The Department of Religion is pleased to announce that Zoe Neuschatz (GS ’25) is the winner of the Peter Awn Undergraduate Paper Prize. Zoe's submission "Eating is Believing: Religious Expression in Countercultural Cookbooks, 1975-1999," was written in Prof. Courtney Bender’s Fall 2023 Theory seminar. 

The Peter Awn Undergraduate Paper Prize was established by the Department of Religion in 2019, to honor the memory of our colleague and his commitment to undergraduate education, and is awarded annually.

Congratulations to Zoe!

In 2023 Jack Hawley published a paperback volume of translations of poems bearing the name of Surdas that he and, especially, Kenneth Bryant have established as belonging to the 16th century, when Surdas lived. This selection focuses exclusively on Krishna and his world.

As Harvard University Press, the publisher, explains, “The blind poet Surdas has been regarded as the epitome of artistry in Hindi verse from the end of the sixteenth century, when he lived, to the present day. His fame rests upon his remarkable refashioning of the widely known narrative of the Hindu deity Krishna and his lover Radha into lyrics that are at once elegant and approachable. Surdas's popularity led to the proliferation, through an energetic oral tradition, of poems ascribed to him, known collectively as the Sūrsāgar.”

"John Stratton Hawley miraculously manages to braid the charged erotic and divine qualities of Krishna, the many-named god, while introducing us--with subtle occasional rhyme--to a vividly particularized world of prayers and crocodile earrings, spiritual longing and love-struck bees."

-Forrest Gander, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

A Hindu-Jewish Conversation: Root Traditions in Dialogue is a historical, theological, and phenomenological engagement of the Hindu and Jewish traditions, two “root” traditions that give rise to other—in some ways very different—types of religious traditions. Rachel Fell McDermott and Daniel F. Polish explore conceptions of the divine, which are frequently cited as the most serious obstacle to a serious theological engagement between the two traditions; differences in attitude towards heroes, saints, and holy people; the religious resources and challenges experienced by Hindu and Jewish women; what can be learned about Hindu and Jewish spiritual outpouring by comparing Hindu devotional poetry and the Book of Psalms; the ways in which the two traditions address the fraught question of theodicy, or why bad things happen to good people; the status of “the land” and nationalist claims on it; and the uncomfortable question of caste and its possible social parallels in the Jewish tradition. The authors weave considerations of these topics into an ongoing conversation that offers students of both traditions new ways of thinking both about their intersections and about the history of religion in general. A coda explores these same issues by recounting an actual series of discussions convened between Hindu and Jewish practitioners.

A Hindu-Jewish Conversation: Root Traditions in Dialogue
(Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2024)

This month sees the publication of Gale Kenny’s new book, Christian Imperial Feminism, by NYU Press.

Amidst the global instability of the early twentieth century, white Christian American women embraced the idea of an “empire of Christ” that was racially diverse, but which they believed they were uniquely qualified to manage. America’s burgeoning power, combined with women’s rising roles within the church, led to white Protestant women adopting a feminism rooted in religion and imperialism.

Gale L. Kenny examines this Christian imperial feminism from the women’s missionary movement to create a Christian world order. She shows that this Christian imperial feminism marked a break from an earlier Protestant worldview that focused on moral and racial purity and in which interactions among races were inconceivable. This new approach actually prioritized issues like civil rights and racial integration, as well as the uplift of women, though the racially diverse world Christianity it aspired to was still to be rigidly hierarchically ordered, with white women retaining a privileged place as guardians. In exposing these dynamics, this book departs from recent scholarship on white evangelical nationalism to focus on the racial politics of white religious liberalism. Christian Imperial Feminism adds a necessary layer to our understanding of religion, gender, and empire.

In February, 2023 Rajkamal Prakashan of Delhi published a Hindi translation of Jack Hawley’s 2020 book Krishna’s Playground: Vrindavan in the 21st Century. The Hindi title is Kṛṣṇa kī Līlābhūmi: 21vīṅ Sadī meṅ Vṛndāvan and the translator is Ashok Kumar. With this, Hawley hopes to make his words and thoughts accessible in the language where many of his interviews and encounters took place. A book launch chaired by Purushottam Agrawal, editor of Rajkamal’s Bhakti Mīmāṃsā series, and mentored by Shrivatsa Goswami, took place in Vrindavan itself.

Vrindavan is the place most closely associated with the god Krishna. It is here that he is believed to have spent his youth and adolescence—a wilderness of primordial appeal, a land of love. These days, however, Vrindavan’s special identity is deeply challenged by the pollution of the Yamuna River, on which it was built, and a construction boom that makes it increasingly an appendage of megalopolitan Delhi. Other major transformations are threatened. Can it still be Vrindavan?

Zehra Mehdi was awarded the 2023 SSRC Religion, Spirituality, and Democratic Renewal Fellowship, to complete the writing of her dissertation, ‘Work of Religion,’ a psychoanalytic ethnography exploring Muslim ethical responses to their persecution under Hindu nationalism.

The Religion, Spirituality, and Democratic Renewal (RSDR) Program of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) aims to bring knowledge of the place of religion and spirituality into scholarly and public conversations about renewing democracy in the United States and around the world. This program is offered by the SSRC Program on Religion and the Public Sphere with the support and partnership of the Fetzer Institute.

