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2016 Young Scholars

Young Scholars in American Religion Program

2016 Young Scholars



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Kathryn Lofton is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History and Divinity at Yale University. A historian and cultural critic, her research focuses on the problem of religion in modernity. She has written about modernism, consumerism, celebrity, and secularism. Her book in progress, Consuming Religion, includes examinations of Goldman Sachs, Kim Kardashian, and parenting as subjects for the study of religion. Lofton has served as an editor-at-large for the Immanent Frame; she co-curated (with John Lardas Modern) a collaborative web project titled Frequencies; and she has recently launched (also with John Lardas Modern) Class 200: New Studies in Religion, a book series with University of Chicago Press. For her work at Yale she has won the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching, the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College, and the Graduate Mentor Award in the Humanities.

Leigh Schmidt is the Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He joined the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in 2011 after serving as the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School from 2009 to 2011. Previous to that, he taught for fourteen years in the Department of Religion at Princeton University, including a stint as Department Chair and multiple shifts as Director of Graduate Studies.  His books include: Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman (2010); Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (2005); Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (2000); Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (1995); and Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (1989). His next book project, Village Atheists: A Cultural History of American Unbelief, is due out from Princeton University Press in late 2016. 



Brandon Bayne is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He teaches courses on Religion in America, Latin American Religion, Borderlands, Indigenous Christianities, and Religion and Violence. His current book project, Between the Mission and the Monte: Conversion and Confrontation in Northern New Spain, tracks ritual and spatial exchanges between Jesuit evangelists and O’odham, Apache, Opata, Yaqui, Mayo, Tepehuan and Pericú communities along the northwestern frontiers of Spanish America. It charts religious confrontations that entailed tense interplays of sacramental participation and inversion, relic collection and extirpation, prophetic memorialization and revitalization, and spatial reduction and ambulation. He also maintains research interests are in contemporary Latina/o religion, and he has published on the 20thcentury borderlands healer Teresa Urrea and the memorialization of Father Eusebio Kino, including the discovery and display of his body in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora; the site of a significant trans-border pilgrimage.

Cara Burnidge is an Assistant Professor of religion in the Department of Philosophy & World Religions at the University of Northern Iowa. She received her PhD in Religion at Florida State University in 2013. Specializing in the history of American religion and politics in the world, Burnidge teaches Religion in America, Religion and Politics, Religions of the World, and Global Christianity. Her first book, A Peaceful Conquest: Woodrow Wilson, Religion, and the New World Order (University of Chicago Press, 2016), uses the career and legacy of President Wilson to explore how American religion and U.S. foreign relations intersected in the early twentieth century. She currently serves as a steering committee member of the American Academy of Religion’s Religion and U.S. Empire Seminar, secretary of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, and Blogmeister of the Religion in American History blog.

Emily Suzanne Clark is an Assistant Professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University and the Associate Editor of the Journal of Southern Religion. In addition to American religious history, her research and teaching interests include African American religions, American Catholic history, Native American religions, and religion and politics. Her first book, A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans (University of North Carolina Press, 2016), explores the politics of talking to the dead. Other publications examine the Moorish Science Temple, black Catholicism, and religious folk art. Her next project will interrogate the interactions between Jesuits and Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. She received her M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Missouri and a Ph.D. in Religion from Florida State University in 2014. 


Brett Grainger is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University (beginning Fall 2016). He specializes in the religious history of early modern America and Britain, with a focus on the methods of cultural and intellectual history. His research interests center on early modern mysticism, Christian primitivism, secularization and modern spirituality, and religion and nature. He is currently revising a manuscript entitled Evangelical Enchantment: Everyday Religion in Antebellum America (contracted with Harvard University Press), which traces the ways in which early American evangelicals engaged the spiritual potential of the natural world in daily life. His new project attempts to chart a cultural history of blood in early modern Christian devotional life.

