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Charles H. Reynolds Distinguished Alumnus/a Award

Dr. Charles H. Reynolds served as department head from 1980 – 2001. In the wake of his passing on January 25, 2017 [TN Today | Knoxville News-Sentinel] the Department decided to create an award in his honor. Because he stayed connected to many of his former students, we decided to honor a distinguished alumnus or alumna each year. The award is handed out at the Graduation and Awards Ceremony in the spring.

2021 Recipient

Kelsey Hicks-BunnsWhat does having a degree in Religious Studies mean to me?

Having a degree in Religious Studies has been richly helpful in my equity and inclusion work. When I see people, my students, their families, I see them as more than their race and their ethnicity; I see them as people whose belief systems may inform their decisions and actions, as people whose family traditions may be prioritized over my advice as an educator, and as people whose voices and experiences need to be centered in our work for it to truly be more equitable and inclusive. One of the things that students do not realize they will gain by majoring in Religious Studies is their greater sense of humanity. While I was raised to be a kind, compassionate, and caring person, I can say that much of that was due to my religious upbringing. I had many misconceptions about people who did not exist the way I did. Learning from Religious Studies professors about their lived experiences was humbling and inspiring. I leaned into the discomfort of the learning process and I continue to do that with the teachers and students I support in my current role. Of course, I am still learning about the profound meaning of religion and spirituality in people’s lives, and I have a solid foundation to continue that learning thanks to the amazing professors in the Department of Religious Studies.

What are my memories from my time at the University of Tennessee?

There were many things in my personal life that affected my success at Tennessee. I experienced the loss of close loved ones every year, battled significant illness that resulted in surgery, and struggled with my own growth and development. Professors in the Religious Studies Department, like Dr. Hackett and Dr. Reynolds, don’t come around often. I could detach myself from the struggles of life and my studies because their classes felt less like obligations and more like excursions to spaces and places I could not physically visit. 

One of my fondest memories was volunteering with the Jazz for Justice Project with Dr. Hackett. Meeting women from northern Uganda who came to Knoxville for one of the benefit concerts was empowering, inspiring and enlightening. These women looked like me and the women of my family. I remember speaking to one woman who asked me if I knew where I was from. Between my tears, I told her it had to be from wherever she was from because she looked just like my late grandmother. Without hesitation she grabbed me and hugged me with the strength of a thousand women and the gentleness that only a grandmother could offer. She told me to not let anything stop me - not fear and definitely not a man. She told me I was powerful and that I would go on to do great things. I like to think that she and my grandmother and all of the women they represented have guided me through the nooks and crannies of life to get me right here which is exactly where I am meant to be. 

Since graduating from the University of Tennessee in 2019, I obtained my Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership from Mercer University. From there, I have worked at some of the nation’s best institutions of higher learning. I currently serve as the Head of Equity and Inclusion at Atlanta International School. I developed Essentially Kelsey, a collaborative for people to collectively heal from the vicarious trauma of global anti-Blackness.

 

2020 Recipient

Jennifer (JJ) RosenbaumWe are proud to honor Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum— an attorney, organizer, and human rights strategist advocating for human rights, decent work for all, and fair migration—as our 2020 Charles H. Reynolds Distinguished Alumna.

JJ graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1999 with a College Scholars major, taking coursework like a Religious Studies major and working largely with Dr. Rosalind Hackett, Dr. Mark Hulsether, Dr. Charlie Reynolds, and Dr. Ronald Hopson from our Department’s faculty. Legendary among Department old-timers for being one of the top three or four students we taught during our entire teaching careers, JJ wrote a fine senior project chaired by Dr. Hackett about the role of U.S. fundamentalist agendas in shaping the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and she helped Drs. Hulsether and Hopson co-teach a course called “The Religious Right in Black and White.” She leveraged her exemplary scholarly work and community engagement first into UTK’s most prestigious undergrad honor, the Torchbearer Award, and then a seat amid one of the most selective graduate cohorts in the world, Harvard Law School.

For over two decades, JJ has used legal, policy, and advocacy strategies to win access to rights and collective power for low-wage workers and advised workers’ centers on transnational grassroots collaborations. Currently she is the US director of Global Labor Justice, building on a more than ten-year record in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast where JJ created a new model of movement lawyering as the founding legal and policy director for the National Guestworker Alliance and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice. JJ has litigated cases before trial and appellate courts and led the human, labor, and migrants rights strategy for campaigns including the Signal workers, who exposed labor trafficking from India to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, and the Justice @ Hershey’s campaign. She is the union and employee co-chair of the American Bar Association’s International Labor and Employment Committee and lectures on labor migration and comparative social justice lawyering approaches at Harvard Law School. She previously held a Robina Fellowship at the Schell Center for International Human Rights (related to Yale Law School) with a focus on the intersection of global supply chains chains and labor migration.

