Our Graduate Students

Our Graduate Students

Graduate students in Religious Studies have completed exciting work and have gone on to pursue PhDs at institutions such as UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Princeton, Rice, and elsewhere. Our current graduate students are continuing a tradition of thoughtful, engaged, and creative work in the academic study of religion. On this page, you can learn about the Graduate Organization, meet our current students, and then learn about the thesis work of our past graduates. 

Graduate Organization

The Religious Studies Graduate Student Organization serves primarily to develop greater communication and camaraderie among fellow students and faculty in the Religious Studies Graduate Department for the purpose of helping students prepare for and further their education and career aspirations. We hope this organization will encourage a supportive, cooperative, professional, and educational environment that facilitates the open exchange of ideas. Our aim is to promote stronger understanding and tolerance of world religions through education and discussion of the social, economic, and political factors that influence and are influenced by religious beliefs.

We as an organization have sponsored many of our members to attend various academic conferences – such as the North Carolina Religious Studies Association (NCRSA) and American Academy of Religion (AAR) – by providing a platform for our many talented students to showcase their research with national and international audiences.

We would like to stress that this is not simply an ‘academic’ organization. We provide various opportunities for student involvement on campus and in the department in the hopes of fostering a nurturing environment for members throughout their academic career and beyond. We hold monthly meetings that involve discussion of goals, obstacles, achievements, and opportunities to provide support and guidance to members of the Religious Studies Graduate Student Organization.

For further questions concerning membership/meetings, please contact the Religious Studies Department at religiousstudies@uncc.edu.

Directory of Current Graduate Students


Fall 2021 list of graduate students to be updated soon

Past Graduates

Below is a list of our graduates, their thesis titles, and their current situation (where known).

Abstract: In recent years the understanding that the Indus script represents a form of Dravidian language has been severely challenged. Hence a strict positional-statistical study in the Indus inscriptions is necessary. This thesis is a response to such demand. The approach employed in the present work, not presuming an underlying language in the inscriptions, uses tools of frequency and syntax to delineate prefixes and terminal signs as well as segmenting signs and other sign combinations. This thesis sets the stage for approaches in search for meaning, where segmented units can compared to loan-words of later Indian texts.

Abstract: This thesis critiques the most prominent compositional history of Q, that of John Kloppenborg, who divides Q primarily into an earlier "sapiential" layer and a later "apocalyptic" layer. I demonstrate that Kloppenborg's literary arguments are flawed and subjective and I counter his arguments with other literary and tradition-historical arguments that favor the compositional unity of most of Q. I argue that the exegetical tradition evinced in Q requires much of the material that Kloppenborg relegates to "Q2" to be present at the initial stage of composition. I also show that his "Q1" does not function literarily as a whole. I compare Q with the Gospel of Thomas, the epistle of James, and other early witnesses to the sayings tradition in order to demonstrate that much of what is in all three Kloppenborg's proposed layers does indeed represent traditional, rather than redactional, material. I conclude that Kloppenborg's compositional history of Q is an ahistorical arguments which is at odds with both the literary evidence from Q itself, and the evidence we have of the historical Jesus and the early sayings tradition.

Abstract: The scholarly consensus holds that the Christology of the Gospel of Mark is fundamentally different from the Christology of the Gospel of John. This thesis argues against that consensus. I argue that the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John contain complementary Christiological compositions.

My argument falls within a larger Christological debate. This debate is : when and how did early Christians come to reverence Jesus as divine and worthy of worship alongside God? My thesis builds on the work of Larry Hurtado and other scholars who contend that the understanding of Jesus as a divine figure who is to receive worship o the gathered community developed within the earliest phases of the burgeoning Christian movement. My goal is to strike the same point with the earliest Christina narratives - the New Testament Gospels - that Hurtado and others have struck with the even earlier Pauline letters. In other words, I demonstrate that there is no major Christological evolutionary development between Mark's gospel (dated sometime around 70 C.E.) and John's gospel (dated sometime around 90-100 C.E.).

