Ph.D.

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) – amylbrown@ufl.edu
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) – cefouche@ufl.edu
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.werner@ufl.edu
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) – yujingche@ufl.edu 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) – collinsnem@ufl.edu
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) – psgreen@ufl.edu
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, 2012) – bhaktim@ufl.edu) – 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) – krmarchman@ufl.edu
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) – ppersaud@ufl.edu. 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) – jreddy@ufl.edu
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 (Phd student, 2011) – r.sebastian@ufl.edu – is 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, and a research assistant in the Religion Research Cluster, National University of Singapore (NUS).  He completed his Masters of Social Sciences program at the Department of Sociology, NUS. He is currently working on the Vaishnava devotional dance dramas of Manipur and how they have been influential in shaping religion, society and politics in the 18th century.  He authored and co-authored a number of articles on the religion-state nexus and diasporic religious identities  such as “Performing Identities: State-ISKCON interactions in Singapore” (in Proselytizing and the Limits of Religious Pluralism in an Era of Globalization, 2014) , “Who is a Brahmin in Singapore?” (Modern Asian Studies, 2007) and “Making sense of the management of religious movements in Singapore” (University of Tokyo Centre for Philosophy, 2010).

Jodi Shaw (PhD student, 2013) – jodilshaw@ufl.edu – 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) – yczhang.xmu@ufl.edu
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) – blumentk@ufl.edu – 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) – kchitwood@ufl.edu – 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 Academia.edu. 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 www.kenchitwood.com.

Mary Puckett (Ph.D. student, 2012) – m.puckett@ufl.edu
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) – jepurv@ufl.edu
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.