About the Program
From 2005-2015, the Congregational Studies Team offered annual Fellowships to support scholars who explored local communities of faith in North America. These 18-month fellowships included research support, mentoring, and participation in two summer consultations that brought together the Fellows and coaches with the Congregational Studies Team.
Scholars in a variety of disciplines — from practical theology to the social sciences, from history to religious studies — engaged in projects that involved learning from and about living communities of faith in the United States and Canada. They have published widely from that work, expanding what we know about congregational life, and they have actively made their work available directly to communities of faith. These early-career scholars are now among the rising leaders in studying congregations.
This program was supported by a major grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. and was administered by the Congregational Studies Team: Nancy Ammerman, Anthea Butler, Bill McKinney (project director), Omar McRoberts, Larry Mamiya, Gerardo Marti, Joyce Mercer, James Nieman, Bob Schreiter, and Steve Warner.
Past Fellows in Alphabetical Order
Orit Avishai is an Assistant Professor at Fordham University. She is an ethnographer who is interested in how ideology and culture, very broadly defined, shape social institutions, political dialogue, and cultural practices. She has written about breast-feeding and the politics of motherhood in the United States, gendered regimes in Israeli Jewish Orthodoxy, and women in conservative religions. She is currently studying the marriage education movement in the United States.
Tobin Belzer is a sociologist of contemporary American Jewry. Her research and program evaluations have focused on Jewish identity, gender, Jewish organizational culture, Jewish teens and emerging adults, Jews with special needs, Jewish/Muslim relations, Jewish education, and congregational studies. Belzer is a research associate at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California. She has worked with and for numerous organizations and foundations including: the Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, The Koret Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Jim Joseph Foundation, Berman Center for Research and Evaluation in Jewish Education at JESNA, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Judy and Michael Steinhardt Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation and the Covenant Foundation. From 2010-2012, Belzer served as the senior project director at Rosov Consulting, LLC, a strategic consultancy that helps foundations, philanthropists and Jewish communal organizations meet their goals, assess progress, and enhance impact.
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).
Kraig Beyerlein is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a faculty fellow in the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, a faculty affiliate in the Center for the Study of Social Movements, and a faculty fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Kraig received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was a faculty member in the Sociology Department at the University of Arizona before coming to Notre Dame. His research and teaching focus on collective action, civic engagement, social movements, and religion. He is especially interested congregation-based mobilization. Published articles on these topics appear in the American Sociological Review, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Mobilization, Poetics, Politics and Religion, Social Forces, and Social Problems. Kraig’s current projects include analyzing data from the National Study of Protest Events (NSPE), which uses hypernetwork sampling to generate the first-ever nationally representative sample of protest events, and finishing his book manuscript, “Flooding the Desert: Faith-Based Mobilizing to Save Lives along Sonora-Arizona Border.” His research has been supported by various internal and external grants, including those from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., the Louisville Institute, and the Spencer Foundation.
Christopher Craig Brittain is Senior Lecturer in Practical Theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Since participating in the ‘Engaged Scholars Studying Congregations’ network, he has become an active member of the international ‘Ecclesiology and Ethnography’ network of scholars. His research engages regularly with field work in Christian congregations, particularly in the Anglican tradition. He is currently completing a joint research project with a sociologist on the contemporary crisis in the international Anglican Communion, and a monograph based on congregational studies in Pittsburgh, PA. His publications in this area include: A Plague on Both Their Houses: Liberal V.S. Conservative Christians and the Divorce of the Episcopal Church USA (forthcoming T&T Clark). ‘Why Ecclesiology Cannot live by Doctrine Alone: a reply to John Webster’s ‘In the Society of God”. ‘ Ecclesial Practices, 1. 1 (2014), 5-30. With Andrew McKinnon, ‘Homosexuality and the Construction of “Anglican Orthodoxy”: The Symbolic Politics of the Anglican Communion’. ‘ Sociology of Religion, 72. 3,(2011), 351-373. ‘Ethnography as Ecclesial Attentiveness and Critical Reflexivity: fieldwork and the dispute over homosexuality in The Episcopal Church.’ In: Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, ed. Christian B. Scharen (Eerdmans, 2012), 114-137.
