Student Bios

American Religious Culture
Ethics and Society
Hebrew Bible
Historical Studies in Theology and Religion
Jewish Religious Cultures
New Testament
Person, Community, and Religious Life
Theological Studies
West and South Asian Religions

American Religious Culture

Andie Alexander is a doctoral student in American Religious Cultures. Her research interests focus on discourses on identity construction, boundary formation, nationalism, and classification. Through these discursive lenses, her work examines Italian immigration to the U.S., in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as Irish immigration before that, as a way to explore the establishment of a what is now considered a successful minority in the U.S.: American Catholicism. Andie earned her BA in Religious Studies and History at the University of Alabama (2012) and MA in Religious Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder (2017). During her time at Alabama, she became involved with digital scholarship. She works as a contributor and online Curator at Culture on the Edge and is Senior Associate Editor at Sacred Matters. She also contributes to several other blogs including Studying Religion in Culture and Bulletin for the Study of Religion. Her website can be accessed here.


Marcelitte Failla My work centers all that is Black, femme and magical.  I am interested in the ways in which Black queer and trans communities use African-derived religions for social justice. Historically this includes the use of ritual in slave revolts and currently consists of community healing ceremonies, spells to protect from police brutality and forms of divination. Having a long line of Black ancestors in Louisiana who looked to Hoodoo or Voodoo as a source of power when there were no other options, I see my work as a continuation of their legacy. As Black queer and trans people, how do we too, harness this power to combat and heal from transphobia, homophobia, and anti-blackness? 

As an artist with an M.F.A in documentary film production, my research is collaborative and employs art to tell stories that reach broader audiences. Furthermore, as an educator, who has taught for many years in New York City high schools and colleges, I believe as Ms. Erykah Badu put it “What good do your words do if they can’t understand you?” I love my people so please email me if you want to discuss all that is Black, magical and femme - For resources, spell books, writings, movies and more visit my website


Marianne Florian 
As a Doctoral Candidate in American Religious Cultures, I engage anthropological, historical, and cognitive frameworks for understanding religious and spiritual ideas and practices as natural resources for human beings. I rely on religious studies scholarship in modern Buddhism and Buddhism in America, as well as contemplative studies, mind-body healing, and African-heritage traditions. In addition to this, my commitment to interdisciplinary research and teaching is reflected in my graduate certificate through Emory’s Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture.

My dissertation research examines first-hand experiences of learning to practice meditation. I view learning as a foundational genre of meditative experience for all practitioners. Through in-depth interviews and fieldwork, I elicit hospital chaplains’ subjective experiences of practicing CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training), a method of compassion meditation inspired by Indo-Tibetan Buddhist mind training (Tb. lojong) techniques for strengthening compassion. Using modified qualitative data analysis strategies, I investigate the impacts of three interrelated factors on learning: participants’ prior spiritual and religious knowledge, personal adaptations of CBCT, and lived moments of effort and growth. This project arose in collaboration with the Mascaro Lab in the Emory School of Medicine, Spiritual Health at Emory Healthcare, and Emory’s Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics.

As a teacher, I am enthralled with the co-learning process, which engages me as an academic mentor seeking to challenge and strengthen the inquiry skills of every student. For over twelve years I have pursued teaching opportunities spanning the disciplines of religious studies, theology, and human health, as well as the study of French, where I began my academic journey. Continually observing and seeking constructive input from supervisors and peers, I have developed a respectful, flexible, inclusive, and equitable teaching style and increased my repertoire to include arts-based and contemplative pedagogies. Beyond academics, I have also served as Buddhist Religious Life Advisor to the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life, Graduate Advisor to Emory Buddhist Club, and Project Coordinator for the Laney Colloquium in Religion.

Kelly J. Gannon 
I am interested in expanding the scholarship around religion in the American South. My dissertation, tentatively titled No Place for Mere Entertainment: Religion and Popular Culture in the Victorian Bible Belt, examines how religion interacted with popular culture in the industrializing New South. A public historian, I am also concerned with the role of religious history in the American historical meta-narrative interpreted for the general public. 