After making this demonstration, I then ask: if the presentation of Jesus in Mark's gospel and John's gospel is complementary then why do many scholars continue to view John's Christology as significantly more exalted than Mark's Christiology? I show how this manner of reading John's gospel developed during the debates surrounding the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. I contend that this legacy of Nicaea continues in modern scholarship.

Abstract: In order to provide a new, non-theological interpretation of liberal Protestant support for eugenics, this paper offers a discursive analysis of por-eugenics sermons written by Protestant ministers and submitted to the American Eugenics Society. As a discursive analysis, this paper is concerned not primarily with dates, events, or dominant historical personalities but with the sermons as a discursive practice: we will explore the sermons' general enderwriting logic, their pertinent objects and concepts, and the epistemic/material/strategic linkages operating between these objects and concepts. Our first task is to disclose the function of the Kingdom concept, a concept that the minsters use to connect their endorsement of eugenics to what has been referred to as the "ethical center" of the 'social gospel' movement: the Christianization of society. From here, we will move on to explore the hereditary way the sermons conceptualize the body and the objects and concepts associated with this manner of conceptualization. Specifically, we will focus on the concept of faculty-capacity, which refers to way the sermons casually link human moral capacity to human heredity. We will show how these ministers use the concept of faculty-capacity to argue that the eugenics project to purify the race parallels -or perhaps causally precedes -the 'social gospel' objective to Christianize society. Our greater goal is thus to understand how the hereditary body (or what we abstractly refer to as the "species-body") epistemologically/materially/strategically redirects the project of Christianization. We characterize this redirection as a biopoliticization of Protestant care precisely because the sermons link the Christianization of society to various biological contingencies (e.g., faculty-capacity and the hereditary transmission of the species-body) and thus position biological life (or what we will call 'species-life') as a field for Protestant interference and control.

Abstract: The first man is usually remembered as he is portrayed in the narratives account of Genesis 2-3: fashioned from the dust of the earth, the first man sojourns in the Garden of Eden until he blunders and is booted from Paradise. This narrative has achieved a place of prominence in the cultural repertoire of the West, but the very popularity of the tale has worked to obfuscate alternative ancient images of the first man. The Hebrew Bible actually contains multiple representations of the first created being, and these lesser-known biblical texts reveal a much more elevated assessment of the first human. Genesis 1 claims that man was made "in the image of God" (1:27). Psalm 8 claims that God made man "a little lower than the divine beings, and crowned him with glory and splendor" (8:6). Passages culled the books of Job, Proverb, and Ezekiel testify to tradition wherein the first human possessed exalted status and special wisdom. Certain ancients understood the first human as much more than 'a mud man,' and this study aims to allow 'the other Adam' to re-emerge.

Abstract: As the field of Daoist studies has developed over the past half century, some specialists have increasingly made efforts to place Daoism within the broader conversation of world religions and religious studies. These efforts are not without their detractors, especially regarding the issue over whether or not to use theoretical categories developed in studies of other religious traditions to describe Daoism. Such a debate began over the use of the category "asceticism" by scholar Stephen Eskildsen, who recently published a book entitled Asceticism in Early Taoist Religion. Eskildsen's critics argue that the very word "asceticism" and the concepts it implies are inappropriate to Daoist studies. This paper is a result of my efforts to determine for myself whether "asceticism" useful of, conversely, inappropriate and unhelpful in understanding Daoism. Due to the vastness of the subject, I have focused my research in Daoism on a single, foundational text of the Lingbao tradition, the Scripture of Salvation. I examine the scripture's concepts of the body as a central feature to both Lingbao and ascetic theory and find that conscious and careful use of "asceticism" as a theoretical category does in fact shed light on important aspect of Lingbao and can contribute to our understanding of Daoism as whole. Using Gavin Flood's theories of asceticism and "ascetic self," I argue that the Scripture of Salvation prescribes a form of ascetism as entextualization of the medieval Lingbao body.

