Religion Department Newsletter
From the Chair
Dear Smith College Religion Department alums and current majors & minors,
We want to stay connected with you! To that end, we create a newsletter each year, offering updates about the department and all of you. If you have an update you would like to share, please send it to Phoebe McKinnell at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you find yourself in Northampton, please stop in for a visit. Almost all of our events are open to the public, and everyone is welcome. And remember, you can keep up with the department through our postings on our home page and on Facebook.
Please stay in touch!
Andy Rotman, Chair
On behalf of Carol, David, Jamie, Joel, Lois, Phoebe, Suleiman, and Vera
This past academic year has been a whirlwind. I released a book called Hungry Ghosts about those unfortunate beings in Buddhist literature and art, and I have enjoyed participating in various events about the book, including a podcast for Tricycle Magazine. I also published a few articles on early Buddhist narratives for edited volumes, and another about the bazaars in the city of Banaras that is coming out soon in a law journal. Most of my academic travel this year was via Zoom, so I did get the chance to give talks in America, Europe, and India, but my only physical travel was to give a talk at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which was wonderful. Teaching this past year was especially rewarding, and even with all the pandemic-related challenges, my students outdid themselves. The last day of classes this year was bittersweet. During reunion weekend, the Smith class of 2020 returned to campus for an in-person graduation ceremony, and I was asked to be the speaker. It was an honor. Lastly, this year I was appointed by the college as the Sydenham Clark Parsons chair. I hope I can live up to it.
I returned to in-person teaching in spring 2022 for the first time since spring 2020, finding it refreshing to enjoy regular and serendipitous encounters on our beautiful Smith campus. I happily co-taught “Ritual: Performance and Paradoxes” with David Howlett. Our students especially shone when creating rituals for the entire class. Each teaching experience is now bittersweet for me, since I am on phased retirement until May 2023. I look forward next year to one more go-around of “The Jewish Tradition: Food and Foodways” and “The Modern Jewish Experience.” For academic enrichment and personal growth, I participated in several online seminars, sometimes as presenter, sometimes as discussant, always amazed at the ease of international exchange on Zoom. I continue to work on pandemic and prayer; a sourcebook on Jewish food and foodways; and civil marriage and divorce, with particular attention to women’s rights, public health, and religion. As we continue to experience the world physically in person and virtually on screen . . . in a strange, but now familiar hybrid existence, I wish everyone good health, good spirits and hope!
After two years of sabbaticals and paid leaves, I returned to teaching this spring. I was greatly impressed with our students and how well they have adapted to (endemic) COVID, and truly enjoyed being back. Prior to that I was again able to spend nearly seven months in Kyoto doing research and writing. I rejoined the faculties of Kyoto University, Scuola Italiana di Studi sull’Asia Orientale, and the Kyoto branch of École Française d'Extrême-Orient, all exciting research centers. Although we missed the usual and constant flow of visiting scholars from the world over, Zoom meetings kept us even more in touch than usual. In addition to the usual variety of short articles and public talks (still possible in relatively COVID-free Japan), I finally completed my translation of Buddhism 3.0: A Philosophical Investigation, a contemporary attempt to “reboot” the moribund Japanese Zen tradition, led by two former Smith College Buddhist Chaplains, Isshō Fujita and Ryōdō Yamashita. Commencement and reunion homecoming have just finished, and afterwards I bathed the Buddha at the Hana Matsuri festival at our local Peace Pagoda, all a bittersweet finale to the academic year.
Visiting Mellon Professor
With the return to in-person instruction, I felt energized to be back around the seminar table with our emerging scholars of religion. I taught a new course in the spring semester, “Social Justice, Spirituality, and the American Radical Tradition.” Students in this course interviewed activists involved in the food justice movement, immigrant rights movement, and the anti-nuclear movement, and then produced podcast episodes from these interviews. Earlier in this same semester, a current Smith student, Zoe Kruse, and I published an article on the women’s ordination movement in the RLDS Church. In this same vein, I co-authored a feature article in the Christian Century about Mormon women who have left their tradition and enrolled in mainline Protestant seminaries. In January, I was selected as the president-elect of the Mormon History Association, an AHA-affiliated organization with more than 1,000 members. Finally, my spouse and I celebrated our daughter’s first birthday in March. We could not be prouder of our little Jarena and the person she is becoming
I have been on leave much of this year, giving me time to produce some new scholarship. I'm particularly proud of my essay, “‘Is there no balm in Gilead?’: Health, Illness, Death and Dying in the Hebrew Bible and Today,” published in the July 2021 issue of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology. I penned a serious but humorous reflection called “The Value of Jokes in Jewish-Christian Dialogue.” I also gave several Zoom talks, including one to a group of Catholic nuns, priests, and seminarians in the Philippines and one at SUNY Purchase titled “Does the Idea of “God’s Chosen People” Divide Jews and Christians?” Finally, I gave my first in-person talk at High Point University, where I delivered the Charles Franklin Finch Lecture, with the title “Does God Play Favorites? Exploring the Promise and Problems of Biblical Chosenness.” Finally, by the time this newsletter is published, I hope to be in research residence at Durham University for their late spring semester.
