Graduate Students

FAQs for Incoming Graduate Students

The graduate program has recently revised to include five areas of emphasis. Short descriptions of the academic interests of graduate students in the three previous areas of emphasis are provided below.

Religion & Nature

Victoria Machado (Ph.D. Student 2015)—

Received a BA in 2011 from the University of Florida. As an upper level undergraduate, she entered the combined degree program, receiving her MA in Religion with a graduate minor in Nonprofit Organization and Management in 2013. Her Masters thesis focused on the intersection of bioregionalism, sustainability and the Catholic Worker Movement. Following graduation, Victoria, a third generation Floridian, returned to South Florida to work as an environmental organizer. She became the state organizer for a DC-based NGO in early 2014, focusing on water and food issues. These interests led Victoria back to UF to pursue her PhD in Religion & Nature. She is particularly interested in Florida’s water issues, restoration, environmental education, bioregionalism, environmental justice, watershed discipleship, and Christian-based environmental efforts.

Amanda M. Nichols – (Ph.D. Student, 2016) –

Amanda earned her Bachelor’s degree in English and Religion in 2012 from Wake Forest University and her Masters degree in Religious Studies with focus on political and social engagement from University of Missouri in 2015. Her master’s thesis focused on religion and resistance to mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. Her dissertation research will look at the role of women in the environmental movement in North America since the 1960’s, looking specifically at how religion promotes or hinders environmental attitudes and engagement. Amanda is the Managing Editor of the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture and an assistant editor for The Journal of Buddhist Ethics. She has served as the student representative for the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture for two years, and has been part of their planning committee for two international conferences, New York (2017) and Gainesville (2016). She was one of three students from the United States selected for the Bergen Summer Research Program in Bergen, Norway in 2016 where the focus was on Water Issues and Global Climate Change. Her research interests include environmental, animal, and feminist ethics, affect theory, social theory, radical environmentalism, and gender and the environment.

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. from 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 Buddhist scriptures and doctrines, Buddhist art history, pilgrimage in Asia, and the mutual interactions between Buddhism and other religions. Her dissertation investigates the historical development of the beliefs and practices centered on Medicine Master Buddha (Bhaisajyaguru Buddha) in medieval China.

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.

Venu Mehta (PhD student, 2017) –

Ms. Mehta completed her second MA in Religious Studies with a special focus on Jainism at Florida International University. Her Masters thesis on Jain Diaspora in the USA received the best thesis award for the 2016/17 academic year in the Department of Religious Studies, Florida International University. Mehta was also honored with Florida International University’s most prestigious World’s Ahead Graduate Award for the year 2016/17. Before coming to FIU Mehta completed her first MA in English Literature and a PhD in the field of Multicultural Education & Literature. She was a Fulbright Fellow (FLTA) at Indiana University, Bloomington in 2010. Her current research is on the recently emerging Jain religious diaspora in the USA. She is the author of Multiculturalism & Globalization Society Literature Education; and Learn Gujarati: A Resource Book for Global Guajaratis at Beginners’ Level. Mehta also co-edited a volume titled Literature of South Asian Diaspora. She has presented papers at local and international academic conferences and has published several articles on multicultural education, ELT, teaching Gujarati as a foreign language and Jainism in reputable international journals and edited volumes. Her recent publication includes an essay titled, “Jainism, Ecology, and Ethics” in the volume Ecocultural Ethics: Critical Essays published by Rowman & Littlefield.

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.

Priyanka Ramlakhan (Ph.D. Student, 2015) –

Earned her B.S. in Health Services Administration from the University of Central Florida. She also holds an M.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University and a M.A. in Religious Studies from Florida International University. Her MA thesis explored the power dynamics of the Hindu master (guru) and disciple relationship in a western context. Her current research interests include global Hinduism, Indo-Caribbean religions, identity, gender and post-colonialism. She has presented papers at the SECSOR Annual Regional Meeting (2013, 2014) and the Annual Conference of South Asia (2013). She also serves as the Southeast Region’s Student Director for the American Academy of Religion. Twitter: @priya_ramlakhan

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 as well. His master’s thesis focused on Latina/o Muslim (re)conversion narratives in the U.S. His current interests include global Islam, Islam in the Americas, Puerto Rican Muslims, Christian-Muslim relations, Muslim cosmopolitanism, globalizing the study of religion, ethnographic practice in a digital age, and the interplay of religion and popular culture. His scholarly work on these topics can be found at Chitwood is also a religion newswriter, speaker, and blogger engaging in public and popular representations of the intersection of religion & culture. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Latin American Studies Association, Theta Alpha Kappa, serves as Treasurer of the Religion News Association, Vice-Chair of the Religion News Foundation, and on the Board of Managers of the Religion News Service. All of his published work — both academic and popular — 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). In his Master’s thesis, Jeyoul compared Rev. David Yonggi Cho’s prosperity gospel of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea and Bishop Edir Macedo’s theology of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Brazil within each country’s industrialization and urbanization processes in the late twentieth century. His current academic interests are Global Christianity in general and Korean evangelical Protestant immigrant churches in the U.S. in particular, while his teaching areas are Sociology of Religion, Religion and Immigration (Globalization), and Religion in North America. Jeyoul is working on his dissertation on Korean Protestant churches in the Tampa and Orlando areas in Florida with a consideration of placing their religious narratives in the context of a globalizing U.S. religious history.

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.