Tricia Bruce is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Maryville College. Her research and teaching interests include the sociology of religion, social movements, Catholicism, immigration, and organizations as well as applied sociology. Dr. Bruce’s book, Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful Is Changing the Church (Oxford University Press, 2011), examines the development and sociological significance of Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic movement that mobilized in response to the crisis of child abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church. Dr. Bruce’s overarching research agenda contemplates how religious identities are contested and negotiated within institutions. She is also interested in how social institutions (and religious institutions in particular) respond to diversity within. Dr. Bruce’s current research on “personal” (non-territorial) parishes in the U.S. Catholic Church is funded by the National Science Foundation and Louisville Institute. Professor Bruce teaches classes in the sociology of religion, social movements, and social theory as well as classes in the core curriculum including immigration and disaster. She regularly incorporates students into her research and has published in the sociology of teaching. The syllabus and ethnography panel assignment from her Sociology of Religion class, for example, can be found among the learning resources of the Association for Religion Data Archives (the ARDA).
William Clark is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at College of the Holy Cross. His research interests include: Ecclesiology: the meaning, purpose, mission, and organization of the Christian church. In particular the building and maintenance of parish and small church communities; the authority of local church communities within the universal church; the formation of lay leadership in the Roman Catholic Church; and Methods for observing, listening to, and understanding local Christian communities and their particular beliefs and practices. He is a Roman Catholic Priest, and has been a Member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) since 1982.
Lynne Gerber is a a post-doctoral scholar at the Religion, Politics and Globalization Program at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a scholar, a writer, and a teacher who ponders the body in American religious life. Her work focuses on religious efforts to discipline bodies. She’s interested in how religious values and practices shape which bodies are treated with kindness and care and which with abjection and disgust. She’s also fascinated by how bodies themselves incorporate or resist religious efforts to contain them and all their corporeal ways. Her new book, Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America, looks at two Christian efforts to discipline wayward desires and tame unruly bodies: Christian weight loss programs and “ex-gay” ministries.
Sascha Goluboff is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Washington and Lee University. Her work focuses on the anthropology of emotion in a variety of geographical and historical contexts. From investigating practices of mourning and grief in Azerbaijan to analyzing the delight and terror of homeplace in Antebellum Virginia, she views emotion as a story — a narrative told about self and society, as well as a discourse about interpersonal connections.
Leah Gunning Francis, Associate Dean for Contextual Education and Assistant Professor of Christian Education has been an active and visible presence in Ferguson, Missouri during the weeks since the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in early August. When United Church of Christ President Rev. Geoffrey Black recently visited St. Louis, Dr. Gunning Francis is one of the leaders who met with him. Rev. Black came to explore how local churches can respond to this crisis and how the wider church can support their efforts. Dr. Gunning Francis is in the process of writing a book focusing on changing the narrative about young black males through the counter narratives/experiences of their mothers.
Brett Hoover is an Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University. Dr. Hoover examines the interplay of religion and culture in the United States, making use of both sociological and theological perspectives. Recently he has focused on parish research, including a qualitative research project called The Shared Parish Project. The project, funded by the Lilly Endowment via the Congregational Studies Team, looks at shared parishes in Southern California. Shared parishes are Roman Catholic parishes with multiple cultural groups, each with their own masses and ministries but sharing the parish facilities (and often leadership as well). He co-founded the Catholic seeker website, BustedHalo.com, and he currently serves on the board of the Latino/a Theology and Ministry Initiative at LMU, the coordinating committee for the 2014 National Symposium on Hispanic Ministry, and the administrative team in practical theology for the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Anita Houck is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. Her research interests include humor and laughter, single life, and spirituality versus religion. She recently edited Translating Religion, with Mary Doak (Orbis, 2013).
