Welcome Dr. Prophet: UF’s New Lecturer in Religion and Nature

The UF Department of Religion takes great pride in announcing that Dr. Erin Prophet is the newly hired Lecturer for academic year 2018 – 19. The Committee (comprised of Drs. Robin Wright, Chair, and Terje Ostebo, member) recommended that, based on her curriculum and teaching interests in the areas of Religion and Medicine and Religion and Nature, Dr. Prophet best meets what we have been seeking. 

Dr. Prophet has her Ph.D. degree from Rice University; she also holds a Master’s in Public Health and has taught courses in Medicine and the Humanities. She has published widely, with a highly-acclaimed book about her mother, a visionary in the “Church Universal and Triumphant” during the 1980s and ‘90s, along with a number of articles and chapters in books about New Religious Movements. She has a strong background in teaching undergraduate courses in Religion, and is a co-author, with Jeffrey Kripal (Rice University) of an Introduction to Religion textbook. 

In the Fall, she will teach undergraduate courses on Environmental Ethics and New Religious Movements. You can find out more about these courses and how to sign-up HERE. 

We sat down with Dr. Prophet to get to know about her experiences in teaching, religious studies, and research. The following is an interview conducted with her soon after she was announced as a new hire in the department:

Dr. Prophet’s book, Prophet’s Daughter (PHOTO: Amazon).
Why did you go into religious studies?

I wanted to help religious and non-religious people understand one another.

Where did you graduate from? What’s one fond memory you have of your graduate student career? 

I have a master’s degree in public health from Boston University and my doctorate is from Rice University.

While working on my doctorate, I continued an epidemiology project at MD Anderson cancer center in Houston. Our topic is long-term survival in lung cancer. I think it’s important for religious studies and public health to maintain a dialogue and look for ways to work together.

I was in Houston during Hurricane Harvey last year. Fortunately, my home was not flooded, but it was a frightening event and it was good to see the way students and faculty came together to help those who lost their homes.

Tell us a bit about your current research and teaching… 

My dissertation examined nineteenth-century theories of human destiny and progress that sought compatibility with Darwinian natural selection. Many people are familiar with the religious authorities that opposed Darwin, but not the complex history of those both inside and outside traditional faiths who tried to retain a sense of human purpose even as they accepted human links with animals. In order to understand these responses, I had to learn quite a bit about eighteenth and nineteenth-century biology. My current project carries this research into the twentieth century and evaluates new narratives of genetic and theological determinism.

This research will be incorporated into my future teaching on religion and medicine.

This fall I will be teaching Environmental Ethics and Cults and New Religious Movements. Environmental ethics is a crucial topic for anyone who cares about sustainability and human impact on the environment. “Cults” are often in the news and understanding them can help us learn how religions change over time and become more or less tolerant.

What are the promises and opportunities in the field?

Religious studies offers deep insights into important questions of our time, from politics to ethics and medicine. It can help us decide what kind of future we want.

What have you enjoyed most about your experience as a researcher and professor in the field of religious studies?

I enjoy the being able to apply multiple methodologies to research topics that interest me. Religious studies is a wonderfully flexible discipline.

Dr. Erin Prophet in Montana…either before or after the “bear incident.” (PHOTO: Erin Prophet)
What in particular do you think the UF religion department has to offer?

The UF religion department is home to world-class scholars who offer a diverse range of courses that can enrich any course of study.

What is something most people probably would not know about you? 

I swam across part of a lake to avoid a bear in Yellowstone Park and was caught on camera by CNN, which was, ironically, there to do a story on bear safety.