2014-2015 Engaged Scholar Fellows


Magdalena Szaflarski, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Magdalena Szaflarski, Ph.D. is a medical sociologist specializing in religion and health, with a particular focus on HIV/AIDS.  Dr. Szaflarski worked in medicine/public health for eight years before recently joining the Department of Sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  Dr. Szaflarski has led a study funded by the National Institutes of Health entitled, “Religious Organizations’ Responses to HIV/AIDS,” and published a series of scholarly papers in this area.  In addition to research, Dr. Szaflarski teaches courses in global health, health disparities, social change, and contemporary sociological theory.

Szaflarski, M. et al. 2014. “Faith-Based HIV Prevention and Counseling Programs: Findings from the Cincinnati Census of Religious Congregations.” AIDS Behavior. 17(5): 1839-1854. 

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Moses Biney, PhD

Asst. Professor of Religion and Society and
Director for Research, Center for the Study and Practice of Urban Religion (CSPUR)
New York Theological Seminary

The Rev. Dr.  Moses O. Biney is Assistant Professor of Religion and Society, and Research Director for the Center for the Study and Practice of Urban Religion (CSPUR), formerly the Ecologies of Learning Project (EOL), at New York Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary where he earned both the Th. M. and the Ph. D in Social Ethics. In addition he holds an M. Phil. from the University of Ghana, a Dip. Theology, from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a Dip. Ed. and B. A. from the University of Cape Coast. He has an adjunct professor at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Dr. Biney is an ordained Presbyterian minister and has served in various ministerial positions including, being the director of overseas mission for the Presbyterian Church of Ghana in the United States and Associate Pastor for the First Presbyterian Church Irvington NJ. Currently, he is the Interim Pastor for Bethel Presbyterian Reformed Church, Brooklyn, NY. Dr. Biney’s research and teaching interests include the religions of Africa and the African Diaspora (especially the lived religion and religious institutions of African immigrant Christians in the Diaspora), religion and transnationalism, religion and culture, Urban Ministry, and congregational studies. He is the author of From Africa to America: Religion and Adaptation among Ghanaian Immigrants in New York (New York University Press, 2011).


Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 8.45.08 PMArlene Macdonald, PhD
Assistant Professor
Institute for the Medical Humanities
University of Texas Medical Branch

Professor Macdonald’s research and teaching interests are situated at the intersection of religion, medicine and media in North America. She works to better understand the place of religion in the medical arena, and in the public sphere more broadly. The spiritual lives of patients, religious responses to medical technologies, the employment of moral discourse in health promotion, and the accommodation of religious diversity in healthcare are areas of specialization. While an Engaged Scholars Fellow, she will undertake an ethnographic study of three prominent gurdwaras in Brampton, Ontario with the aim of better understanding the role of congregations in the pursuit of religious and health equality for religious minority populations.  The research examines the innovative and controversial collaboration that the Brampton Sikh community forged with the local hospital foundation, one that saw the name of Guru Nanak gracing the hospital’s Emergency Department – but one that also saw Sikhs protesting in the streets about the hospital’s seeming inability to deliver sensitive care.  As this case makes clear, religious congregations are active participants in the ways healthcare is both imagined and practiced today.  Moreover, this research will be valuable to the congregations under study as their internal structures and the self-perceptions of their members have been impacted not only by the policies and practices of the Brampton Civic Hospital, but also by the broader ideological, political, and economic forces shaping both healthcare and the management of religious diversity in Canada.  She is very excited to be joining the Engaged Scholars team, and to be able to draw on the knowledge and skills of experienced congregational researchers and other fellows. Professor Macdonald’s interest in this case stems from my postdoctoral research as a member of the Religion and Diversity Project, based at the University of Ottawa.  She received her doctorate in Religious Studies from the University of Toronto.  Currently, she is an assistant professor at the Institute for the Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch, where she explores issues of religion and health with healthcare students and professionals.

Congregational Studies Visual Methods Fellow


Roman R. Williams, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Sociology
Calvin College

Currently, I am finishing a book project titled Seeing Religion: Toward a Visual Sociology of Religion (under contract with Routledge UK). In this edited volume, I bring together contributors who draw from their current research to discuss the application of visual methods to the study of religion and spirituality. Each chapter stimulates the sociological imagination through examples of research techniques, analytical approaches, and methodological concerns. The book should go to press in late 2014 or early 2015.

I was recently awarded a Congregational Studies Visual Methods Fellowship to develop ways visual research techniques may be used to study and engage congregations. Specifically, this 18-month (July 2014-December 2015) fellowship involves three small-scale studies:

(1) Congregational Self-Portraits. I will field test an exercise that uses participant-produced photographs to visually document and generate conversations within congregations and their neighborhoods. 8-10 participants at two research sites will generate a congregational self-portrait, which will take the form of a photo essay or a short video montage that employs participants’ images and narratives to tell the congregation’s story.

(2) Empowering Congregations through Photovoice. I will explore ways the technique known as photovoice can empower congregations and their communities to voice their concerns, challenges, hopes, and triumphs. Two congregations and 10-15 participants at each research site will test and refine the method. Participants will display their photos in a public setting (e.g., the participating congregation). A gallery-like opening will include participants briefly discussing their images; titles and brief descriptions near each photograph will orient subsequent viewers to the story of each image.

(3) Evaluating Change through Photo Elicitation Interviews. I will develop ways to use photo elicitation—participant-produced images used as prompts in interviews—to evaluate congregation-based social change and renewal programs. Field test the methodology by evaluating a program at one congregation.