This year, I published two books—Ibn ʿAsakir of Damascus (Oneworld) and Muslim Sources of the Crusader Period (Hackett)—and several articles, including a major study on the concept of Just War in Islam. The CNN 6-episode documentary for which I worked as historical advisor—Jerusalem: City of Faith and Fury—aired in July 2021 worldwide. I also gave several talks, including the Boardman Symposium lecture at the University of Pennsylvania on “Decentering Islam: Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy & Heresy in the Middle Ages” and the Alwaleed Bin Talal seminar at Harvard University on “Ibn ʿAsakir of Damascus and His Many Legacies.” I continue to write op-eds for general readers, and have been writing (in Arabic) a weekly column for 180Post.com (Lebanon) on a variety of political, cultural, and religious issues. On the teaching front, the physical return to the classroom has been a great welcome (despite the mask). Nothing compares to classroom dynamics and seeing the campus buzzing with life and energy.
Let’s see, where did this past year go? I wrote an article on immortality for the journal Religious Studies and prepared a keynote lecture for a conference on Death and Immortality at the Global Centre for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Birmingham, UK. I co-hosted a lecture series bringing academics in various fields to a community of Benedictine monks and nuns (this year, the talks were on Aristotle and patristics). I also spent time with family—including a new granddaughter, born last April in Abu Dhabi, now living with her mom and dad in Baltimore. Other than that, I stayed close to home, teaching in the fall and sabbatical-ing in the spring. I spent my sabbatical developing a book that explores ways to nurture religious belief without suppressing doubt. To that end, I spent the spring immersed in recent work in analytic theology (yes, that’s a thing!), epistemology, and rival views of the metaphysics of the human person within Christian and Buddhist philosophical traditions.
REL 105 Introduction to World Religions
REL 107 Spiritual But Not Religious
David Howlett, Andy Rotman
REL 108 The Meaning of Life
Nalini Bhushan, Andy Rotman
FYS 117 The Bible and the American Public Square
BUS 120 The Study of Buddhism
REL 125 The Jewish Tradition: Food and Foodways
REL 140 Putin’s Russia: After Communism, After Atheism
Tom Roberts, Vera Shevzov
REL 145 Introduction to the Islamic Traditions
REL 200 Approaches to the Study of Religion
REL 204 Blasphemy!
REL 205 Philosophy of Religion
REL 213 Social Justice in the Hebrew Bible
JUD 217 Motherhood in Early Judaism
REL 247 The Qur'an
REL 261 Buddhism and Social Justice
ANT 274 Anthropology of Religion
REL 305 Pilgrimmage
REL 110 The Holy Land
REL 112 Introduction to the Bible
REL 164 Buddhist Meditation
REL 223 The Modern Jewish Experience
REL 235 The Catholic Philosophical Tradition
REL 238 Jesus
REL 242 Politics and Culture of Russian Sacred Art
REL 246 Muslims, Modernity and Islam
REL 270 Zen Buddhism and Japanese Culture
REL 301 Immortality
Graduates & Awards
Religion Department Awards
James Gardner Buttrick Prize
For the best essay written by a Smith undergraduate on a subject in the field of religious studies
Grace Mason-Brown AC ’22, “Popularizing Mysticism: William James, Carl Jung, and the Development of American Psycho-Spirituality”
Melinda White ’22, “'The Song and the Weeping': Death, Love, and Gifts in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings”
Henry Lewis Foote Memorial Prize
For the best essay written by a Smith undergraduate on a subject in the field of biblical studies
Naomi Brill ’22, “Repentence, Redemption, Resurrection: Early Christian Art and the Exegesis of the Book of Jonah”
Jochanan H.A. Wijnhoven Prize
For the best essay written by a Smith undergraduate on a subject in Jewish religious thought
Alexandra Domeshek ’22, “The Long Arc of Religion Bends Towards Mysticism: Job's Quest for Knowledge of the Divine”
Class of 2022
"Repetence, Redemption, Resurrection: Early Christian Art and Exegesis of the Book of Jonah"
The prophet Jonah was a popular figure in early Christian art; his story is illustrated in a distinctive set of three scenes called the Jonah cycle, which appears over fifty times on the walls of the Roman catacombs. After Constantine, however, the Jonah cycle disappears. Why? Well, analysis of early Christian exegesis of Jonah reveals that exegetes' characterization of the prophet changed over time, becoming significantly more negative in the fourth and fifth centuries. These exegetes’ work would have influenced public opinion on Jonah, and thus I suggest that the decline of the Jonah cycle was in part caused by increasingly negative views of the prophet, which would have made the Jonah cycle less impactful for early Christian viewers in the fourth century.