Kathleen Jenkins is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the College of William and Mary. While a fellow in the engaged scholars program, Kathleen studied the experience of divorce in congregations across religious traditions. Rutgers University Press recently (2014) published her book based on this research: Sacred Divorce: Religion, Therapeutic Culture, and Ending Life Partnerships. Kathleen’s current research project examines the experience of parents and their emerging adult children from across Europe, Canada, and the United States who walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Northwest Spain. In this ethnographic project, as in Sacred Divorce and her first book, Awesome Families: The Promise of Healing Relationships in the International Churches of Christ (Rutgers University Press 2005), Kathleen explores the relationship between contemporary kinship, religious practice and therapeutic culture.
Russell Jeung is Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. Through his fellowship with the Congregational Studies Team, he examined the dynamics and impacts of religious institutions within Asian American, low-income communities. Since that time, he has explored why Chinese Americans choose not to participate in Christian congregations. One article based on this research was published in his edited volume, Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation (New York University Press, 2012). He also authored Faithful Generations: Race and New Asian American Churches (Rutgers University Press, 2004). Another key interest of Dr. Jeung is ministry with Asian American refugee communities. He has published reports on the needs of refugees from Bhutan and Burma, the fastest growing refugee populations in the U.S. In 2010, he produced the video documentary, The Oak Park Story, about his organizing work with Cambodian refugees and Latino undocumented families. Currently, he is writing a spiritual memoir about his family’s background as Hakka, the landless guest people of China, and his own experiences living among refugees.
Rebecca Kim is the Frank R. Seaver Professor in Social Science, and an Associate Professor of Sociology at Pepperdine University. Her research interests include Immigration (international migration; Korean Diaspora), Missions (“reverse” missions; world Christianity), Race and Ethnic Relations (interethnic relations; inter and intra group differences with an emphasis on Asian Americans), Sociology of Religion (immigrant churches; immigrants and their children’s religiosity; ethnic and multiethnic churches; campus evangelicalism; missionaries), and The New Second Generation (the education of immigrant and refugee children; intergenerational relations; Asian Americans’ religious participation; Korean American Christians). Her most recent book is The Spirit Moves West: Korean Missionaries in America.
Miranda Klaver is an anthropologist and theologian asking questions regarding the relationship between culture and religion are at the core of Klaver’s research interests. Her current research concerns the expansion of global evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal networks of churches in the Netherlands with a focus on the impact of new media in the construction of community and identity.
Lance D. Laird, Th.D. is Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and in the Graduate Division of Religious Studies at Boston University. He is Assistant Director of the Master of Science Program in Medical Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Practice. Prof. Laird works at the intersection of religions, medicines, and healing, with a primary focus on American Muslim communities. He teaches courses on faith-based involvement in global health; the formation of clinicians; mental health of immigrants and refugees; and Islamic medicines and healing. Prof. Laird’s research on mosques, churches, and the mobilization of religious health assets in urban neighborhoods has resulted in the collaborative formation of the Greater Boston Muslim Health Initiative to promote mutual education between local Muslim activists and healthcare providers on issues of domestic harmony, mental health, and community outreach. Prof. Laird’s current work focuses on experiences of domestic violence and healthcare access for immigrant Muslim women. Much of his thinking on the intersection of religious and ethnic identities, healthcare and healing can be found in his articles and book chapters:
- Laird, Lance D., Jo Hunter Adams, Linda L. Barnes, Paul Geltman, and Jennifer Cochran. forthcoming. “Looking Islam in the Teeth: the Social Life of a Somali Toothbrush.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly.
- Laird, Lance D. 2014. “A Mosque, a Church, and Neighborhood Health: Interfaith Connections for Life.” Church Health Reader (Spring).http://www.chreader.org/contentPage.aspx?resource_id=1223
- Laird, Lance D. 2013. “Boundaries and Baraka: Christians, Muslims and a Palestinian Saint.” In Muslims and others in sacred space, edited by Margaret Cormack, 40-70. Oxford ; New York N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
- Laird, Lance D., Wahiba Abu-Ras, and Farid Senzai. 2013. “Cultural Citizenship and Belonging: Muslim International Medical Graduates in the USA.” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs no. 33 (3):356-370. doi: 10.1080/13602004.2013.863075.