I am involved with several digital scholarship initiatives, including serving on the editorial staff for both Sacred Matters and Southern Spaces. I am also a Contributing Scholar at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. I hold a BA in History and International Studies from Wake Forest University (2008) and an MA in Public History from American University (2011). My website can be accessed here, and I can be followed @K_Gannon.

Lily Oster With a focus on religion and ecology, my current research interests include eros, spirituality, and the earth; deserts and desert religion; literature of the American Southwest; permaculture and systems thought; and posthuman, queer, and feminist ecological theory. I have a background in literature, dance, environmental advocacy, and sustainable farming, and I hold a B.A. from Wesleyan University and an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School.

Elaine Penagos My research interests revolve around the intersections of culture, identity, and materiality in Afro-Cuban and Latinx religions with a focus on La Regla de Osha or Santería as it is more commonly known. Geographically, I situate Cuba as the point of religious orthodoxy for practitioners of La Regla de Osha in the United States. Specifically, my research examines the patakis (origin stories of the Orishas) as avenues through which larger questions of identity and phenomena are explained and justified by practitioners. Some of the questions that guide my research include: How do practitioners interpret these stories? How do these stories shape the understanding of Santería’s religious praxis for initiates and alejos (practicing non-initiates)? Does the transmission of origin stories account for certain culturally “acceptable” norms in Santería communities? Methodologically, I am interested in employing aspects of arts based research methods, such narrative inquiry and poetic coding. I hold a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Miami (2014), an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Denver (2017) and I am currently an Emory Graduate Diversity fellow.

Tim Rainey 
Tim Rainey is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at Emory University in Atlanta, GA and holds a B.A. degree in Religious Studies from Morehouse College and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. His research focuses on religion, race and economy in the 19th century African Atlantic world. His current project, “Beyond the Shadow of Destiny: Companies and Christianity on the African American Frontier of Liberation in Sierra Leone, 1807-1817” provides a historical account of the experiment in black freedom attempted in Freetown, Sierra Leone when British companies buttressed by Christian interests organized the colony around exploiting the labor of diasporic Africans who became settlers. 

Ethics and Society

Emmy Corey  I received my Masters of Divinity from Candler School of Theology (’13) and my Bachelor’s degree from Birmingham-Southern College (’08).  Though I am an Alabama native, I worked as a Program Director for the Episcopal Service Corps in Pennsylvania for several years before beginning doctoral studies.  At Emory, I am currently an Interfaith Health Program Doctoral Fellow and plan to participate in the Religious Practices Concentration.  Broadly, my research interests are at the intersections of religion and public health in Kenya. More specifically, I would like to explore the ways in which Faith Based Organizations funded by the United States engage religious and cultural difference.  How do every day experiences of difference shape the moral imagination of those who work on the ground in Kenya? How are these experiences translated on an institutional level?  These questions are largely informed by my experiences in Kenya and my ongoing involvement with a Faith-Based Organization there.

Cara Curtis
 My work focuses on the question of what it means to try to live a good life in contexts of social vulnerability, material precarity, and existential threat. Specifically, I am interested in how mothers in the United States are working to build families in a landscape marked by economic and social inequality, how this experience becomes intertwined with their existential and spiritual lives, and how factors like class background and racial positionality affect their perspectives and choices. I earned a B.A. from Haverford College (2010) and an M.Div from Harvard Divinity School (2016). In addition to my work in Ethics & Society, I am pursuing a certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies as well as a concentration in Religious Practices and Practical Theology.


Bryan Ellrod
  My focus within Ethics and Society is in Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding.  My research interests are situated at the intersection of ethics and aesthetics and consider how aesthetic judgment functions in staging theaters for moral reflection and how the virtues are variously conceived within these theaters.  I hold a Master of Theology and Master of Divinity from Emory’s Candler School of Theology, as well as a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Theology and Philosophy from Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida.


