Orange Alert

William Robert Wins American Academy of Religion Book Award

Robert’s innovative approach to teaching religion comes through in his book Unbridled: Studying Religion in Performance.

April 11, 2024, by Kerrie Marshall

Unbridled by William Robert
The cover of William Robert's Unbridled: Studying Religion in Performance.

A faculty member from the College of Arts and Sciences has received a competitive award for his outstanding, field-defining study of religion.

William Robert, Syracuse University professor and chair of the department of religion was presented the 2023 Religion and the Arts Book Award from the American Academy of Religion (AAR) for his book, Unbridled: Studying Religion in Performance (The University of Chicago Press, 2022).

This yearly contest is a competitive award celebrating recent academic works that offer substantial insights into the field of religion. Recognizing books of exceptional creativity, intelligence and originality, the awards shape the discourse surrounding religion, influencing its analysis, comprehension and interpretation.

Robert's work delves into how religion and performance interact with each other. To understand this relationship, he looks at history, literature, philosophy and embodiment, using insights from queer theory and performance studies. Through this approach, Robert investigates how these performances influence the way we see and rethink religion.

In Unbridled, Robert uses Peter Shaffer's Tony Award-winning play Equus (Simon and Schuster, 2005) as a catalyst for rethinking religious studies and drawing readers into unconventional perspectives through its exploration of themes such as passion, obsession and spirituality. The play examines the psyches of its characters, particularly Alan Strang, who exhibits a deep connection with horses that transcends the boundaries of conventional religious beliefs. By probing Alan's complex relationship with his own spirituality and the rituals he creates around his worship of horses, Equus challenges readers to reconsider traditional notions of religion and spirituality, inviting them to explore new, less conventional, perspectives.

Through years of teaching with Equus, Robert has brought innovative teaching methods into his classrooms and challenged students to confront religion from unexpected angles, a method now extended to readers of his book. By delving into the layers of text, performance and reception in Equus, Unbridled offers a transformative journey, inviting readers to reconsider traditional approaches to religious themes and theories through a dynamic engagement with characters, idea and interpretations.

The AAR jury shares high praise for the book, “Combining the finesse of a maestro with creative passion reminiscent of liberationist theologians, William Robert encourages multiple approaches to engaging a play as he shakes up religious studies pedagogy,” and “…recommends it wholeheartedly.”

Robert authored two previous books, Revivals: Of Antigone (SUNY Press, 2015) and Trials of Antigone and Jesus (Fordham University Press, 2010).

Robert first came to Syracuse University in 2006 as a postdoctoral faculty fellow. He holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an M.A. in Religion from the University of Chicago Divinity School.


William Robert Professor and Department Chair

Media Contact

Kerrie Marshall