"'The Song and the Weeping': Death, Love, and Gift in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings"
In addition, Grace Mason-Brown wrote an honors thesis on “Popularizing Mysticism: William James, Carl Jung, and the Development of American Psycho-Spirituality” and Phoebe Rendon-Nissenbaum wrote an honors thesis on “When the Realms of Life and Death Collide: a Literary Katabasis.”
Each student finished their project with very successful results. Congratulations to all!
Speaking of Religious Studies: Podcasts by Smith Students
For most of these series, students interviewed a scholar, an activist, or a clergywoman, and then, using audio-editing software, produced a podcast episode from their interviews. Other episodes took original student-written research essays and transformed them into conversational-style podcast episodes.
More than just in-class pedagogical exercises, the finished episodes are themselves educational media. For example, you can learn about the co-constitutive nature of race and religion in an interview with Princeton University’s Judith Weisenfeld; listen to the personal experiences of three women who serve as Episcopal priests (including a Smith alumna who is now a bishop); explore the House of Dust, the dwelling place of the dead, in ancient Mesopotamian religions; and reflect with a Nobel laureate upon the past and future of faith-based anti-nuclear activism. Look for the full run of episodes in the fall of 2022 and more episodes to come in 2023!
Kate Hart Smith ’60
My interest in religion has followed me since graduation. I graduated from Columbia University Medical School in 1964 and as part of my medical education I went to Africa and visited Albert Schweitzer. I converted from Episcopalianism to conservative Judaism and headed the Hebrew School program at the synagogue where my children were studying. Since retirement from practice I have lived in the mountains of Colorado and volunteer at the small nondenominational chapel near home. My education at Smith inspired me to keep religion in all aspects of my life. I send good wishes to all in the department.
Amy Hill Shevitz ’75
Amy writes that she and Ann James ’77 met for the first time at a Smith Club book club gathering in Evanston, Illinois this spring!
Irene Padavic ’79
I received my MA and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan and joined the faculty at Florida State University in 1987—since 2008 as the Mildred and Claude Pepper Distinguished Professor of Sociology. My research investigates how inequalities based on gender, race, and sexuality are reproduced and sometimes eroded, with a particular focus on the workplace. I teach an undergraduate course called Families and Social Change and graduate courses in the department’s Inequalities and Social Justice area.
Elaine Craddock ’82
I graduated from Smith as a Religion major in 1982, with the beloved Dennis Hudson as my advisor. The following summer I studied Tamil at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, then spent 1982-1983 on their language program in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. I completed my MA and Ph.D. in South Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, punctuated by language study and dissertation fieldwork in Tamil Nadu, finishing in 1994. In August 1994 I was hired in the department of Religion at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where I am now a professor, and member of the Feminist Studies program. I teach courses on Indian religions.
Aline Kalbian ’82
After six years as Chair of the Department of Religion at Florida State University (FSU), I accepted the position of Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at FSU in July 2021. It’s been a big change, but exciting to be involved in helping shape the future direction of the College. Also in July 2021, I completed a 10-year stint as co-editor of the Journal of Religious Ethics. Current and former Smith Religion students who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in Religion, we have a wonderful program at FSU and fund almost all of our MA and PhD students! If you're interested in learning more, reach out to me at email@example.com. So grateful for the wonderful opportunities my major in Religion at Smith has offered.
Joy Caires ’00
I write from the Twin Cities where I live and serve as the Rector of St. Clement’s Memorial Episcopal Church in St. Paul. I was ordained a priest in 2007 and have been at St. Clement’s for eight years (the longest I’ve been anywhere). My wife and kids have found a church home at St. Clement’s—something for which I am grateful. I still use the Harper Collins Study Bible that was required by Professor Karl Donfried for his biblical studies classes!
Melissa Gutierrez ’03
Melissa (pictured, right) writes that she is a Body Witch, a health and wellness coach that combines witchcraft and somatics to help people all over the world to use their bodies to solve problems! @thebodywitch, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maya Ramos Clayton ’03
I am Chief of Staff for the California College Guidance Initiative, an organization that works to smooth the path to college for California students and unify the efforts of the education institutions that serve them. All these years later, I credit my religion professors with teaching me to write, think, and communicate in ways I now know are unique. I went on to earn my M.S. in professional writing from NYU. I’m also mom to two “tween”-agers who, along with my husband, have brought me immense joy during the last few years. Wishing everyone in this community well.
Chelsea Sunday Kline ’08
Chelsea was recently appointed to the Human Rights Commission in Northampton, MA, and has also just been hired as the new Executive Director of The Cancer Connection, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing a haven of strength and hope where services are free and all facing cancer are welcomed. Chelsea is now the proud human companion to an outstandingly handsome rescue dog named Charlie, and is also the founding leader of the Massachusetts chapter of Women Who Submit, an organization that empowers women and nonbinary writers to submit and publish their work.
Colleen O'Toole ’11
Colleen professed perpetual vows with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas on May 28. She made a lifelong commitment to live the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and service to the poor, sick, and ignorant. She wrote that she will send pictures for the next round of the newsletter.