Shari Madkins
is a doctoral student in the Ethics and Society course of study, and an UNAIDS doctoral fellow with Emory's Interfaith Health Program.  She has Masters of Public Health and Social Work from the University of Michigan, and completed her Master of Divinity at Emory's Candler School of Theology.  Her research interests are in East African ethics and philosophy, and how these traditions have either been privileged or neglected in US relations with the region.  Of particular interest to her is how US and East African ethics interact with each other around the issues of humanitarian aid, health policy and Christian missions.

Rev. David. H. Messner
  My area of concentration is Religious Practices within Ethics and Society.  My research interests focus on the expression of ethical ideals and commitments within economic exchanges and institutions and how religious communities might shape individuals as economic actors. I’m an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition and care about building collaborative and thriving liberal religious communities. My earlier professional career was in business, working in management consulting, strategic planning and the development of international corporate partnerships. I earned an MDiv from the University of Chicago with an emphasis on theology and religious ethics, an MBA from Yale University concentrating in strategy and organizational behavior, and a BA in psychology from Reed College focusing on decision making under uncertainty.

Rev. Joi R. Orr
is a progressive minister, advocate, and Graduate Fellow at Emory University in the Graduate Division of Religion.  Graduating in 2004, Joi received a B.A. in Philosophy and Comparative Religion from the University of Maryland College Park.  In 2006, she earned the AmeriCorps Siegel Education Award for her service with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd where she practiced living simply so that others may simply live. Later, in 2010, she graduated from Howard University School of Divinity.

As a doctoral student in Christian Ethics and Society, Joi is interested in the efficacy of faith based social justice organizations and social movement theory. She aspires to become seminary faculty and serve as a strategist for progressive faith based nonprofits.


Nicole Symmonds
  My research interests focus on the influence of cultural products such as music, film, and news media on the ethical development and formation of individuals. I’m specifically interested in exploring, through ethnography, how these mediums influence sexual ethical development and moral formation among a range of populations from adolescents to adults. Atlanta is my research location because of the richness of the city's sexual culture which extends from the stripclubs of Cheshire Bridge Road to the steeples of the regions many churches. I also have an interest in analyzing the rhetoric of sex education curriculum and sex trafficking recovery programs. This work of analyzing cultural products and their impact on ethical reflection is compelling due to my personal experience within Evangelical Christian culture, my position as a consumer of popular culture, and professional experience as a journalist for over a decade. Given this, I plan to participate in the Religious Practices and Practical Theology concentration as well as pursue the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. Prior to my doctoral studies I earned a Masters of Divinity with a focus in Theology and Ethics from the Candler School of Theology in 2013.

Sara Williams
I am pursuing concentrations in Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding and Religious Practices. Prior to my doctoral studies I earned an Master of Religion from Yale Divinity School and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. My dissertation, tentatively titled "Moral Apprentices at the Margins: Come and See Programs and the Making of the Middle Class American Christian Ethical Self", focuses on the kinds of meaning middle class American Christians make from journeys to the margins and their encounters with structurally marginalized persons. My project asks how such meaning is shaped by various forms of privilege, whether encounters engender a deeper level of reflexivity around complex disparities of power and privilege, and how middle class American Christians integrate the meaning they make from journeys to marginalized contexts into everyday ethical life at home. I probe these questions through an in-depth ethnographic case study of “Come and See” programs, alternative Holy Land tours designed to expose American Christians to political realities for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Israel and to facilitate connections between Palestinian and American Christians. My passion for social ethics emerges from several years of domestic and international social justice work with a variety of nonprofits and NGOs.

Hebrew Bible

Evan Bassett
  Prior to being at Emory, I earned my B. A. in Religious Studies from Western Kentucky University and my M. A. in Theology (with a concentration in Ancient Near Eastern Studies) from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

I am primarily interested in religio-historical, comparative, and iconographic approaches to the Hebrew Bible. I hope to explore collective memory and amnesia in ancient Israel, and how these processes are reflected in the Hebrew Bible and the iconographic record. I am particularly interested in metaphorical depictions of Yhwh in the Hebrew Bible and how these various depictions may have been used to shape competing stories of Israel’s past.

Brady Beard
  I hold a B.A. in Biblical Literature and an M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary. My work utilizes literary theories, iconographic methodology, and comparative analysis of texts. I am particularly interested in poetic and prophetic literature in the Hebrew Bible.