2019 Recipient

ick LoweryRick Lowery graduated with honors in Religious Studies from UTK in 1979 and moved north to Yale University, where he completed a Master of Divinity degree in 1982 and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies in 1989. Rick’s longstanding interests have been in the prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible and questions about how Jewish and Christian moral-political traditions, rooted largely in this tradition, relate to issues of social and ecological justice in the contemporary world. He has published numerous books and articles about these matters, including a recent volume co-authored with William Barber and Liz Theohari's, Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing(Beacon, 2018). From 1989 to 2009 he taught Hebrew Bible at Phillips University, and since then he has been affiliated with Christian Theological and Lexington Theological Seminaries, including as Interim Dean at Lexington. Rick has blogged for the Huffington Post. He has served on many high-level committees of the Disciples of Christ and the global ecumenical movement, including the General Cabinet of the Christian Church, from 2017 forward, and the executive committee of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, 2006-2014. In such capacities, he has been part of official delegations to Disciples and WCC global partners throughout the world, including the Middle East, South Korea, the Congo, South Africa, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil, India, and China. Currently he is writing a book about how key stories in Genesis relate to current discussions of faith, eco-justice, human rights, interfaith issues, and international law.

2018 Recipient

Teresa J. HornsbyDr. Teresa J. Hornsby is in her 18th year as a Professor of Religion at Drury University. Dr. Hornsby holds an MTS degree from Harvard Divinity School, and an MA and Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Vanderbilt University. She graduated from UT's Department of Religious Studies in 1992. Her most recent book, Transgender, Intersex, and Biblical Interpretation, co-authored with Deryn Guest,was published in July 2016. She is a co-editor (with Ken Stone) of Bible Trouble: Queer Reading at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship, and author of Sex Texts from the Bible, as well as numerous essays, chapters, and encyclopedia entries. When she isn’t teaching or writing, Dr. Hornsby plays drums, restores old drum kits, and brews beer.

"I came to the Department of Religion (comparatively) late in life. I was drawn there because I wanted to take a New Testament course, but after that one course (with Dave Dungan) I was hooked. I didn’t study primarily with Dr. Reynolds, but I have three memories to share with you. The first time I met him was to get his signature so that I could declare religious studies as my major. I was very anxious – I was a first generation college student and professors scared me. On television, they all were very cross and judgmental. Dr. Reynolds was immediately a teddy-bear of a man, a tad disheveled, and a warm smile. He had a sofa in his office, and after he signed my form, he looked at me and asked, genuinely, if everything else was going okay, if there was anything else I needed to talk about. I remember this clearly because I was so caught off guard by the sincere offer to listen; with this one question, Dr. Reynolds conveyed to me that I was important, as important as anything else that might be going on in his day.

My second memory happened in my last semester at UT. I hadn’t had any courses with Dr. Reynolds until that point. I was taking his Sociology and Religion course and a student asked him if it was true that he was arrested at the Billy Graham crusade when Richard Nixon was there. I perked up – it wasn’t the arrest that got my attention – I was there that night, and every night of the crusade. I was about ten years old and my mother sang in that choir led by Cliff Barrows. I remember the protesters and didn’t completely understand it at the time, but because my mother’s beloved brother was killed in Vietnam in 1966, our family was not pro-Nixon, and I don’t think we were opposed to the war protests. Charles Reynolds’ story about that event led to a story about his participation with the Freedom Riders as a student at Harvard and the murder of one of the young men with Dr. Reynolds. His story, clearly in my mind, was my first experience of a new way of being “religious”; I realized that to be a religious person wasn’t always about salvation of souls (as my Southern Baptist upbringing affirmed). A religious person must care about Justice – Who eats? Who votes? Who has access to healthcare? Who has affordable housing? And so on. The seed of the idea that God is on the side of the oppressed was sown in my mind that day.