Abstract: This thesis sets up a proposed framework with which to view apostate memoirs. Using the works of theorists Michel Foucault, Sara Ahmed, an Judith butler, I argue that one woman's (Debbie Palmer a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints) memoir shows how a religious subject comes into being. Palmer narrates the story of how her religious group shaped her body, her psyche, and her emotional world. Religious groups deal in a particular emotional rhetoric that not only signals how one should respond, but literally inscribes members' bodies and psyches with these emotional codes. I show that this emotional discourse is a form of power that subjects Palmer (in the sense that she comes to view herself as the object of hate perpetuated by the leaders of her religious community). Palmer, through deployment of the emotional rhetoric, begins to create herself in the image of this rhetoric. Yet I also show that it is this very subjecting power that creates he as an individual. How Palmer voices this subjection can be seen in how she receives the words of her religious community and shapes her understanding of herself within that context. Palmer does have agency in this relationship but this agency exists only because of her subjection. Her working out of the emotional discourse within the group is not always deployed in ways imagined by the leaders of the group.

Abstract: This thesis examines the New Testament book of Acts within the various forms of Judaism of the first century C.E. It shows that Acts is an apologetic work that casts the earliest followers of Jesus as the spiritual fulfillment and continuation of true Judaism. This thesis is supported by an examination of the continued importance of the city of Jerusalem, the Herodian temple, the leadership of James (the brother of Jesus) and the portrait of Paul as depicted in Acts.

Abstract: In this thesis I explore the possibility of dating the Gospel of Matthew to the second century C.E. I evaluate the common lines of evidence scholars posit to substantiate the consensus view that Matthew was written in the first century. I argue that the evidence for a first century date is not as strong as it first appears and I argue that Matthew more adequately fits into a second century context. My method incorporates aspects from the historical critical method and intertextual studies. A second century setting consists of disputes between Christians concerning proper church leadership and practices. It is also a time in which some Christians are striving to bring unity between Christians, Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans. Matthew's use of the Hebrew Bible in his unique material is reflective of this goal. The apocalyptic material in Matthew 24 corresponds strikingly well with events in the years leading up to the Bar Kocha Revolt circa 130-135, and I draw comparisons between Matthew 24 as well as other ancient sources such as Ignatius's epistles, Justin Martyr's writings, Acts of the Apostles, and the Didache ti highlight the correlations. My thesis rests in part on the claim that Matthew tries to craft his text to persuade his audience that Christians should realize God is ushering in a New Covenant between God and his people, so Christians should not fight against the Romans or follow Bar Kochba in his resistance effort.

Abstract: This purpose of this thesis is to demonstrate the changes in scriptural interpretation of the Church of God Cleveland Tennessee in respect to major tenants of the Pentacostal Tradition. I also aim to show through the use of the Evangelical Commentary Sunday School Lessons that the Church of God demonstrates a great deal of adaptability to the contemporary period. The chapters will examine major themes in the church doctrine and the use of the scriptures that each Sunday school lesson uses. The first chapter will concentrate on the creation narrative of Genesis. I will argue that the adaptability of the denomination allows an understanding of science while a literal interpretation of the scriptures is still used. The second chapter will concentrate on prophecy concerning the end of days. I will argue that the denomination still understands these prophecies to be literal, but an adaptation on how they should be interpreted by the adherent within the church. The third chapter will examine the doctrine of "faith healing" within the Church of God. I will argue that the Church of God has adopted medical science in the interpretation of the scriptures. The fourth and fifth chapters will examine changes in the message from the Church of God to its adherents involving wealth and prosperity and leadership within the church. I argue that these changes show how the interpretation of scripture has changed to be acceptable to more educated and affluent converts to the doctrine of the Church of God.

Abstract: Situating the original biblical texts in opposition to an existing body of scholarship which argues for an identity between the hâpiru and the Hebrews, attention is then given to the expanding role the word Hebrew plays within later writings and the particular associative valences and subtext it provides. Particular attention is given to the cross-textual potentialities of the term across Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic traditions and how that would influence later syntheses by scholars such as Origen of Alexandria.

Abstract: This thesis explores the life and accomplishments of J.Z. Holwell and establishes his position as the first British Orientalist and founder of the scholarly study of Religion in England. Holwell used the writings of John Milton to establish a clear relationship between the Gentoo in Bengal and English mythology. In addition to this accomplishment, Holwell reformed tax collection in Calcutta, became chief judge of the Cutcherry court (used by natives), stole a kings ransom, accidentally began a war that resulted in the collapse of the Mughal Empire in India, invented the story of the Black Hole of Calcutta, used the British garrison at Fort William to depose the Newab of Bengal, recorded and published observations the process of inoculation in India fifty years before Jenner's work, founded the British Vegetarian movement and deeply influenced Voltaire's writings.