- Abu-Ras, W., F. Senzai, and L. Laird. 2012. “American Muslim Physicians’ Experiences Since 9/11: Cultural Trauma and the Formation of Islamic Identity.” Traumatology no. 19 (1):11-19. doi: 10.1177/1534765612441975.
Arlene 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.
Gerardo Marti is L. Richardson King Associate Professor of Sociology at Davidson College. As an engaged scholar of religion, Prof. Marti works amidst the worlds of both “church” and “academy” by participating in congregations, conferences, and seminaries while pursuing rigorous research in partnership with universities, research centers, and grant agencies. His research speaks to both worlds, especially regarding fresh innovations in local churches, the challenge of racial and ethnic diversity, the active incorporation of young adults in ministry, and the rise of “churches” that challenge established ecclesiologies. Much of his thinking can be found in his books: A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church (Indiana University Press, 2005), Hollywood Faith: Holiness, Prosperity, and Ambition in a Los Angeles Church (Rutgers University Press, 2008), Worship across the Racial Divide: Religious Music and the Multiracial Congregation (Oxford University Press, 2012), The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2014).
Margarita Mooney is an Associate Research Scientist at Yale University. Her book Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora (University of California Press, 2009) demonstrated how religious communities support the successful adaptation of Haitian immigrants in the U.S., Canada and France. As part of a funded research grant from the John Templeton Foundation, I recently interviewed young adults in 10 different states across the U.S. who have undergone traumatic life events. Through their personal narratives, I explore the importance of relationships and communities to fostering human flourishing following traumatic events. I am interested in the types of cultural narratives and social structures that empower people who suffer to nonetheless to realize their freedom in accord with human dignity. In addition to my numerous publications in academic journals, I contribute insights on happiness, virtue and the common good to the Black, White and Gray blog. As a Resident Fellow of Calhoun College at Yale, I organized the Calhoun Happiness Project to teach students about the art and science of happiness and guide them towards practical applications that improve their wellbeing and that of others around them.
Géraldine Mossière is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the Université de Montréal. She is co-researcher on the project “Pluralism and Symbolic Resources: New Religious Groups in Quebec” (SSHRC, FQRSC) directed by Deirdre Meintel. She also carries out research on second generation immigrants in Pentecostal churches, in particular their marriage practices. Her research addresses religion in contemporary societies from an ethnographic perspective. She is interested, among other things, in religious diversity; in relationships between religion, migration, and transnationalism; in African Pentecostal churches; as well as in modern belief subjectivities (the religious trajectories of individuals), notably conversion experiences.
Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh is Associate Professor of Church history & Latino/a Church studies at Azusa Pacific University. Her first book, Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Self, and Society, won the Hispanic Theological Initiative’s Book Award in 2005. She has authored more than a dozen articles and book chapters on the subject of Latino/a Pentecostalism, and has served as a media expert for outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and “On Being” with Krista Tippett. She also served as an expert on Latino/a religious history for the PBS series Religion in America. Sánchez-Walsh’s current projects include a textbook on Pentecostalism in America, and a monograph on race, ethnicity, and the prosperity gospel. She blogs for Patheos.com and U.S. Religion.
Christine Sheikh is an Affiliated Faculty of Sociology at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She focuses on American Islam, with particular interest in race/ethnicity, generational transformations, and gender. Her book “The American Ummah: Identity and Adaptation Among Second-Generation Muslim Americans” is forthcoming from Rutgers University Press.
Magdalena Szaflarski 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.
