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Greetings from Knoxville


Welcome to the newsletter of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee! Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, this is a particularly exciting time for our department as we remain active in fostering excellence in our research and our teaching and work to make our campus and our community a more diverse and equitable place. It is my great pleasure to share with you some of the successes of the past year and some of our plans for the year ahead.

One of the most exciting changes is the series of new courses and programs that we are launching. Last year was the first for our new major and minor concentration in Religion and Nonprofit Leadership, and also saw the inauguration of a new course on Religion in the Workplace. The year ahead will be the first for another new major and minor concentration, this one in Religion, Race, and Ethnicity. In addition, although we do not have our own graduate program, this year we are debuting a Graduate Certificate in Religious Studies for graduate students in other UT programs. We also have a new online minor. As you can see, our faculty have been active in reshaping the curriculum to reach a diverse group of students and we look forward to watching our program continue to grow.

Our faculty are also thriving themselves despite the challenges of the past year. A year ago, we celebrated with Mark Hulsether as he began his retirement as professor emeritus, and with Randal Hepner as he moved to Arizona, and this year we wished Rosalind Hackett well as she started the next stage of her career as professor emerita after hosting a successful Religion and Nonprofit Symposium last spring. We have been fortunate to have several new colleagues join us in the process, including our new tenure-track colleague Larry Perry who started last year in a joint position with the Departments of Africana Studies and Religious Studies and look forward to welcoming Diana Burnett next year along with another new colleague in the field of religion and the environment – stay tuned!

As for our faculty, we are thrilled to celebrate that Megan Bryson received a UT Humanities Center Fellowship for the year ahead, and several other colleagues received impressive College and Chancellor’s awards. Erin Darby and Rachelle Scott received College Teaching Awards; Erin Darby and Helene Sinnreich received the inaugural Gilya Schmidt Faculty Award; and Erin Darby also received the College Advising Award as well as the UT Global Catalyst Teaching and Service Award. Erin has also been chosen as the first faculty director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at UT. Rosalind Hackett was named Extraordinary Professor through the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice at the University of the Western Cape (South Africa), and I (Tina Shepardson) was again named a Lindsay Young Professor.

As always, our students are at the heart of our department, and we were very happy to celebrate so many of them at our spring graduation and awards ceremony. In addition to many department awards for our seniors, we also celebrated that graduating seniors Ashley Cornell (Outstanding Graduate in Religious Studies), Lucas Fiet, Reilly Moody, and Makenzie Wells were honored with a Chancellor’s Academic Achievement Award, while Cody Hubbard (Outstanding Graduate in Religious Studies: Religion and Nonprofit Leadership) and Bryce McGeorge received a Chancellor’s Professional Promise Award. Major Lucas Fiet and minor Lauren Farkas were also named Top Collegiate Scholars, and Lucas Fiet, Cody Hubbard, and Lauren Farkas presented their research at national conferences and campus venues. Travis Cornell won the Religious Studies Research Award; Elizabeth Plant and Charles Evans won the Joan Nicoll Riedl Book Award; Carl Weinstein was named Outstanding Graduate in Judaic Studies; and Jennifer Ware earned the Dr. Rubin P. Robinson Scholarship in Judaic Studies. The full list of 2020-2021 awards can be found on our website.

Amid all these success stories, with the rest of the country our focus this past year turned more urgently toward our work in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Last year we began to implement our new diversity action plan; we created the new concentration Religion, Race, and Ethnicity, and two of our faculty produced podcast series on that topic; we further diversified our board of visitors, chaired by Lillian Mashburn, by welcoming Michael Dann and Arléne Amarante; and we helped produce a campus diversity calendar. Our faculty also helped plan and participated in the “Cost of Hate” discussion series on anti-racism, anti-sexism/heterosexism, and anti-fascism. We hosted artist Shahzia Sikander for our 2020 Siddiqi Lecture in Islamic Studies and Vasudha Narayanan for our newly named Anjali Lecture in Hindu Studies, graciously endowed through the generosity of Heetesh and Dimpal Patel. Read on for more of our other wonderful public events of the year, including an array of Judaic Studies events made possible by generous supporters like you!

Christine Shepardson Lindsay Young Professor and Head Department of Religious Studies

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