Study of Religion

Scholarly Outreach

The Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society seeks to foster research, teaching, and dialogue that informs community knowledge and action.  The following are Elon faculty who explore the intersections of religion, culture, and society in their scholarly research and who are willing to serve as mentors to student research projects or as community educational resources through speaking engagements and special events.

Dr. Amy Allocco
Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Dr. Allocco’s research focuses on contemporary Hindu ritual traditions in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India, where she has been studying and conducting fieldwork for more than 15 years.  She specializes in performance and ritual studies and has developed a particular interest in gender and women’s religious roles and practices. 

  • Current writing projects include co-editing with Brian K. Pennington, Ritual Innovation in South Asian Religions and a single-authored manuscript Snake Goddesses and Anthills: Modern Challenges and Women's Ritual Responses in Contemporary South India.  She has also published on conducting ethnographic research, “Cacophony or Coherence: Ethnographic Writing and Competing Claims to Ritual and Textual Authority” in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion (2009).
  • Dr. Allocco is often asked to speak on the religious diversity and variety of religious practices in South Asia, including topics related to Hinduism, Islam, and gender.

Dr. Geoffrey Claussen
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Lori and Eric Sklut Emerging Scholar in Jewish Studies

Dr. Claussen's scholarship focuses on Jewish ethics and theology. He is particularly interested in questions of love and justice, war and violence, animal ethics, moral education, and the legacy of the 19th century Musar movement.

Dr. Clyde Ellis
Professor of History and University Distinguished Scholar

Dr. Ellis' scholarship examines how American Indian communities maintain their cultural and ethnic indentities through a wide variety of practices, including religious and ceremonial ritual. He has published widely on the history of Christian missions on the Southern Plains, Native hymn traditions, and dance, and is currently conducting fieldwork on Native Christianity in southeast North Carolina, and on the Native American Church in southwest Oklahoma.

  • Ellis' most recent publications include ‘She Gave Us the Jesus Way’: Isabel Crawford, the Kiowas, and the Saddle Mountain Indian Baptist Church,” the introductory essay to a new edition of Isabel Crawford's 1915 memoir, Kiowa: A Woman Missionary in Indian Territory (University of Nebraska Press, 1998); “Reading Between The Lines: A History of the Old and New Testaments in the Absaroki or Crow Indian Language,” in Montana: The Magazine of Western History (2005); and Powwow, edited with Luke Eric Lassiter, and Gary H. Dunham (University of Nebraska Press, 2005).
  • Dr. Ellis was also one of fifteen scholars from the United States and Europe invited to attend a five-week NEH 2011 Summer Seminar on the ethnohistory of Southeastern Indians sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  His research project for the seminar explored the use of Native language in powwow singing traditions in eastern North Carolina. 

Dr. Evan A. Gatti
Associate Professor of Art History

Dr. Gatti's field of research is in the field of medieval studies.Her writing is focused on the art and culture of medieval bishops and especially the relationships between material, performance, the texts of the Mass. Gatti is often asked to talk about the art and architecture of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and has studied and travelled extensively through central and northern Italy. 

Dr. Anthony Hatcher
Associate Professor of Communications

Dr. Hatcher is a former journalist who teaches a Religion and Media class (COM 333) at Elon University on an annual basis. Hatcher has written about religion news coverage for The Scoop blog at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California, and he is a contributor on cultural issues such as gay marriage and atheism to the op-ed pages of area newspapers. His research focuses on the intersection of religion and popular culture, as well as religion and the news media.

  • Hatcher's has written recently on gay marriage, including an op-ed titled "'Evolution' on Homosexuality Can Take Time" which was published by a number of North Carolina papers and he has written about the "culture wars" for Trans/Missions, a blog on media, culture, religion, and society sponsored by the University of Southern California.

Dr. Lynn R. Huber
Professor of Religious Studies

Professor Huber's scholarship focuses upon the Book of Revelation, including its artistic representation, and gender and sexuality in early Christianity.  She is interested in how Christian texts challenge Roman valorizations of family and how these might inform contemporary perspectives on the inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in Christian contexts and society in general.