Finally, the last time I saw Dr. Reynolds was when I was finishing up my graduate program at Vanderbilt. The Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion (SBL and AAR) were having their regional meeting in Knoxville. I was in charge of picking up Daniel Boyarin, a religious studies scholar who was delivering the key address, and bringing him to Vanderbilt from Knoxville. Dr. Reynolds opened the plenary session with a welcome. He welcomed all of us on behalf of the persons who clean our rooms in that hotel, on behalf of the persons who served us food there, and on behalf of the persons who carried away our garbage. All of these people, he said, work for minimum wage with no benefits, no union, no job security, no vacation. I don’t remember the rest of what he said, but I will never forget that part. With a brief welcome, Dr. Reynolds made us all recognize that the privilege of our places in the academy often rests upon the economic struggles of other people. Justice. This is what was central to Dr. Reynolds; Justice is embedded in every memory that I have of Dr. Reynolds, and Justice is what is at the core of everything I have done in religious studies since."

2017 Recipients

Erin Bain-SelboWhen I came to the University of Tennessee in 1983, I was a journalism major. I really enjoyed it, and eventually worked for The Daily Beacon. In fact, at one time or another I think I held just about every editorial staff position at the paper. Some of my fondest and most powerful memories as a college student involve working for the paper.

But some time during my sophomore year I took a world religions course to complete a general education requirement. I know it sounds cliché, but that course changed my life. It led to more courses in the Department of Religious Studies and in the summer before my senior year I changed my major.

While I benefitted greatly from all the faculty members who I had as teachers, I owe a special debt of gratitude to the late, great Stan Lusby. He was a tremendous mentor, convincing me that I was smart enough to pursue graduate work in Religious Studies if that’s what I wanted to do. When I was floundering after graduation, looking for a job and living with (off of) a friend, Stan worked his magic and got me into the MA program at Miami of Ohio—with a graduate assistantship to boot (there’s an interesting story here). That was the fall of 1987. The next fall I was on my way to the University of Chicago, where I earned by PhD and met the love of my life (she’s my wife, by the way).

When I finished my doctoral work in 1997, I was fortunate to land a tenure-track job at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania. I eventually became department chair (there’s an interesting story here too), and that helped me to land the Department Head position in Philosophy and Religion at Western Kentucky University in 2007. And next month, I begin another new job, this time as Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Indiana University—Kokomo.

Along the way I became involved in the Society for Values in Higher Education (Stan nominated me for membership; another thing for which I am incredibly grateful), and I now serve as Executive Director of that organization. I have had the good fortune to present my work broadly and have five books to my credit: Mediating the Culture Wars: Dialogical Virtues in Multicultural Education (Hampton Press, 2003), Judge and Be Judged: Moral Reflection in an Age of Relativism and Fundamentalism (Lexington Books, 2006), Game Day and God: Football, Faith, and Politics in the American South (Mercer University Press, 2009), Violence in Southern Sport and Culture: Sacred Battles on the Gridiron (Springer, 2016), and Understanding Sport as a Religious Phenomenon: An Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2016), co-authored with D. Gregory Sapp. My next book, The End(s) of Religion: A History of How the Study of Religion Makes Religions Irrelevant (under contract with Bloomsbury), gets at questions that I really started to think about right here at UT.

While my research spans across the disciplines of philosophy and religious studies, focusing primarily on social ethics, political philosophy, comparative religion, cultural criticism, and issues in higher education, Religious Studies is my home.  And I never forget that the wonderful professional life that I have experienced all started here, with the good work and commitment of dedicated teachers and mentors.

My tenure as an undergraduate student in the UT Religious Studies Department has been perhaps one of the most formative events of my life. Several life changing events led to my academic and personal interest in pursuing such a major, and my degree has informed my life’s journey ever since.

As a child growing up in the Atlanta suburbs in the late 1970’s, I learned that one of my favorite actors, Patrick Duffy, from the popular television hit Dallas, is Buddhist. From this, I developed an all-encompassing fascination with Buddhism. Then, tragically, in the early 1980’s my mother succumbed to a rather aggressive form of cancer. This life altering experience drove me into a deep existential crisis, which then propelled me even further into my exploration of Buddhism.

By the time I started the University of Tennessee in 1988, I was craving an intellectually stimulating major, and was also looking for a way to salve my personal existential dilemmas. It was not until two years later, though, in the spring of 1990, that I discovered the marvelous Religious Studies Department when I took Religious Myth, Symbol, and Ritual with the great Stan Lusby. Shortly thereafter, I took Varieties of Religious Communities with Professors Rosalind Hackett and Charles Reynolds. I was sold after taking these courses, and I knew that Religious Studies was the path I needed to pursue.

