Graduate Students

FAQs for Incoming Graduate Students

The graduate program has three tracks. Short descriptions of the academic interests of graduate students in each area of emphasis are provided below:

Religion & Nature

Amy Brown (Ph.D. student, 2008) –
Amy graduated from University of Arkansas with a B.S. in Microbiology and a minor in Religious Studies. She received an M.S. from University of Vermont in Natural Resources with a concentration in Environmental Thought and Culture. Her Master’s Thesis examined the religious and environmental dimensions of green (or environmentally-friendly) funerals. She is currently writing her dissertation examining the balancing of autonomy and dependence through examining representations of pregnancy by radical feminists, conservative Christians, and evolutionary biologists.  Her main research interests are in religion and science, particularly evolutionary theory, women and religion, and gender and nature.

Christopher Fouche (Ph.D student, 2012) –
Christopher received a B.A. in Communication Studies from Florida State University, and a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His research interests focus on the “greening” of traditional Abrahamic faiths, particularly in issues focused on food. He is also interested in how apocalyptic points of view inspire (or dampen) active environmental ethics.

Sarah Werner (PhD Student, 2011) –
Sarah received a BA in Psychology from Warren Wilson College in 2005 and a M.Div. from Emory University in 2010. From 2006-2007 she worked at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center as a lab technician in the Microbial Ecology lab, studying the effects of mercury in sediments in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. From 2007-2010 Sarah worked in a cell biology lab at Emory University School of Medicine that studied molecular motors in algae. Her research interests are: restoration ecology, environmental ethics, theological ethics, discourses in science and religion, and Quaker studies.

Religions of Asia

Yu-Jing Chen (Ph.D. student, 2010) – is a Buddhist nun of the Mahayana tradition. She was trained at the Yuan-Kuang Institute of Buddhist Studies and received her M.A. in the Religion Department of the National Cheng-Chi University in Taiwan. Her research spans the medieval and contemporary periods of Buddhism. She is interested in examining the development of Buddhist scriptures, Buddhist art history, pilgrimage, and the mutual interactions between Buddhism and other religions. Her dissertation investigates the historical development of the beliefs and practices related to Medicine Master Buddha (Bhaisajyaguru Buddha) in medieval China.​

Nicholas Collins (Ph.D. student, 2012) –
Mr. Collins received a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington and Lee University in 2007, where he received the Young Award for Best Senior Thesis for his paper on “The Integral Metaphysics of Sri Aurobindo.” He received a Masters in Eastern Classics from St. Johns College in Santa Fe, NM in 2008, studying religious and philosophical texts from India, China, and Japan. He also received a Masters degree in the History of Religions program from the University of Chicago, where interests in philosophy and religion combined with those of ecology, anthropology and evolutionary theory. Additionally, he has been studying Sanskrit since his senior year at Washington and Lee, at both St. Johns College and the University of Chicago, as well as in two summer school programs at the University of Leiden and the University of Heidelberg, and is currently continuing his Sanskrit studies at the University of Florida. He is interested in the place of media in cultural evolution, synchronic theories of temporality, and the role of lateral connectivity between various domains of cultural praxis as a key feature in the development of  complexity, both in cultural systems and within the terms of individual thought and perception, where complexity refers to the coming to realized awareness of existent connectivity between self and world.

Phillip Scott Ellis Green (Ph.D. completed, 2014) –
Dr. Green received his BA in comparative religion from the University of Washington in 2002, and after living abroad in Japan for three years returned to earn his MA in religion (emphasis on early Indian Buddhism) at the University of Florida in 2007. His MA thesis examined Buddhist narratives found in avadana literature; specifically, he examined how images of women were portrayed and understood in a Buddhist collection of avadanas known as the Avadanashataka.  Dr. Green earned his Ph.D. in 2014 from the University of Florida.  His dissertation research examined Buddhist traditions among the Khmers during the tenth century via a reexamination of the architectural, art historical, and epigraphical sources in Old Khmer and Sanskrit.  His research was supported by an UF Alumni Fellowship, a Ph.D. Dissertation Research Fellowship through the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS), and a field research grant from Friends of Khmer Culture (FOKCI).  Dr. Green currently teaches Sanskrit and Asian religions at the University of Florida.

Diane Lillesand (Ph.D. student, 2006)drlilles@ufl.eduis a retired psychologist who earned her first M. A. and Ph. D. in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1970 and 1974 respectively. After 35 years of clinical and forensic practice in Miami, she returned to graduate school and earned an M.A. in Religious Studies at F.I.U, with a primary focus in early Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. She is a Ph.D. candidate (2012) in the Department of Religious Studies, with an interest in women’s issues in Hinduism. She has completed her field research, and is writing up her dissertation on the influence of sacred narratives on the gender role constructions of Hindu women in the U.S. She currently lives in Clearwater, Florida.