Caralie Focht
  I earned a Bachelor of Social Work from James Madison University and Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. My main research interest lies in identifying presence of traumatic events in the Hebrew Bible. I am particularly focused on traumas that affect individuals (as opposed to society as a whole) and hope to explore the way healing is presented in the text.

Harry Huberty
My research interests center around lived experience and religion in Iron Age Israel and Judah. I am especially interested in popular religious practice, the origins and development of Yahwism, divination, funerary practices, and the veneration of the dead. More broadly, I am interested in how people use religion to respond to changing circumstances in their lives and what specific instances of religious experience might be able to tell us about religious experience and the human experience generally. To that end, I also study anthropological theories to guide my assessment of the biblical text and archaeological data. I am considering several potential dissertation topics, including healing and medicine in ancient Israel, healing invocations in the biblical text and the ancient Near East, and games and leisure in biblical Israel. I completed my undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College (A.B., 2007) and earned a Master of Theological Studies degree at Harvard Divinity School (2011).

Hyun Woo Kim
  Prior to doctoral studies, I earned my B.A. from Yonsei University in Korea, M.Div. from Candler School of Theology, and S.T.M. from Yale Divinity School. My STM thesis title is “A Socio-Rhetorical Function of the Danielic Resurrection as Source for Moral Discernment.”

My current research interests include an exploration of the socio-rhetorical situation of the Hebrew Bible, iconographic metaphors (i.e., figures and symbols or practices and realities that fund the rhetoric and imagination of the authors of the Bible), and their formative influence on moral selfhood of the reading community. 

Johannes Kleiner
Johannes' dissertation Proverbs’ Eco-Potential: Resilience Thinking, Wisdom Thought, and the Current Ecological Crises examines the book of Proverbs through the lens of ecological biblical hermeneutics. His hermeneutical approach employs the scientific management model of resilience thinking as benchmark for the evaluation of Proverbs’ epistemology, anthropology, and cosmology. The emerging parallels and differences in the way that sages and scientists conceptualize prudent behavior opens new avenues for dialogue and creative solutions to the many developing environmental crises. Johannes’ work is highly interdisciplinary combining his expertise in ecological biblical hermeneutics and environmental movements around the world with his research in environmental sciences. His research interests include the history and current questions of the field of Religion and Ecology, different approaches to the valuation of the natural world (philosophical, religious, economic, etc.), experiential and civically engaged pedagogies, and public policy issues surrounding ecological crises.

Before coming to Emory, Johannes earned a Diploma in Theology form the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany (2011), as well as a Master of Theological Studies from the Franciscan School of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA (2012). Johannes is co-founder of the Religion and Ecology collaborative and currently works as graduate assistant for engaged learning in the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence.T

Timothy McNinich Prior to studying at Emory, I earned a BA in Physics and Religion at Kalamazoo College and an MDiv from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I have worked as a pastor and church planter, and have completed the preparatory process for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA). My research interests cover historical narrative in the Hebrew Bible (especially the Deuteronomistic History). I am a Doctoral Fellow in Public Theological Education at Candler School of Theology; an editor of the Illustrated Biblical Texts Series for GlossaHouse (; an editor for the Politics of Scripture Blog, part of the Political Theology Network (; and a producer and cohost of the weekly podcast, “First Reading: The Old Testament Lectionary Podcast” (


Richard Purcell
  I earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Brewton-Parker College and an MAR in Biblical Studies from Yale Divinity School. I am interested in the expression of various ideologies within biblical texts, particularly in ideals of gender, geography, religion, politics, and other aspects of worldview, as well as the intersection of effective rhetoric and ideology within formative texts.  I hope to explore how such ideological places of discourse are employed as rhetorical strategies in the creation, maintenance, and subversion of different ancient communities. I am also interested in modern literary theory and how such theory may aid in illuminating a text's possible ideological position(s) and rhetorical place(s) in ancient communities.

