are being bombed construct the material and social abandonment of the people on whom the bombs fall, or how the latter negotiate survival in the 'death-worlds' that proceed from abandonment and bombardment. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork as well as Madiha's experiences as a journalist, this talk puts drone warfare in context by examining the expansion of the 'war on terror' within Pakistan and the mass protest Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement that is now resisting it.


The Children of Noah: Birth of a New Judaic Faith
 Film Preview and Lecture

February 18, 2019 - 6:30 pm
Stahr Auditorium, Stager Hall

What happens when an anthropologist of religion and cinematographer team up and attempt to capture the birth of a new religion on camera?
F&M Religious Studies Professor Rachel Feldman along with her cinematographer Co-director Lia Tarachansky will share a preview of their forthcoming documentary film “The Children of Noah,” taking the viewer inside of their scholarly and artistic process. Alongside the footage, Feldman will lecture and discuss her ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in the Philippines, where she is following the emergence of a new Judaic faith alongside a growing theocratic movement in Israel. Feldman and Tarachansky will problematize what it means to study and represent religious subjectivities on camera. 


From Lancaster to Lincoln and from Dayton to Dover: The story of America's first evolution trials

March 6, 2019
LSP 142 - Bonchek Lecture Hall

The 1925 Scopes Monkey trial in Tennessee kicked off a series of political and legal battles over the teaching of evolution in America that continues nearly a century later. Antievolution in America is typically seen as an exemplar of the conflict between religion and science - or at least between literal interpretations of Genesis and Darwin's theory of natural selection. But the idea that an evolution trial was an  inevitable outcome of these incompatible ideas must be questioned when we look at why nothing like the Scopes trial took place in the first half century after The Origin of Species was published. In particular, an obscure 1924 court case in Lincoln, Nebraska, involving a schoolteacher from Lancaster County who lost his job after being accused to promoting Darwinism illustrates just how unlikely a public spectacle like Scopes was.

Religion, Law, and Politics in South Asia Speakers Series 

  • Photo of RST speaker
 More-Than-Human Democracy: On the Political Lives of Gods, Rivers, Trees, and Animals in India's Central Himalaya

Radhika Govindrajan is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle
October 3, 2018 - 5:30 pm
LSP 142 - Bonchek Lecture Hall

In March 2017, a judgment passed by a court located in a small town in the Indian Himalayas breathed life into the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, who commence their long journeys in these mountains. In response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a citizen who was alarmed by the environmental impacts of illegal sand mining and stone crushing along the banks of the Ganga, the High Court of Uttarakhand state declared that the two rivers were, for the purposes of the law, “legal persons or living persons” with all the “corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person”. Three years prior to this judgment, a candidate competing in a village election made a similar claim as to the political personhood of nonhumans when he declared that he was seeking votes not only from the human residents of his village, but also the gods, the trees, and the stones; for him, the nature of democratic politics was shaped not just by humans, but by intentional nonhuman actors. In this talk, I will examine how contemporary democratic politics – popular mobilization, electoral politics, and judicial activism and action – in the Central Himalayan state of Uttarakhand engages and is transformed by agrarian and environmental crises that affect not just human lives, but also involve the more-than-human world of animals, trees, rivers, forests, and deities.



  • Photo of speaker Hafsa Kanjwal
"Our Breadwinner has Come:" Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and the Pursuit of Progress in a Disputed Territory

Hafsa Kanjwal is an Assistant Professor of History at Lafayette College 
October 23, 2018 - 5:30 pm
LSP 142 - Bonchek Lecture Hall

Kashmir—a picturesque Himalayan region with a longstanding self-determination movement (Tehreek)—has been subjected to several interstate wars between India and Pakistan, and persistent violence. This talk will focus on how Kashmir's disputed political status at the time of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent engendered a particular form of developmentalism in the 1950s and 1960s, and the implications this had for the period of state-formation in the early postcolonial period.

  • Photo of speaker Khoja Moolji
Book Talk Title:
Forging the Ideal Educated Girl: Examining the Politics of Education Campaigns in Pakistan

Shenila Khoja-Moolji is an Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College in Maine.

November 2, 2018 - 4:30 pm
Stahr Auditorium in Stager Hall

In Forging the Ideal Educated Girl, Dr. Shenila Khoja-Moolji traces the cultural construction of the ‘educated girl’ in the context of Colonial India and Pakistan. She challenges the prevailing common sense associated with calls for women’s and girls’ education and argues that such advocacy is not simply about access to education but, more crucially, concerned with producing ideal Muslim woman-/girl-subjects with specific relationships to the patriarchal family, paid work, Islam, and the nation-state. 


  • Photo of speaker Anupama Rao
Islam, Buddhism, and Universal  

Anupama Rao is an Associate Professor of History at Barnard College in New York City.
November 12, 2018 - 5:30 pm
LSP 142 - Bonchek Lecture Hall

Dr. Rao's talk will focus on B. R. Ambedkar's unique reading of the shared historical logics (Islam, untouchability) that rendered Muslims and Dalits into minorities on the subcontinent. One was an insurrectionary minority, while the other was subject to historical violence, and locked in a relationship of agonistic intimacy with Hindus. Ambedkar's exploration of the long and contradictory history of how intimacy was turned into otherness and how this became the grounds for social exclusion is also a history of Buddhism and Islam in India. I will explore B. R Ambedkar's deployment of two keywords, "conversion" and "revolution" in his late writings--Thoughts on Pakistan (1941); Pakistan or the Partition of India (1945); Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India (1954); The Buddha and His Gospel (1951); Buddha or Karl Marx, and the posthumously published Buddha and His Dhamma. I will be interested in focusing on how he approaches the complex temporalities of religion and politics, and how this is essential to Ambedkar's understanding of the minority question as essentially a comparative one.

2017-2018 Conference 

Expert Knowledge and Contested Authority: Where the Sciences and Humanities Meet.

Saturday, March 24, 2018
9:00 am - 6:00 pm
Bonchek Lecture Hall

This conference interrogates problems and ambiguities involved in defining what counts as "expert knowledge" in the increasingly fractured and fragmented world we collectively inhabit. By approaching this question in a thoroughly interdisciplinary fashion with insights and perspectives from a range of disciplines including Literature, Sociology, Science and Technology, and Religious Studies, we hope to conduct a rigorous yet playful interrogation of the stakes involved in defining expert knowledge and authority across the Humanities and the Social and Natural Sciences.