Bhakti Mamtora (Ph.D. student, 2013) - graduated from Fordham University with a B.A. in Communications and Media Studies and International Political Economy. In 2012, she received an M.A. in South Asian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Mamtora is interested in studying textual production and devotional practice in contemporary Vaiṣṇava Hindu traditions. She serves as the Southeast Region’s Student Director for the American Academy of Religion. She is also the editor of Speaking of Students Newsletter published by the American Academy of Religion.

Kendall Marchman (Ph.D. student, 2009) –
Kendall Marchman is a Ph.D. candidate in the Religions of Asia track under Dr. Mario Poceski. He received his B.A. from Mercer University and a M.T.S. from Vanderbilt University. Mr. Marchman is currently working on his dissertation entitled Huaigan and the Growth of Pure Land Buddhism during the Tang Era (618-907). He received the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies Dissertation Research Fellowship in 2012. Additionally, Mr. Marchman is an adjunct faculty member at Santa Fe College.

Jaya Reddy (Ph.D. student, 2010) –
Jaya Reddy received an M.A. from University of Wisconsin-Madison where she focused on the ways in which plants are used in Indian Religion, Medicine, and Astrology. Using plants as a focal point, her research examines how these systems of knowledge (religion, medicine, and astrology) interact with each other. She continues to build on these areas of research considering also the dialectic between religion and landscape.

Jodi Shaw (PhD student, 2013) – – received her B.F.A. in Acting from New York University, and her M.A. in Theology from Loyola Marymount University. Her M.A. thesis explored the complex directionality of Kuṇḍalinī in Śrīvidyā practice. One of Jodi’s current areas of inquiry is where embodiment, text, and ritual meet in Goddess and Śaiva worship in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. Other interests include the non-dual Śaiva traditions from Kashmir, gender, performance, Tamil village practices, Yoga, and Tamil cinema.

Yanchao Zhang  (Ph.D. student, 2011) –
Yanchao Zhang is a Ph.D. student in the Religions of Asia track under Dr. Mario Poceski. She received her B.A. from Xiamen University and a M.A. from Fudan University. Ms. Zhang is  is interested in studying Chinese popular religion, in particular a popular goddess, Mazu. Her future research will explore how the goddess worship had been constructed by patriarchal society as an ideal for Chinese women and the way that Mazu cult has shaped Chinese women’s social, political and religious status.

Religion in the Americas

Kerri Blumenthal (PhD student, 2011) – – received a B.A. in Anthropology and Religious Studies from the University of Kansas (2003). After several years as a middle school teacher and outdoor educator in Southern California, Kerri returned to academia to attend Claremont Graduate University where she earned an M.A. in Religion. As a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellow with the UF Center for Latin American Studies, Kerri has spent extended time in the Peruvian Andes where her Quechua language studies have put her in dialogue with local communities about agriculture, industrialization, and religious rituals. Her dissertation assesses the impact of large economic structures on the religious lives of individuals living in and around mining communities in the Espinar Province near Cusco.

Ken Chitwood (PhD student, 2014) – – graduated summa cum laude with a BA in Christian Education Leadership and Theology from Concordia University Irvine, CA (CUI) and finished his MA in Theology and Culture from CUI. His master’s thesis focused on the (re)conversion narratives  among Latina/o Muslims in the U.S. His current interests include the ethnographic study of religion from Cape Columbia to Tierra del Fuego, tracking transnational and immigrant flows of religion, and global Islam (specifically in the Americas). Chitwood is also a religion newswriter, speaker, and blogger engaging in public and popular representations on the intersection of religion & culture. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion, Theta Alpha Kappa, the Religion Newswriters Association, and he is a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. His work can be found at

Mary Puckett (Ph.D. student, 2012) –
Mary Puckett received a B.A. in Religious Studies and Anthropology from the University of Miami (2009). She received an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia (2011) where she focused on ethnographic theory and Pentecostalism. In her thesis, she examined the roles of women in Bible study classes at a Pentecostal church in Charlottesville, VA. Currently, Ms. Puckett is interested in the work of evangelical missionaries working in the Americas.

Jason E. Purvis (Ph.D. student, 2010) –
Jason received his BA in the Academic Study of Religion with a minor in Asian Studies from the College of Charleston. He received his MA in the Academic Study of Religion from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a focus on immigration to the U.S. and rituals in transition from one cultural context to another. Jason’s current interests include religion in the Americas, subaltern Christianities, Native Christians, global Christianities, globalization and religion, religion and immigration, ritual programs in transition from one cultural context to another, method and theory, sociology of religion, and cognitive theory as it relates to religion. Jason’s recent work and future dissertation topic examines the beliefs, practices, and social work of a Native Christian organization that engages in international cultural exchange facilitated through travel and workshops. He is investigating the ways in which the organization’s founder has developed an indigenous (indigenized) theology, placing indigenous peoples at the forefront of a divinely sanctioned inversion of both geographical and conceptual space, and facilitating/informing the organization’s international work with various indigenous communities throughout the world.