Adam Strater My area of concentration within Hebrew Bible is in Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding. I earned a BA in Philosophy and Religion from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, an MA in Jewish Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and an MA in the Bible and Ancient Near East from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I am interested in apocalypticism and religious violence as general phenomena, and my research is interdisciplinary, using social scientific methods to study Jewish apocalyptic literature as ancient expressions of religious violence. As a Wexner Graduate Fellow, I am also interested in Jewish professional leadership and the relationship between academic and religious communities.


Rachel Erin Stuart is a commissioned Provisional Elder in the UMC (Upper New York Conference) and a PhD student in Hebrew Bible here at Emory. Before coming to Emory, Rachel completed a B.S. & B.A. at the University of Rochester in physics, music, and religion, and an M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Her research interests include philology and comparative Semitics, warrior poetry in the ancient Near East, literary theory and theory of religion, the development of Israelite religion, and cognitive linguistics. Her current fascination is with ways in which binary categories reflecting and creating experience are constructed and undermined/problematized/expanded in myth and scripture, both on the narrative and linguistic levels. Her eventual hope is to work as both a pastor and a professor.

Rachel Wrenn
is a PhD student in the Hebrew Bible program at the Laney Graduate Division of Religion. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in French Literature and Languages at Pacific Lutheran University (Tacoma, WA) and a Masters of Divinity from Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN). She is interested in Biblical poetry, narrative, and stories that address women and women's issues. She is also pursuing the Religious Practices emphasis and exploring how insights from embodiment theory, CSR, anthropology and psychology can benefit the study of the Hebrew Bible.

Historical Studies in Theology and Religion

Jennifer L. Aycock
I am working in the area of World Christianity with a Religious Practices and Practical Theology concentration. My research focuses on African-initiated Christianity, particularly independent African Christian movements and mission-related churches that formed during the colonial period and on the eve of independence. I am equally interested in migrations of African-led faith communities within American and French contexts. Thus, my work occurs at the intersection of migration, globalization, and transnationalism theories, as well as mission, colonial, and Black Atlantic history. Most broadly, I am interested in understanding how a “new” religion, or religion revisited, namely Christianity, becomes compelling within and across historical and cultural landscapes. How is Christian belief and practice translated across and through local histories, epistemologies, materials and symbols so that imported theological assumptions are subverted and used for transformation and liberation in spaces of contested power and oppression? Second and most simply, how does Christianity and its communities change through movement and migration? My work is also attentive to theories of ethnicity and of race as they are iterated locally and transnationally within religious contexts.

Prior to doctoral studies, I was a director of college ministries in a Presbyterian (PCUSA) church as well as worked and studied in France and Cote D’Ivoire. I received my B.A. from Wheaton College (IL), an M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), and Th.M. at Candler School of Theology.

Amanda Abernathy Knight

Amanda Knight
My research interests lie in St. Augustine’s theology, particularly in his epistemology and aesthetics. I am interested in Augustine’s understanding of sense-perception, moral psychology, and the psychology which undergirds his understanding of the mind’s ascent from knowledge to wisdom. My other research interests include patristic hermeneutics and Pauline theology. I have a BA from Oklahoma Baptist University in Philosophy and Biblical Studies (2011) as well as an MAR in Biblical Studies from Yale Divinity School (2014). I am one of the few folks who hail from the beautiful state of Wyoming.


Marie-Ange Rakotoniaina
Through the writings of Augustine, I explore the shaping of Jewish and Christian identities in late antiquity, with a special attention to the interactions between Jewish rituals and Christian sacraments. Being originally from France, I started reading Augustine while pursuing a Master in Histoire des faits culturels et religieux at the Université Paris IV-Sorbonne. One of the fundamental dimensions of my Master’s work has been analyzing the figurative interpretation of Jewish rites, in parallel with the different levels of Biblical interpretation in the writings of Augustine. Then, I first came to the US to work as a teaching assistant for the French Department at Wofford College. Upon returning to France, I reassessed and completed my original research on Augustine and Jewish rituals at La Sorbonne where I graduated with a Master Histoire des mondes antiques in 2013. After teaching history in a high school near Paris for one year, I left the City of Lights for Atlanta and completed a ThM at Candler School of Theology.