  • Dr. Huber speaks and teaches in church settings about the Bible and homosexuality, advocating for interpreting the texts in ways that are inclusive and liberatory for LGBTQ inidivudals, and has led multi-session studies on interpreting the New Testament and on the Book of Revelation.
  • Huber's most recent publications include a forthcoming book titled Thinking with Women in Revelation:  Gender, Metaphor, and Community(T and T Clark); “Satan,” in Oxford Bibliographies Online: Biblical Studies (Oxford University Press, 2011); “Gazing at the Whore:  Reading Revelation Queerly” in Bible Trouble:  Queer Readings at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship, Teresa Hornsby and Ken Stone, eds. (Society of Biblical Literature, 2011).

Dr. Jasson Husser
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Assistant Director of the Elon Poll

Dr. Husser studies American political behavior with an emphasis on religion’s role in political polarization. He also researches survey methodology. He completed a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 2012.

  • Recent publications by Husser include "How Trust Matters: The Changing Political Relevance of Political Trust" with Marc J. Hetherington in American Journal of Political Science (2012); and "Plus Ça Change: Race, Gender, and Issue Retrospections in the 2008 U.S. Election" with Christian R. Grose and Antoine Yoshinaka in Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties (2010).
  • Dr. Husser has presented on “Polarized Churches: The Political Sorting of American Religious Behavior” in a variety of contexts.

Dr. Charles Irons
Professor of History

Dr. Irons' scholarly work reexamines the process through which black Southerners withdrew from white-controlled churches following the American Civil War.  Interested in exploring the range of relationships black churchgoers sought to form with their white coreligionists, Irons sees a window onto more general questions about conflicting black aspirations in the postwar period—as well as questions about the evolving relationship between ideas about race and citizenship.

  • Irons’s recent publications include “Evangelical Geographies of North Carolina,” in New Voyages to North Carolina, Larry Tise and Jeffrey Crowe, eds. (University of North Carolina Press, Forthcoming); “Religion and the ‘Outsider’ Candidates,” in Faith in the New Millennium: The Future of Religion and American Politics, Matthew Avery Sutton and Darren Dochuk, eds. (Oxford University Press, 2016); and “North Carolina’s Black Baptists and the Predicament of Emancipation,” in Between Fetters and Freedom: African-American Baptists since Emancipation, Edward R. Crowther and Keith Harper, eds. (Mercer University Press, 2015).  His first book, The Origins of Proslavery Christianity: White and Black Evangelicals in Colonial and Antebellum Virginia, appeared in 2008 with the University of North Carolina Press.
  • Irons has appreciated the opportunity to discuss ongoing racial divisions within United States churches with both lay and religious constituencies.

Dr. Buffie Longmire-Avital
Associate Professsor of Psychology

A community health psychologist trained in applied psychological development, Longmire-Avital’s research interests explores how the experience of intersecting social identities influences the health behaviors and access to health information of minority populations, specifically Black American emerging adults. Dr. Longmire-Avital has previously examined the relationship between religiosity, resiliency, and HIV risk behaviors for Black Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual emerging adults and transgender women.

  • One of her current research endeavors is exploring of conversations and messages minority mothers give their emerging adult and adolescent daughters about how to cope with minority status stress. This research actively engages the role religion may play in shaping the socialization of stress coping behaviors.
  • Some of Dr. Longmire-Avital's recent publications include "'Deep like the sea and strong like the earth': Exploring the ideal partner characteristics of emerging adult heterosexual Black women" in the Journal of Black Psychology (2015), "The Impact of religious faith and internalized homonegativity on resiliency for Black, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual emerging adults" (Developmental Psychology, 2013), and "Exploring the Interaction between Religiosity, Social Support & Stress-Related Growth among Transgender Women" (Journal of Health Psychology, 2010). 

Dr. Ariela Marcus-Sells
Assistant Professsor of Religious Studies

Dr. Kristina A. Meinking
Assistant Professsor of Latin and Classical Studies

Dr. Meinking's research focuses on the worlds of classical and late antiquity, and primarily concerns intersections between religion, politics, and intellectual culture in the third and fourth centuries CE. Her doctoral dissertation examined De ira Dei ('On the Anger of God'), a treatise by the fourth-century Christian intellectual Lactantius. She is also interested in Roman topography and Latin pedagogy.

