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.​

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, 2012) – – 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 studying the formation of Vaiṣṇava identity in the  Svāminārāyaṇa Saṃpradāya. She has presented papers at the SECSOR Annual Regional Meeting (2014), international conference on Sahajānanda Svāmī and the Svāminārāyaṇa Saṃpradāya in Historical, Social and Cultural Perspectives (2013), and the University of Toronto Graduate Conference on Crossing Boundaries (2012). Her forthcoming publications include “Compositions of the Upaniṣads” and “Svāminārāyaṇa and the Establishment of the Svāminārāyaṇa Saṃpradāya” in Great Events in Religion: An Encyclopedia of Pivotal Events in Religious History.  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.

Prea Persaud (PhD student, 2013) – Ms. Persaud received her B.A. from Rollins College where she completed honors as a religion major. In 2013, she graduated with her M.A. from Syracuse University. Her M.A. thesis was on the development of Hinduism in the Caribbean and the Indo-Caribbean identity. She has presented conference papers on the Indo-Caribbean communities in New York and Florida, the narrative of indentured labor, and the ways in which Hinduism in the Caribbean can be categorized as a “Creole Religion.” She is interested in global Hinduism, religion in the Caribbean, and issues concerning race, identity, transnationalism, and post-colonialism. Persaud is a dual-track PhD student and also works in the Americas track with her interest in Caribbean religion and global Hinduism.

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.

meRodney Sebastian (Phd student, 2012) – – 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). He was also working as a Research Assistant in the Religion Research Cluster, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, NUS, which organizes academic events related to religion. He was also the Program Officer for the NUS-Stanford Lee Kong Chian Initiative on Southeast Asia. He completed his Masters of Social Sciences program at the Department of Sociology, NUS. 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;Conversion and the Family: Chinese Hare Krishnas), 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 cultural performances in Manipur.

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.

Chitwood-9615Ken 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 global Islam, Islam in the Americas, Puerto Rican Islam, Christian-Muslim relations, globalizing the study of religion, ethnographic practice in a digital age, and the interplay of religion and popular culture. He has presented and published papers on these topics. His work can be viewed at Chitwood is also a religion newswriter, speaker, and blogger engaging in public and popular representations on the intersection of religion & culture. He has a forthcoming book on the latter topic titled #FaithGoesPop: Exploring the everyday interplay between religion & popular culture (Spring 2016) from Read the Spirit Publishing. 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. More information can be found at and on Twitter at @kchitwood.

Jeyoul Choi (Ph.D. student, 2015) – – earned his B.A. from Hanshin University (Religion & Culture) in South Korea and M.A. from Missouri State University (Religious Studies). With a focus on the rapid growth of neo-Pentecostal churches in non-western societies, Jeyoul wrote his thesis about a comparative study of the neo-Pentecostal churches in South Korea and Brazil. In this work, he attempted to examine the forming processes of both church leaders’ prosperity theologies paying attention to their interactions with each society’s industrialization process. As for the research, Jeyoul is mostly interested in examining interactions between neo-Pentecostalism in non-Anglo European countries and social transformations, such as industrialization, urbanization, and globalization in contemporary era. For understanding these knotty relationships between the religion and society, he is fascinated by social scientific theory, continental philosophy, postcolonial and decolonial theories, and ethnographic discourses. Relying upon these academic interests, his dissertation will be focusing on exploring the religiosity of the neo-Pentecostal church, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, in Brazil with an emphasis on its interaction with the Brazilian society. In addition, he is also interested in an ethnographic research on Korean evangelical immigrant churches in the U.S. in a globalization context.

11207305_951220858860_8668305990137106298_nSarah “Moxy” Moczygemba (PhD Student, 2014)- – Moxy graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and Religious Studies from Trinity University in 2009. They received their M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Florida in 2013, focusing their research on the Cowboy Church movement in Texas. Moxy’s current interests include religion and popular culture, religion in the Americas, and transnational religious movement with an underlying interest in the role gender and sexuality play in these areas. In addition to their work in the religion department, they are pursuing a graduate certificate in women’s studies.  Currently, Moxy plans on focusing their dissertation research on exploring aspects of transnational religious tourism and identity. Moxy can be found on Twitter discussing these topics and more at @s_moxy.

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.