2019 Cohort


vicki Brennan
University of Vermont

An anthropologist and ethnomusicologist by training, Brennan writes and teaches about questions of sound, materiality, aesthetics, ethics, and religion in Africa and the African Diaspora. Her book, Singing Yoruba Christianity (Indiana University Press, 2018), examines how members of the Cherubim and Seraphim Church Movement in Lagos, Nigeria use music, dance, and other media as a means of producing moral community and reinforcing ethical values and modes of self-making. In 2017, she collaborated with the UVM Fleming Museum on a major exhibition of sacred objects from the African diaspora entitled “Spirited Things.” She is currently working on a book about the gospel music industry in Nigeria and an ethnographic biography of a Nigerian-American artist.



Case Western Reserve University

Clites writes about religious violence and trauma, particularly issues of gender, sexuality, and suffering within Roman Catholicism. He joined the Department of Religious Studies at Case Western Reserve University in Fall 2017, shortly after completing his doctorate at Northwestern University. He also serves as the Associate Director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities. Clites is currently finishing his first book, Breaking the Silence, an ethnography of the Catholic sexual abuse crisis.



Rebecca Epstein-Levi

Epstein-Levi is a practical ethicist who works at the intersection of gender, sexuality, and the interpretation of classical Jewish texts. Her book project examines the moral and textual implications of treating sex as one species of social interaction among many, and uses sex as a way to think of risk as a moral category. She teaches courses on Jewish sexual ethics, Jewish bodies and bioethics, purity in the Abrahamic traditions, argumentation in Jewish traditions, and comparative religious environmental ethics. In her copious free time, she enjoys cooking unnecessarily complicated meals and sharpening her overly large collection of kitchen knives.



Shreena Gandhi
Michigan State University

Gandi primarily teaches classes on religion and race in the Americas. She is currently finishing up edits on a manuscript on yoga, cultural appropriation, and white supremacy. She is also working on two other projects: one on religious seeking in the colonial and post-colonial global south, which uses her grandfather’s writings and books as primary evidence, as well as the writings of other colonial and post-colonial religious seekers. She is also working on a collaborative project on how to transform U.S. religious history into an anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-sexist discipline which helps move forward the goals of decolonization.



Sajida Jalalzai
Trinity University (San Antonio, TX)

Jalalzai specializes in North American Religions with a focus on Islam, and is currently working on a monograph on Muslim leadership programs housed in Protestant Christian seminaries in the United States in Canada.



Brett Krutzsch
Haverford College

Krutzsch is a scholar of religion, sexuality, and race in the United States with a particular focus on LGBTQ history and politics. His first book, Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of American Sexual Politics, will be published by Oxford University Press March 8, 2019.


IMG_2402 (1).jpg

Alison Melnick
Bates College

Melnick specializes in the history of Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism, with a focus on the uses of hagiography and revelatory literature in the historical record. In particular, her research addresses questions at the intersection of authority, gender, privilege, and the role of the religious institution in Tibetan literature and society, and she writes about how women exercise authority in these contexts. Her current work focuses on the life of Mingyur Peldron (Tib. mi ‘gyur dpal sgron), an 18th century female Buddhist leader and teacher. She loves hiking, spinning yarn, and exploring Maine’s woods and waters.



Tia Noelle Pratt
Aquinas Center

Pratt is a sociologist of religion specializing in the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. Dr. Pratt is currently the inaugural Scholar-in-Residence at the Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, PA. She is also the President and Director of Research at TNPratt & Associates, LLC. Her research focuses primarily on systemic racism in the Catholic Church and its impact on African-American Catholic identity. During her residency at the Aquinas Center, she is working on a book project with funding from the Louisville Institute and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Titled Black and Catholic, Catholic and Black:  Structure, Racism, and Identity in the African-American Catholic Experience, her book incorporates ethnographic fieldwork and in-depth interviews to analyze how systemic racism in the Catholic Church has resulted in the small number of African-American Catholics and how such racism continues to impact African-American Catholics’ experience through church closings and parish reorganizations. Her work has been published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and the edited volumes, Young Adult American Catholics: Explaining Vocation in Their Own Words (Paulist Press 2018) and American Parishes: Remaking Local Catholicism (Fordham University Press, forthcoming).



Kayla Renée Wheeler
Grand Valley State University

Wheeler is currently writing a book on contemporary Black Muslim dress practices in the United States. The book explores how, for Black Muslim women, fashion acts a site of intrareligious and intra-racial dialogue over what it means to be Black, Muslim, and woman in the United States. You can follow her research progress on Tumblr (link below). She is the curator of the Black Islam Syllabus, which highlights the histories and contributions of Black Muslims. She is also the author of Mapping Malcolm’s Boston: Exploring the City that Made Malcolm X, which traces Malcolm X’s life in Boston from 1940 to 1953.