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Lumen Scholar takes top paper award at regional conference on the study of religion

Three other Elon students were selected to present undergraduate research projects to the Southeastern Commission on the Study of Religion.

Brianna Birchett '17 has been recognized for the best undergraduate research paper at the joint annual meeting of several regional associations dedicated to the study of religion.

Lumen Scholar Brianna Birchett '17 with mentor Brian Pennington, director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society and a professor of religious studies. 

Her paper, "The South Indian 'Wife of God' after Criminalization: Patriarchy, Liberalism, and Devadasis," was based on research conducted during two years as a Lumen Scholar. Her project, mentored by Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society Director Brian Pennington, has studied the lives and practices of devadasis, a class of women who served as respected temple dancers and courtesans in South India since at least the twelfth century. Their institutions and initiation rituals have been under attack by reformers who have associated them with prostitution since the nineteenth century.  

Birchett's paper was based on two separate period of fieldwork to the South Indian states of Karnataka and Goa in 2016 and 2017 to examine popular attitudes and ideas about one particular group of devadasis, the jogammas of Karnataka.

The Southeastern Commission on the Study of Religion hosts the annual meeting for the regional branches of the American Academy of Religion, the Society for Biblical Literature and the American Society for Oriental Research. It is annually attended by 300 scholars from the southeastern United States.

Iliana Brodsky '17, left, discussing the poetry of Ibn Ezra. 

Although acceptance to one of only twelve presentation slots allotted to undergraduates at the conference is stiff, Elon was well represented, with four students presenting their research.

  • Odyssey Scholar Daniela Sostaita '17, mentored by Professor Rebecca Todd Peters, discussed research she conducted with a Sinclair grant at a Raleigh Latinx church in a paper titled, "Examining the Role of Religion in Shaping Sexual Attitudes and Behavior among U.S. Latinas."
  • Elon College of Arts and Sciences Fellow Emily McHugh '17, mentored by Associate Professor Amy Allocco, paired a policy analysis of India’s family planning programs with ethnographic research in India funded by Elon’s Center for Research on Global Engagement and an endowed grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research in her paper, "India’s Endangered Parsis: State Secularism and Population Policy in Comparative Perspective."
  • Iliana Brodsky '17, mentored by Assistant Professor Ariela Marcus-Sells, engaged in textual analysis in her presentation, “Time Is the Scroll”: Poetic Expressions of Muslim and Jewish Identity in Al-Andalus."

Elon students at Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion conference. Six faculty members from Religious Studies also attended or presented.

Six other Religious Studies majors, many of whom have developing research projects on religion, also attended the conference with Religious Studies Senior Lecturer L. D. Russell to participate in sessions, familiarize themselves with the culture of academic conferences, and begin prepare for their own future presentations.

Peters, professor of religious studies, and Pamela Winfield, associate professor of religious studies, also made presentations at the conference.


Owen Covington,
3/8/2017 10:40 AM