Orange Alert

Religion Department Garners Wave of Awards, Recognition

Awards reflect the diversity of research within the department

April 11, 2017, by Renee K. Gadoua

(l-r) Sara Swenson, Aarti Patel, Mallory Hennigar

Several students, alumni and emeriti faculty from the Department of Religion have received awards recently, reflecting the caliber and diversity of the department’s fields of study. “The Department of Religion has excellent students who are working in a wide diversity of subject and cultural areas,” says Philip Arnold, department chair. “We are very proud of our current graduate students and our esteemed alumni.”

Recent awards:

Julie Edelstein G’17 was awarded the Bernard Bate Tamil Language Student Scholarship from the American Institute of Indian Studies. The scholarship honors the memory of Professor Bernard Bate, an expert in the Tamil worlds of South Asia, who died in March 2016. The scholarship covers travel expenses and tuition as well as a stipend for her living expenses in Madurai, a city in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, during summer 2017 and the 2017-18 academic year.

Edelstein’s research focuses on South Indian Hinduism, religion in Tamil Nadu and the Tamil diaspora, gender and sexuality. She is particularly interested in Madurai, the intersection of gender and deity possession, and religion in the Thirunangai (Tamil transgender) community.

Sara Swenson, a Ph.D. student, won the 2017 Theta Alpha Kappa (TAK) Albert Clark Award for best graduate paper. “‛Friending’ Buddhists in the Field: Using Social Media as an Ethnographic Method” was judged to be the best from the 22 essays submitted at the graduate level by a panel of three judges who teach at institutions with TAK chapters. In addition to a cash prize, her paper will be published in one of the two issues of the Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa in 2018.

Swenson also was awarded a Robert Ho Foundation Buddhist Studies grant through the American Council of Learned Societies to conduct ethnographic research in 2017-18 for her dissertation on Buddhist groups in Vietnam.

Aarti Patel, a Ph.D. student, was awarded the Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship Program through Syracuse University. It will fund the entirety of her fees for the South Asia Summer Language Institute at the University of Wisconsin.

Mallory Hennigar won two highly competitive fellowships to complete her dissertation fieldwork in India: an American Institute of India Studies Junior Research Fellowship and a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship (since 2008 jointly funded by the U.S. and Indian governments). Titled “Living Babasaheb’s Buddhism: Caste, Conversion and Globalization among Ambedkarite Buddhists in Central India,” her research will be based at Nagaloka Centre, a community and training center at the nexus of two social movements: new Buddhist converts who revere the former “untouchable” Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, India’s first minister of law, who converted to Buddhism, and the British-based Triratna Buddhist Community.

Donovan O. Schaefer G’12 has accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a departmental lecturer in science and religion at Trinity College, University of Oxford. After completing his doctorate, Schaefer held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Haverford College. His first book, “Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power” (Duke 2015), challenges the notion that religion is inextricably linked to language and belief. Rather, he proposes, it is primarily driven by affects.

Jenny Caplan G'15

Jenny Caplan G’15 will join the faculty of Towson University as an assistant professor in Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies. She will teach courses on modern Judaism in the Americas to both undergraduate and graduate students in the Baltimore Hebrew Institute, which is affiliated with Towson. She is currently a visiting assistant professor at Wesleyan University and held previous visiting appointments at Western Illinois University and Rollins College.

In addition, “The Weakness of God” (Indiana University Press, 2006), by John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor Emeritus of Religion and Humanities, has been translated into French as “La faiblesse de Dieu” (Labor et Fides, 2016). The book won the 2007 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Constructive-Reflective Studies. Caputo came to Syracuse in 2004 after retiring from Villanova University. He retired in 2011. 

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