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Faculty Spotlights

Sarah Dees

Sarah Dees class in McClung MuseumDr. Dees joined the Religious Studies Department as a Lecturer in the fall of 2014. She is a scholar of American and Indigenous religious history and culture. Drawing on historical, anthropological, and cultural studies approaches, her research and teaching illuminate the complex relationships among religion, race, culture in academic, political, and popular realms. She received her PhD from Indiana University in 2015 after completing an MA at the University of Iowa and a BA at the University of Kansas.

Dr. Dees's research examines the construction of knowledge about and representation of Indigenous and Euro-American religious practices in the Americas. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled The Materialization of Native American Religions: Cultural Science in an Era of Assimilation, which is based on her dissertation "The Scientific Study of Native American Religions, 1879-1903." This project describes the history and legacy of the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), a Smithsonian research agency that played an important role in the early academic study of Native American religions. Focusing on historical anthropological reports and related government publications, this book demonstrates that academic discourse on Indigenous religion has justified legal restrictions on religious practices. Additional areas of interest include the commodification and appropriation of religion, religion in popular culture, religion and healing, material and lived religion, and contemporary museum practices.

Dr. Dees has taught numerous courses at the University of Tennessee, including American Religious Freedom and Discrimination; Religion, Race, and Ethnicity; Native American and Indigenous religions; World Religions in History; and Introduction to American Studies. Her most recent course, Religion in Museums, is held in the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture and explores the the history of exhibition practices and the ways in which contemporary museums display objects of religious significance. Read more about the class here! Dr. Dees participated in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion's 2016 Gallery of Excellence. As a member of the Media Committee, she helped to develop the Religious Studies Department's Twitter feed (@UTKreligion).

Dr. Dees's research on the study of American Indian languages has been published in Method & Theory in the Study of the Religion,and an essay on whiteness and race studies appears in America in the World: 1776 to the Present. Her book reviews have been published in Nova Religio, The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, The Journal of American Culture,and The Journal of Popular Culture. She contributes to the popular group blog Religion in American History. Dr. Dees has presented her work in national and international venues including the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, American Studies Association, Critical Ethnic Studies Association, American Society for Church History, and American Indian Workshop. She is on the steering committee of the Native Traditions of the Americas, Cultural History of the Study of Religion, and the Religion in the American West groups of the American Academy of Religion.

During her time at the University of Tennessee, Dr. Dees has enjoyed experiencing all that East Tennessee has to offer, from Dollywood and the Smokies to the region's history, music and food. In the fall of 2016, Dr. Dees will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University as part of the Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad project.

To keep up with Dr. Dees's latest research, writing, travels, and teaching you can follow her on Twitter: @sarahedees.

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