Being a Religious Studies major was much more than just being a student, it was a source of identity and pride. Some of the most formative courses I took during this time were African Religions and the Anthropology of Religions with Rosalind Hackett, Buddhism and Women & Religion with Miriam Levering, Hinduism and Sanskrit with James Fitzgerald, and Islam with Rosalind Gwynne. My twin sister, Elizabeth Fraley, who was also a Religious Studies major, and I were often affectionately known as the “Sanskrit sisters” because we would spend all day on the 5th floor in an empty room of McClung tower working through our translations of Sanskrit shlokas. We would then migrate across the hall in the late afternoon to Rosalind Hackett’s office to work as Undergraduate Research and Teaching Assistants. Professor Hackett’s office was considered by many RS students to be the “axis mundi” of the department, as it served as the nerve center where students would congregate to discuss exciting and challenging new ideas they had learned from their classes.

After graduation from UT, I went on to pursue a Masters’ degree at Harvard Divinity School, with a focus on Tibetan Buddhism. My plan was to pursue my PhD in Tibetan Buddhist studies, but as I began to study the horrendous plight of the Tibetan people at the hands of a brutal regime, I became more and more interested in International Human Rights. After graduation from Harvard, this led me to move to California to study International Human Rights Law as a law student at the University of San Francisco School of Law. During this time, I also pursued a lifelong interest in maritime history by studying Maritime and Admiralty Law. Also, having been influenced by Rosalind Gwynne’s Islam course, I delved more deeply into the study of Islamic Jurisprudence during these years.

After law school, I realized that the practice of law did not interestor satisfy me in the same way that I had enjoyed as a law student. However, I increasingly became intrigued by spirits of another kind, ones that no less straddle the world between the sacred and profane, namely, distilled spirits. Thus, in order to contemplate my career path, I quit my job working in the library of a large labor and employment law firm, and traveled through Morocco, Spain, and Mexico for inspiration. Within a year I was working at a distillery, Germain-Robin, which was started by an 11th generation Cognac maker who had come to California in the early 1980’s to make high quality brandy without the restraints of rigid French laws. This, too, was a turning point in my life, and would shape my future career.

I currently run a consulting firm called Nosing Services out of Berkeley, CA, where I am a Master Blender and international and domestic consultant for major industry and craft distillers. I am also the Director of Research for the American Distilling Institute (ADI), Lead Judge for the ADI Craft Spirits Judging Competition, creator of the American Craft Whiskey Aroma Wheel, and teach classes on Spirits Maturation and Blending, and Advanced Sensory Analysis. In addition, I serve on the faculty of the Distilled Spirits Epicenter’s “Moonshine University” in Louisville, KY.

Even though I ultimately chose to take on a different career path from traditional academia, I have found that the skills I honed and the knowledge I gained in the Religious Studies program have served me well. In my professional life, these skills have helped me to develop a cross-cultural and critical approach to my work, as I’ve studied culturally diverse blending traditions from around the world. Also, courses such as African Religions have helped me when I travel to work with international clients, such as in rum distilleries in countries like Haiti or Belize. By having studied such syncretistic Afro-Atlantic religions like Vodun, which is practiced in Haiti, I can better understand the complex history of local drinking customs and various beliefs about the spiritual meaning of alcohol.

On a personal level, the cross-disciplinary approach, critical thinking, and research skills I first acquired as a Religious Studies major and later honed in graduate school and law school continue to be of service in life as well. Because the RS curriculum touches on such diverse topics as the intersection of religion with art, music, science, literature, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, history, environmental issues, sociology, human rights, medical ethics, economics, law, business, etc., I have gained breadth in many subjects. Many of these topics I continue to pursue. In turn, this has led to an increased quality of life, the awareness to become an engaged citizen, and a much deeper understanding of the world and of the times in which we live.


More About Dr. Reynolds

Dr. Reynolds was the founding editor of the Journal of Religious Ethics. See the journal’s 2017 “In Memoriam” by Stanley Hauerwas.

Dr. Reynolds was also well known in the local community for his activism, most notably the anti-war protests he organized in 1970 at Neyland Stadium on the occasion of the visit of President Nixon to a Billy Graham crusade. See the piece written by department head Professor Rosalind I. J. Hackett (2009-14, 15-17) on the occasion of a Symposium on Intellectual Freedom organized in April 2017 by the Department of History.


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