  • Dr. Meinking is currently revising her manuscript for her first monograph, tentatively titled The Rhetoric of Anger: Lactantius and the Shaping of Christian Intellectual Discourse. She completed her translation of the text (from Latin into English) in the summer of 2012.
  • In addition to numerous conferences and presentations in the fields of both Classics and Religion, Meinking's scholarly activity includes two forthcoming articles: one examines the relationship between De ira Dei and Constantine's actions regarding the Donatists, and the other draws on Lactantius' arguments in the treatise to problematize existing opinions about the relationship of Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism, to early fourth century proto-orthodox Christianity.

Dr. Tom Mould
Professor of Sociology and Anthropology

Dr. Mould's research interests include oral narrative, prophecy and sacred narrative, identity construction, expressive culture, ethnography, and video enthnography.  His published works cover a range of topics including revelation and prophecy in Mormon oral tradition, Choctaw narrative and  prophecy, contemporary legends of public assistance and policy and North Carolina pottery.

  • Mould's most recent book, Still, The Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition (Utah State University Press, 2012), has received  praise from scholars as an important contribution not only to Mormon studies, but to religious studies, folklore, and performance studies more generally.
  • Other publications by Mould include the books Choctaw Tales (University Press of Mississippi, 2004); Choctaw Prophecy (University of Alabama Press, 2003); The Individual and Tradition edited with Ray Cashman and Pravina Shukla (Indiana University Press, 2011) and Latter-day Lore edited with Eric Eliason (Utah University Press, forthcoming); as well as the recent publications “Chahta siyah ókih”: Ethnicity in the Oral Tradition of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians” In Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi, Shana Walton, ed. (University Press of Mississippi, 2010); and "Narratives of Personal Revelation Among Latter-day Saints" in Western Folklore (2008).

Dr. Rebecca Todd Peters
Professor of Religious Studies

Dr. Peters’ research interests include globalization, economic, and environmental ethics; sexuality issues; and reproductive concerns.  She is an ordained PCUSA minister and represents the PCUSA as a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

•  Peters' recent publications include Solidarity Ethics: Transformation in a Globalized World (Fortress, 2014); In Search of the Good Life: the Ethics of Globalization (Continuum, hardcover, 2004; paperback, 2006); To Do Justice: Engaging Progressive Christians in Social Action, edited and with Introduction by Rebecca Todd Peters and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty (Westminster/John Knox, 2008); and Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community, and World, edited and with Introduction by Pamela Brubaker, Rebecca Todd Peters, and Laura Stivers  (Westminster/John Knox, 2006).

•  Dr. Peters blog To Do Justice, is hosted on the Patheos website and she is often invited to give lectures and addresses, nationally and internationally, on issues of poverty, solidarity, globalization, and Christian ethical perspectives on economics and social justice.

Dr. Brian K. Pennington
Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society and Professor of Religious Studies

Dr. Brian K. Pennington is a scholar of modern Hinduism. His primary research interests are in colonial-era religion in India, the history of religion in South Asia, religion and violence, and contemporary religious change in India.

  • Pennington is the author of Was Hinduism Invented?: Britons, Indians, and the Colonial Construction of Religion (Oxford UP 2004/2007), editor of Teaching Religion and Violence (Oxford UP 2012), and co-editor, with Amy L. Allocco of Strategic Interventions: Ritual Innovation in South Indian Religion. His current book in progress, entitled God's Fifth Abode: Entrepreneurial Hinduism in the Hindu Himalayas, is based on over a decade of field research in the pilgrimage city of Uttarkashi.
  • He has served on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), including its Executive Committee, the Board of Directors of the Society for Hindu-Christian Studies, the Advisory Council for the Conference on the Study of Religions of India (CSRI), and as President of the American Academy of Religion, Southeast Region.

Dr. Jeffrey Pugh
Maud Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies

Dr. Pugh's research interests include the ways in which Christian theological perspectives intersect with politics and science.  He has done research into the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and is currently working on a project about the Anabaptist rebellion in Muenster.  

