Religion and 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.

Robin Globus Veldman (Ph.D. student, 2008)-
Robin Globus Veldman received a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from Dartmouth College (2002), and a master’s in Religion and Nature from UF’s Department of Religion (2008). A recipient of the Tedder Family Doctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, her research interests include the various ways in which religion and environmental attitudes and behavior intertwine; millennialism; and environmental ethics, especially as they are embodied in practice. Her dissertation employs qualitative methods to examine attitudes about climate change, the environment and environmentalism among theologically conservative Christians in southeastern Georgia. Strongly interested in cross-disciplinary communication and the role of the humanities in collaborative environmental research, she is also a fellow at the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, an NSF-funded initiative that seeks to bring together interdisciplinary scholars. Professionally, she works as Assistant Editor the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, and serves as student member on the board of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. Her publications include a co-edited special issue on “Religion and Climate Change” with Andrew Szasz and Randolph Haluza-DeLay (Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 2012); “Narrating the Environmental Apocalypse: How Imagining the End Facilitates Moral Reasoning Among Environmental Activists” (Ethics & the Environment, 2012); and “Environmental Millennialism,” co-authored with Bron Taylor (Oxford Handbook of Millennialism, 2010).

Bridgette O’Brien McGoldrick (Ph.D. student, 2008) –
Bridgette earned an undergraduate degree in comparative world religions at the University of Puget Sound and a master’s degree from the religion department at Columbia University where her studies focused on the religious traditions of Asia. Upon graduation in 1996, she taught high school for eight years during which time she worked with Harvard’s Pluralism Project to educate students about the religious diversity in the Northwest.  Currently, she teaches high school at Annie Wright Schools in Tacoma, WA and also works as a consultant to secondary schools with the Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education. She recently returned from South Africa where she taught for several weeks at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy on a teaching fellowship. Her dissertation work includes continued involvement with secondary school education where she is seeking to understand how schools are working to incorporate ideas about ecological literacy/sustainability in light of people’s different religious understanding of the world.

Susan A. Kelley Shaffer (Ph.D. student, 2011)-
Susan received a B.A. with double majors in Religion and Psychology, with a concentration in counseling, from Coker College, a small and dynamic liberal arts college in rural South Carolina. As an intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, she explored conflict resolution and victimhood psychology, focusing her research and Senior thesis on religious dialogue and restorative relationships between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. She received an M.T.S. from Boston University in Philosophy, Theology, and Ethics, concentrating in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology. There she delved into Boston Personalism, Nevillean metaphysics, Kohutian psychoanalytic theory, Process Philosophy, and the relational dimensions of human personhood. Her current research interests remain situated in the philosophical, relational, and ethical constructs of “personhood” and the boundaries and religious dimensions of dialogue between persons, especially as those dialogues create and/or arise from spiritual encounters and relational ties between human and nonhuman persons, entities, natural phenomena and landscapes. She is particularly interested in the spiritual and religious dimensions of relationships between humans and horses.

Sara Stokes (Ph.D. student, 2012)-
Sara received a BA in Liberal Studies from Eugene Lang College-The New School (2008) where she concentrated in Cultural Studies & Media, with a focus on Gender Studies. Her current research interests include: human-animal relations, the intersections and conflicts between animal ethics and environmental ethics, myth and ritual, materialist, phenomenological, ecological and feminist theories of embodiment, and the religious dimensions of social justice movements.

Sarah Werner (Ph.D. 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, 2011) –
Yu-jing Chen is a Buddhist nun of the Mahayana tradition in Taiwan and a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida since 2010 Fall. She had been trained in Yuan-Kuang Institute of Buddhist Studies for three years 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. Currently she is investigating the development of Chinese Buddhist scriptures, Buddhist art history, and the mutual interactions between Buddhism and other religions. Her future research will focus on the historical development of the beliefs in 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 ideas of cultural evolution, particularly with respect to the transitions from indigenous hunter-gather societies to early archaic and axial civilizations, and the ways this has interacted with Indian thought, from the earliest Vedic hymns and philosophical commentaries to modern interpretations and their relevance for contemporary society and culture.

Phillip Scott Ellis Green (Ph.D. student, 2009) –
Mr. Green received his B.A. in Comparative Religion from the University of Washington in 2002, and after living abroad in Japan for three years returned to earn his M.A. in Religion (emphasis on Early Indian Buddhism) at the University of Florida in 2007. His M.A. 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. In 2009 Mr. Green began work on his Ph.D., and his dissertation research examines Buddhist traditions among the Khmers between the tenth to thirteenth centuries via a reexamination of the architectural, art historical and epigraphical sources composed in Old Khmer and Sanskrit. Phillip’s research has received funding support from an UF Alumni Fellowship, a Ph.D. Dissertation Research Fellowship through the Center for Khmer Studies, and a field research grant from Friends of Khmer Culture (FOKCI).