Abstract: Origen of Alexandria's scholarship and theological thought extended a significant influence over subsequent centuries of Christian intellectual discourse. After the death of Origen, the written body of his works became commodities in the ongoing production of Christian intellectual texts. As debates erupted in the late fourth century over whether Origen was orthodox, two leading Christian intellectuals, Jerome and Rufinus, fought over Origen's legacy. By focusing on their works written in the wake of the controversy, I will examine the ways in which orthodoxy and heresy are constituted intertextually, and how Jerome and Rufinus negotiate Origen's voice and memory.

I contend that Rufinus's scholarship engaged in a creative and productive, intertextual reading to reconstitute Origen's orthodox voice where it had been lost, either to heresies inserted into his corpus, or to the borrowing of his ideas anonymously by plagarists. Rufinus instructed his Latin readers in a method of reading--of which his own translation practice was an example--that transcended the boundaries of the corruptible book (and the "lack" afflicting Origen's literary corpus) toward Logos, which was reflected in, but always exceeded such textual and physical bodies. Jerome feared what such a vehicular reading would mean for the book (and the implicit continuities therein). Jerome's assumptions about texuality, which he vigilantly defended, corresponded to the intellectual idea of "the resurrection of the flesh," which stressed the continuities of gender and nature between the present mortal form and resurrection body. Similarly, Jerome contended the textual corpus of a given author should not be altered artificially by corrections, and the book elaborated a singular, coherent thesis that reflected the author's thoughts.

Abstract: This paper discusses the Scroll of Antiochus and what it can tell scholars about identity and its formation in the diaspora. Written in the diaspora and set in Palestine, the Scroll provides a view into the Jewish communities that created it, and is a starting point for discussing cultural identity. The Scroll can be compared with 1 and 2 Maccabees, with which it has the most affinity, as well as with Esther, another form of diaspora literature. Examples of diaspora communities provide background for what it meant to live in such a community. The Scroll shows how identity formation, and the re-inscribing of the imagined community, is especially important in a diaspora setting.

Abstract: Using different media concerning the infanticidal mother, this paper examines the affects of Julia Kristeva's "semiotic," or unregulated maternal body, in language. Looking at the discourse surrounding the infantacidal mother in Toni Morrison's Beloved as well as from the "real life" media coverage of Susan Smith demonstrates the ways in which language condemns and obscures the "semiotic" while revealing how this monstrous construction simultaneously reconfigures and frees language from such imposing strictures. Moreover, it is in this way that the infanticidal mother reminds us of the "double-ness" of the sacred; that is, the simultaneously destructive and creative, terrifying and fascinating aspect of the sacred. Kristeva posits that an individual exists as a recognizable subject when she or he acquires and participates in language. Language follows specific syntactical ordering, which corresponds to the structuring of both the social system and the individual. This linguistic structure provides coherency and understanding based on the repression of the maternal body. Because the maternal body represents an impossible place where subjects and objects remain indistinguishable, this space threatens the identifiable structures of language, society, and the individual, and, consequently, must be exclude. Yet, the maternal body never completely recedes, irrupting into language and linking the maternal body to violence insofar as it renders language asunder and collapses meaning. This paper shows that the disturbance and fascination the murdering mother causes is precisely because this violence echoes the violence of identity-formation.

Abstract: Manichaeism emerged in the third century C.E. as a popular alternative to Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and other contemporary religious movements. The force behind Manichaeism appeared in the form of Mani, a young man from Mesopotamia with the divinely inspired message. His understanding of his role as prophet, Paraclete, and author dramatically shaped the message and presentation of the message he propounded. An investigation into his self-presentation as viewed through these three roles uncovers a greater understanding of Mani, Manichaeism, and religious currents of late antiquity.