Jenny Trinitapoli is an Assistant Professor of Sociology, Demography, and Religious Studies at Penn State University. She studies the intersection of HIV, religion, and adulthood. She was the Principle Investigator of the “Young Adults’ Strategies for Navigating Reproduction in an AIDS Epidemic,” project from the NICHD. Some of her recent publications include:
- Trinitapoli, J. and A.A. Weinreb. (2012). Religion and AIDS in Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Trinitapoli, J. and S. E. Yeatman. (2011). “Uncertainty and Fertility in a Generalized AIDS Epidemic.” American Sociological Review 76(6): 935-954.
- Trinitapoli, J. (2011). “The AIDS-Related Activities of Religious Leaders in Malawi.” Global Public Health 6(1): 41-55.
- Yeatman, S. E. and J. Trinitapoli. (2011). “Best Friend Reports: A Tool for Measuring the Prevalence of Sensitive Behaviors.” American Journal of Public Health 101(9): 1666-1667.
- Manglos, N. and J. Trinitapoli. (2011). “The Third Therapeutic System: Faith Healing Practices in the Context of a Generalized AIDS Epidemic.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 52(1): 107-122.
- Hayford, S. and J. Trinitapoli. (2011). “Religious Differences in Female Genital Cutting: A Case Study from Burkina Faso.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50(2): 252-271.
- Byerlein, K., J. Trinitapoli, and G. Adler. (2011). “The Effect of Religious Mission Trips on Youth Civic Participation.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40(9): 780-795.
Ria Van Ryn is an scholar-educator in transition from her position as assistant professor of sociology at Yeshiva University in New York City to her current work towards Missouri teacher certification in secondary English literature and composition. Dr. Van Ryn draws on her own complex, pluralist religious background to create, facilitate, and empower interfaith youth encounters. Her recent engaged scholarship includes designing and implementing a service-learning seminar for eighth graders at Islamic and Jewish day schools in North Carolina and serving as a research consultant to Walking the Walk, an interfaith program for high schoolers in Philadelphia structured around diverse networks of area congregations.
Heather White is a Research Scholar and Adjunct Assistant Professor at New College Florida. She is a specialist in American religious history, with a focus on gender and sexuality. Her courses broadly address themes of diversity, pluralism and religious debate in the United States in historical and contemporary context. Her first book, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, investigates a religious history of homosexuality politics from the early 20th century to the rise of the Christian Right. It illuminates the ways that liberal Protestant ideas and practices had a profound influence on both pro-gay and anti-gay sides of what is often perceived as a secular versus religious debate. She is also the co-chair of the Religion and Sexuality program unit of the American Academy of Religion, and has served for the past five years as a core faculty with the Religion and Sexuality Summer Institute, a weeklong program for graduate students held at Vanderbilt Divinity School. In addition, she is developing a new project that investigates the relationships between progressive urban churches and the New Left of the 1960s and 70s.
Roman Williams, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Calvin College, is a visual sociologist of religion—that is, a sociologist of religion who employs visual research techniques in his research, teaching, and service. His interest in visual methods began while working with Nancy Ammerman as a co-investigator on the “Spiritual Narratives in Everyday Life” project. Seeing the effectiveness of participant-produced images as prompts to collect data in interviews (i.e., photo elicitation), he incorporated this visual technique into my doctoral dissertation, an ethnography about religion, culture, and globalization among evangelical Christian international students from Asia studying in Boston area colleges and universities (Boston University, 2010). As his interest in visual research grew, he began to organize paper sessions at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion beginning in 2008. These sessions have generated over 30 papers and served as the catalyst for a book he is editing on visual methods, Seeing Religion: Toward a Visual Sociology of Religion (forthcoming May 2015, Routledge).
The Seeing Religion project revealed an important gap in congregational studies: very little has been done in the area of engaged visual scholarship. This absence deprives scholars and religious leaders of strategies that are effective in engaging, studying, and strengthening congregations. Professor Williams’ Engaged Scholars Fellowship consists of three small-scale studies that will develop visual tools for congregations and those who study them: (1) Congregational Self-Portraits, (2) Empowering Congregations through Photovoice, and Evaluating Change through Photo Elicitation Interviews.