  • Pugh's publications include Devil's ink: Blog from the Basement Office (Fortress Press, 2011); Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times (T and T Clark, 2008); Entertaining the Triune Mystery: God, Science, and the Space Between, (Continuum Pubiishing, 2003); and The Matrix of Faith: Reclaiming a Christian Vision (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001).
  • In his most recent book Devil's Ink, Pugh humorously adopts the persona of Satan as way of offering a critique of cultural institutions that many take for granted regardless of their negative effects.

Professor LD Russell
Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies

Professor Russell's work is in the field of religion and culture.  His writing explores the intersections between evangelical Christianity and NASCAR and the religious inspirations and impulses in modern music, including hip hop, the blues, and rock and roll.

  • Professor Russell's most recent research includes a manuscript under development titled Into the Mystic: Religion and Rock & Roll and Godspeed:  Racing Is My Religion (Continuum, 2007).  He is also writing on the pedagogical use of music in the classroom and the role of hip hop in the northern African revolutions known as the Arab spring.
  • Russell is often asked to speak on world religions, including death and the afterlife across traditions, and he has served as a faculty guide for service/ spiritual retreats to Taize, France and to Turtle Island, N.C.

Dr. Mina Garcia-Soormally
Associate Professor of Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures

Born in Málaga, Spain, Garcia-Soormally earned a bachelor's degree in English philology and a doctorate in Spanish philology from the Universidad de Málaga. She holds a doctorate in Spanish language and literature and a master's in Spanish and Latin American literature from Duke University. Mina Garcia examines what historic Spanish texts can teach us about how we define our identity. Her research interests include the role of literature in the expansion of the Spanish empire, Early Modern Spanish literature, transatlantic studies, Latin American colonial culture and literature, the relation between society and superstition in the early modern period, and the spiritual and territorial conquest of the Americas, especially colonial Mexico. Current writing projects include:

  • Dr. Garcia-Soormally's monograph on colonial Mexico is tentatively titled Idolatry and the Construction of the Spanish Empire.
  • She has also published, Magia, hechiceria y brujeria: Entre La Celestina y Cervantes (Magic, Sorcery and Witchcraft: Between La Celestina and Cervantes), focusing on the Spain of the 16th and 17th centuries. This is the time when Catholic monarchs ruled and the Spanish Inquisition was in full force and García's work compares the origins of certain issues on both sides of the Atlantic.

Pamela D. Winfield
Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Dr. Winfield is a scholar of Buddhist studies whose research and teaching focus on the intersection of religion and visual/material culture in East Asia.  Fields of interest include Japanese Buddhism, East Asian religions, Zen, Tantric Buddhism, religious experience, sacred space, religious healing, and church-state relations in Japan and China.

  • Winfield is the author of Icons and Iconoclasm in Japanese Buddhism: Kukai and Dogen on the Art of Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, 2013; Association of Asian Studies - Southeast Conference book prize 2015).  She has edited specially-themed issues of CrossCurrents journal on New Religious Movements (2014) and Religion in Asia Today (2011), and is currently co-editing a volume on Zen and Material Culture for Oxford University Press.

  • Other recent publications include: “Embodying Soto Zen:  Institutional Identity and Ideal Body-Image at Daihonzan Eiheiji” in Dogen and Soto Zen, edited by Steven Heine (Oxford UP 2015), Esoteric Images of Light and Life at Osaka Kokubunji, Japan,” Southeast Review of Asian Studies, vol. 34 (2012), 128-52, and, “Coronation at Koyasan: How One Woman Became King And Learned About Homeland Security and National Health Care in Ancient Japan” in Studying Buddhism in Practice, edited by John S. Harding (Routledge 2012), 11-24.

Rissa Trachman
Associate Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Dr. Rissa Trachman is Associate Professor of anthropology and Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Elon University, Elon, North Carolina. She specializes in Maya archaeology and has been conducting archaeology field work in Belize since 1997. She has been co-organizing field schools in Belize with the University of Texas since 2001, and began leading a field school through Elon in summer 2009. She is currently conducting field research at the site of Dos Hombres in Belize, the project in which field school students will be participating. Her research interests also include topics such as household archaeology, ancient social organization, lithic technology, gender and archaeology, ancient childhood, and ancient water management.