Rachel Gross will be the John & Marcia Goldman Chair in American Jewish Studies in the Department of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University beginning August 2016. In 2014 to 2016, she has been a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech. She is a scholar of religious studies whose work focuses on the lives, spaces, and objects of twentieth-century and contemporary American Jews. She teaches courses in American Jewish history, American popular religion, Jewish foodways, material culture, and public history. She is currently working on a book manuscript, Objects of Affection: The Material Religion of American Jewish Nostalgia, which examines the religious nature of contemporary nostalgic representations of American Jewish immigration history. She received her Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University in 2014.


Justine Howe is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Case Western Reserve University, where she specializes in contemporary Islam with a focus on Muslim communities in the United States. Her first book, Suburban Islam: Leisure, Authority, and Pluralism after 9/11, is under contract with Oxford University Press. Other forthcoming publications in the Journal of Quranic Studies and the Routledge Handbook of Early Islam analyze the effects of ideologies of religious pluralism on American Muslim communities and scholarship on Islam. Her next project will examine the role of college campuses in the making of American Islam. Howe teaches a variety of courses on Muslim texts and practices as well as thematic courses in American Religions. She received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Northwestern University and her M.A. in Divinity from the University of Chicago.


M. Cooper Harriss is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University, in Bloomington, where he teaches courses in American religion, literature, and culture. His first book, Things Not Seen: Race, Religion, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Theology (forthcoming from NYU Press), examines the concept of race as an ‘invisible theology’ in a secular age. His work has appeared (or shall appear) in African American ReviewBiblical Interpretation, The Journal of Africana ReligionsThe Journal of Religion, and Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Other research and teaching interests include Nat Turner, Zora Neale Hurston, the concept of irony, American vernacular music, and the prospect of homiletics for cultural criticism. Harriss’s next book is tentatively titled The Fighter Who Wouldn’t Fight: Muhammad Ali and American Religion. He received his Ph.D. from the Religion and Literature program at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


Elizabeth L. Jemison is an Assistant Professor of Religion in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Clemson University in South Carolina. Her research and teaching interests in American religious history include African American religion, religion in the American South, gender and sexuality, and religion and politics. She is revising her first book manuscript, currently titled Southern Redemption: Race, Religion and Politics from Emancipation to Segregation. Her research has earned support from the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, the Graduate Society at Harvard University, and the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. She earned an A.B. in Religion from Princeton University in 2008 and Ph.D. in the Study of Religion at Harvard University in 2015.

Nicole Myers Turner obtained her doctorate in History with certificates in Africana Studies and college level teaching from the University of Pennsylvania where she also received the William T.V. Fontaine Fellowship. Starting Fall 2016, she will begin as Assistant Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University. Longstanding interests in religion and power shaped at Haverford College and Union Theological Seminary where she earned a Master of Divinity, focus her research on the dynamic intersection between religion and politics in Virginia’s black communities during the post-emancipation period. Her book manuscript, tentatively titled, “Powering the Pulpit: The Politics of Black Religious Institutions in Post-Emancipation Virginia” explores how Virginia’s free and freedpeople used their churches, conventions and religious educational institutions to define political strategies, gender roles and community membership.  The study delves deeply into the limited but extant records of black religious institutions and incorporates GIS mapping techniques to visualize the church and political networks that supported black participation in electoral politics.  Through this local study, she offers a social and political history of late-nineteenth century black religion.  

Daniel Vaca is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University, where he teaches courses that explore American religion and society through a variety of themes, including the histories of spirituality; money and media; religious freedom; and Christmas. His research focuses especially on the relationship between religious and economic activity in the United States, with particular emphasis on business and media cultures. His current book project, entitled Book People: Commercial Media and the Spirit of Evangelicalism, explores the relationship between the evangelical book industry and its audience since the end of the nineteenth century. The co-chair of the American Academy of Religion's Religion and Economy group, he also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and The Immanent Frame.