Bhakti Mamtora (Ph.D. student, 2012) –
Bhakti Mamtora received her B.A. in Communications and Media Studies and International Political Economy from Fordham University in 2010. In 2012, she completed her M.A. at the University of Pennsylvania in South Asia Studies. Currently, Ms. Mamtora is interested in examining the social and cultural factors which shape the beliefs and practices of Hindu devotional communities in the diaspora.

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.

Prea Persaud (Ph. D. student, 2013) –
Prea received her B.A. from Rollins College where she majored in religion and minored in philosophy. She then went on to complete her M.A. at Syracuse University in religion with a focus on Hinduism. Her M.A. thesis was on the development of Hinduism in the Caribbean and the Indo-Caribbean identity. She is interested in global Hinduism, religion in the Caribbean, and issues concerning identity, transnationalism, and post-colonialism.

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.

Rodney Sebastian (Ph.D. student, 2012) –
Rodney Sebastian is a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. from the Department of Religion, University of Florida. Prior to his graduate studies, he had been a Research Associate in the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS) and a Research Assistant in the Religion Research Cluster, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, NUS. He was also the Program Officer for the NUS-Stanford Lee Kong Chian Initiative on Southeast Asia. He has authored and co-authored articles on a variety of topics on religion ranging from India derived religious movements (Hare Krishnas in Singapore: Agency, State, and Hinduism), the religion-state nexus (Making sense of the management of religious movements in Singapore) and diasporic religious identities (Who is a Brahmin in Singapore?). He has also co-published journal articles on tourism (Tourism and the South Asia Littoral: Voices from the Maldives). His current research interest is on religious cultural performances in Manipur.

Caleb Simmons (Ph.D. student, 2008) –
Caleb Simmons graduated from the Missouri State University (formerly Southwest Missouri State University) with a B.A. in Religious Studies. He received his master’s degree from the Florida State University in Asian religious traditions with an emphasis in Hinduism (Thesis: She Who Slays the Buffalo Demon: Divinity, Identity, and Authority in Iconography of Mahishasuramardini). He has taught Religions of South Asia, Introduction to World Religions, and Asian Humanities at various institutions. Mr. Simmons has authored several encyclopedia articles covering a wide range of topics in South Asian History.

Yanchao Zhang  (Ph.D. student, 2011) –
Yanchao Zhang specializes in Chinese religions and is especially interested in the religious roles and status of women in late imperial China (Ming and Qing). A native of Shandong (China), she has a B.A. in Philosophy from Xiamen University, and a M.A. in Religion from Fudan University.

Religion in the Americas

Kerri Blumenthal (Ph.D. student, 2010) –
Kerri Blumenthal received a B.A. in Anthropology and Religious Studies from the University of Kansas (2003) where she focused on the interconnectedness between island populations and the environment in the British West Indies and Polynesia. She received an M.A. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2010); in her thesis she evaluated social capital theory at the collective level through an investigation of church involvement in the 2008 California Proposition 8 campaigns. She is interested in identity construction, with particular focus on the African diaspora.

Gayle Ann Spiers Lasater Pagnoni (Ph.D. student, 2008) –
Ms. Lasater Pagnoni defended her dissertation, Building the Latter-day Kingdom in the Americas: The Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission, on November 30, 2012.  She is teaching “Race and Poverty in the Americas” as an adjunct at Temple University in Philadelphia for the Religion Department. Ms. Lasater Pagnoni received a BA in Anthropology with a minor in International Relations at the University of West Florida, following this with an MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and an emphasis in Sociology from Florida International University. Her academic interests include religion and politics in the Americas, western monotheism in the Atlantic World, Christian missions in the Americas, nineteenth century new religious movements, and religion and the environment. Ms. Lasater Pagnoni was a researcher with Ford Foundation’s immigrant religion project, “Latino Immigrants in Florida: Lived Religion, Space, and Power,” working with principle investigator and religion department professor Manuel Vasquez.

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.

Hilit Surowitz-Israel (Ph.D. student, 2004) –
Ms. Surowitz-Israel received an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida with a dual major in Religion and Political Science, and afterward, a Fulbright Fellowship to study the religious and social integration of Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community. She subsequently earned a master’s degree from the department of religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she focused on the religious experience of Israel’s immigrant Pentecostal communities. Her research interests include Caribbean religion, theoretical approaches to religion in the Americas, the Jewish communities of the Atlantic World, and diaspora studies. She is particularly interested in the transatlantic social and religious networks established and maintained by European, North African, and Caribbean Jewish communities and their role in defining community identity. Ms. Surowitz-Israel has been fortunate to have received fellowships from The Center for Jewish History, Harvard University, and the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University to conduct research for her dissertation, “May God Enlarge Japheth”: Portuguese Jews in the Early Modern Atlantic World. She is currently an Instructor in the Religion and Jewish Studies departments at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.