Gaurika Mehta, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Religion at Columbia University, has been named a Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars (formerly the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation).

In her dissertation, Bearing the Burden of History: Religion and the Minority Ethics of the Indo-Caribbean Madrasi Diaspora, Gaurika combines archival and ethnographic research in Guyana, India, and the U.S. to examine the role of religion in the making of the Madrasis—a diasporic community and religious minority formed as a result of colonial forced migration and indentured labor. Her project lies at the intersection of three geographical subfields in Religious Studies—the Caribbean, South Asia, and North America—and highlights the centrality of the study of religion to research on race, migration, minorities, diasporas, and the environment. 

The Newcombe Fellowship is the nation’s largest and most prestigious award for Ph.D. candidates in the humanities and social sciences addressing questions of ethical and religious values.

The full press release can be found on the Citizens & Scholars’ website.

Columbia University Department of Religion PhD Student Khadeeja Majoka has been awarded a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Innovation Fellowship from The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). 

This new program supports doctoral students in the humanities and interpretive social sciences as they pursue bold and innovative approaches to dissertation research. The fellowships are designed to intervene at the formative stage of dissertation development and promote research methodologies, project formats, and areas of inquiry that challenge traditional norms of doctoral education.

Congratulations, Khadeeja! 

Columbia Department of Religion PhD student Zehra Mehdi has been awarded the Core Preceptor Teaching Award for Contemporary Civilizations. The awards committee was impressed by not only Zehra's rigorous lectures, but also her community-building in the classroom. 


Congratulations, Zehra! 

Department of Religion major and Columbia College student Alethea Harnish has written and is directing a play for her senior thesis. Tickets and information can be found via the link below. 

This is Your Computer on Drugs

April 29th at 8pm & April 30th at 3pm
Glicker-Milstein Theatre in the Diana Center

The Department of Religion is pleased to announce that Lily Conable (BC '23) and Jane McBride (CC ’23)  are the joint winners of the 2023 Peter Awn Undergraduate Paper Prize. Lily's paper is titled “Imagining Ancient Textual Lives: Rewriting and Reinterpreting the Provenance of The Thunder: Perfect Mind (NHC VI),” and was written in Professor Najam Haider's Fall 2022 Senior Research Seminar. Jane's paper is titled “Enchanting Writing: The Writer and Her Craft as Inherently Paradoxical,” and was written in Professor Najam Haider's Spring 2023 Senior Research Seminar.  

The Peter Awn Undergraduate Paper Prize was established by the Department of Religion in 2019, to honor our colleague and his commitment to undergraduate education, and is awarded annually. 

Congratulations to Lily & Jane! 

Department of Religion PhD student Connor Martini Receives 2023 Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student Instructor

The award will be presented during a ceremony at the 2023 GSAS Awards Dinner and Reception, which will be held on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., in the Library at Casa Italiana. Past winners can be found here

In Black is a Church, Josef Sorett maps the ways in which black American culture and identity have been animated by a particular set of Protestant ideas and practices in order to chart the mutually reinforcing discourses of racial authenticity and religious orthodoxy that have made Christianity essential to the very notion of blackness. In doing so, Sorett reveals the ways that Christianity, white supremacy, and colonialism coalesced in the modern category of "religion" and became formative to the emergence of black identity in North America. Black is a Church examines the surprising alliances, peculiar performances, and at times contradictory ideas and complex institutions that shape the contours of black life in the United States. The book begins by arguing that Afro-Protestantism has relied upon literary strategies to explain itself since the earliest years of its formation. Through an examination of slave narratives and spiritual autobiographies, it shows how Protestant Christianity was essential to the establishment of the earliest black literary forms. Sorett then follows Afro-Protestantism's heterodox history in the convergence of literature, politics, and religion at the end of the nineteenth century. And he shows how religious aspirations animated early calls for a "race literature" and "the color line" provided an organizing logic for religious innovations as divergent as pluralism and Pentecostalism. From the earliest literary productions of the eighteenth century to the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the twenty-first, religion--namely Protestant Christianity--is seen to be at the very center of black life in North America.

The Departments of Religion at Columbia and Barnard are now welcoming submissions for the third annual Peter Awn Undergraduate Paper Prize. This prize of $500 will be given to the best paper written by an undergraduate for any course or seminar in Religion in the year prior. This prize honors our colleague Peter Awn’s inspired teaching and his dedication to promoting and celebrating creative inquiry. 

Submissions will be accepted until Friday, March 24 at 5 p.m. Prize will be announced in mid-April.

Eligibility: Submissions must be

  • between 10-25 pages in length (excluding cover page and bibliography/references)
  • written for a course in the Department of Religion, in either Spring 2020 or Fall 2020 (Columbia and Barnard classes included)
  • authored by an undergraduate currently enrolled, in any college (GS, Columbia, Barnard, SEAS

Format: Submissions must be

  • submitted as a .pdf document
  • include a cover sheet with name, title, and course in which the paper was written

Submissions can be sent to: Eric Meyer ([email protected]), Department of Religion Columbia University

Department of Religion PhD Candidate Zehra Mehdi has been nominated in the global inspiration list of 100 Indian Muslim women in North America under the category of youth inspiration with a cutting edge approach to PhD research for her dissertation: The ‘work of Religion’: Trauma, Mourning and Political Resistance in the lives of Muslims in ‘Old Lucknow’.