Abstract: This project investigates the extant canon of "hip-hop and religion" scholarship in order to critically intervene at the coordinates of Tupacology by way of Julia Kristeva's idea.

Abstract: What are the ethical implications of what and how we, as Americans, remember the bombimg of Hiroshima? Historical narratives strive for closure in an attempt to control how we understand the past, present, and future. Ethics and morality, by definition, rely on closed systems of meaning that dictates right and wrong. The very existence of the system propagates violence. Walter Benjamin's and Georges Bataille's projects prompt us to consider a new ethics unhinged from society's mandated norms--an ethics that springs from the instant or the "now" of the individual's experience. Their writings convey a conviction that our current system of morality cannnot lead us into a nonviolent future. In this thesis, I use Hiroshima as a case study to explore both the writings of Benjamin and Bataille, and to explore as well Alain Resnais' two films Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard) and Hiroshima mon amour. In doing so, I examine what an apophatic history might look like, and in what way a practice of seeing could benefit us.

Abstract: North Indian orthodox Brahmanic traditions have set forth conceptions of events that transpire after death to fit vested interests in perpetuating a hierarchy and paradigm that affords them social, religious, and often economic privilege. Yet when one looks beyond the standard assumed beliefs about death in dominant orthodox Hindu traditions it becomes apparent that orthodox Brahmanic beliefs fall to the wayside and that popular Hindu traditions wrestle with the issue of death in ways that are not neat and orderly. For instance, there are many popular religious practices and rituals pertaining to ghosts, or bhuts as they are known in Hindi, and though orthodox traditions dismiss these beliefs the ideas and popular non-Brahmanic practices surrounding bhuts are pervasive and challenge orthodox paradigms in unique ways.

In this thesis, some of the popular conceptions about bhuts, bhut possessions, and bhut exorcisms are explored in an effort to show ways that popular beliefs challenge orthodox Brahmanic tradition's authority on religious matters. By analyzing north Indian conceptions about the composite nature of "the self", modern death rituals, ancient Sanskrit, Ayurvedic, and Tantrik texts reveal that even ideas that seem concrete, life of the atman transmigrating after death in the cycle of samsara and eventually joining Brahman, do not have much clout in popular practice. In addition to analyzing the ways that bhut exorcisms subvert orthodox power and religious influence, I also explore the surprising ways bhuts are used for communal and political gain when it is expedient for people vested with power in orthodox paradigms.

Abstract: Violence against Muslims and populations associated with Muslims takes many forms in American society today. This thesis examines American Islamophobia from the perspective of a violent sacrifice that functions to unite American communities and solidify American identity. René Girard's "mimetic theory" is used t examine hate crimes directed at Muslims. Judith Butler's theory of "grievablity" is placed in conversation with Girard to discuss how American exceptionalist discourse operates as part o the marginalization process. Critical Race Theory is used to discuss the ways that the study of Islamophobia rhetoric and violence as part of the larger structural problem of American racism. Finally, a gendered analysis of Islamophobia is presented to demonstrate the ways that scapegoating and anti-Muslim violence rely on the policing of strict gender norms and the mobilization of gendered stereotypes.

Abstract: Contemporary Pagan traditions in the United States often employ tarot reading as a process by which meaning is made for religious practitioners. The process of tarot, though often viewed solely as supernatural divination, can be enacted as a conversation involving both human and other-than-human participants. Julia Kristeva's linguistic theory is based on the idea that language is composed of two heterogeneous realms: the semiotic and the symbolic. Using this theory I show that both human and non-human persons are involved in the semiotic and symbolic language within the tarot conversation. Through this language all participants are generated as speaking subjects.

Abstract: Paranormal investigative groups have often been portrayed by academics as quite homogenous, particularly those that can be seen in the numerous reality television shows dedicated to the subject. By examining four such shows that present investigations of the same location (The Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast) and considering them together, it can be seen that these groups can in fact be quite different from one another. These groups differ in conceptions of ghosts' abilities, what methods are most useful in communicating with ghosts, and whether such communication can be dangerous for the investigators. This show that the paranormal investigative community is both diverse and complex, as opposed to the homogenous whole that some scholars seem to expect.