Jewish Religious Cultures

Matthew Brittingham
My primary interest is in American Judaism, particularly the intersections of religion and print culture in 19th and 20th century American Jewish history. I also have interests in American religious cultures, religious studies theory, Yiddish language and literature, and Jewish participation in modern sport. In 2012, I received my BA in Religion from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and my MA in Jewish Studies from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2014. I have also recently studied at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. I am enrolled in the Jewish Studies certificate program through Emory’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies.


Keenan Wills Davis
is a doctoral student in the Jewish Religious Cultures course of study with a focus on bioethics. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, he studied neuroscience and Jewish studies (interdisciplinary), graduating with highest distinction. He then served as a corps member of Teach For America and for three years taught high school chemistry, physics, biology, and math. Keenan completed his MA in bioethics through Emory University's Center for Ethics with a thesis analyzing the impact of biotechnology on human dignity. His current interests are virtue ethics, moral psychology, and the relationship between humans, nature, and technology.  

New Testament

Elizabeth Arnold is in the New Testament course of study. She has an M.Div in Biblical Studies from Gardner-Webb University Divinity School and a B.A. in English Education from Grand Valley State University. Her research Interests: Luke-Acts (especially its relationship with Genesis), humor and comedy in the biblical text, and the presence of theatrical/dramatic devices in the New Testament.


Jonathan Groce In fall 2016 I entered the New Testament course of study in Emory's GDR. I grew up in southern California, in the LA area (and I drive like it!), and lived on the west coast until I finished my BA in Linguistics and Philosophy at UC Santa Barbara (2012). Learning classical Greek and biblical Hebrew during my time at UCSB got me hooked on biblical studies, so I got my MDiv at Denver Seminary, where I met my lovely wife, Kathryn. After finishing my MDiv fall 2014, I got my ThM at Duke Divinity School. Kathryn and I got married and moved out to Georgia to start life at Emory shortly thereafter.

My scholarly specialty is constructions of masculinity in the New Testament. In my ThM thesis I argued that Revelation is, in part, a response to a crisis of masculinity. Broadly speaking, that project had me looking at the way the New Testament contributed to ancient gender discourses in light of its historical context. As I develop as a scholar and eventually turn my attention to a dissertation, I would hope to find a project that lets me employ similar investigative tools. To sharpen such tools, I am pursuing the certificate in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.


Donghyun Jeong My research interest focuses on reading the Pauline letters with particular attention to Paul’s interaction with his social and cultural environment. It is fascinating to explore the ways in which Paul, as a diaspora Jew who traveled around urban areas, engaged in multi-layered conversations throughout his letters, in private and communal, practical and conceptual, religious and political levels. I am also interested in how Paul’s letters were read and appropriated in the subsequent centuries among diverse groups and individuals with competing views. At Yale Divinity School, I wrote my thesis on how Paul rhetorically shaped his discourse of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 for his Corinthian congregation, moving through Stoic cosmology and Jewish Apocalyptic tradition, and completed my S.T.M. degree (2016). Before coming to the United States. I received two B.A. degrees in Korean and English Literature from Yonsei University in Seoul (2009) and earned an M.Div. from Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary in Seoul (2014). My wife, Hyojin, and I currently live in Decatur with two young kids.


Jarrett Knight  I graduated from the College of William and Mary with a B.A. in Religious Studies in Philosophy in 2010. After spending a year working with a church in Raleigh, N.C., I earned an MTS in Bible in 2013 from the University of Notre Dame.

My interests in biblical studies include philosophical hermeneutics, metaphor theory, literary criticism, the gospel of Mark, and the letter to the Hebrews. My current work focuses on the implications of understanding the gospel of Mark as parable.   

Zane McGee
completed his undergraduate studies at Oklahoma Christian University before working overseas in Brazil for six years. Upon returning to the U.S., Zane completed a M.T.S. at Candler School of Theology before entering the PhD program in New Testament at Emory. His research interests are broadly in Paul’s use of familial language/metaphor and early Christian traditions in the apostle’s letters. He and his wife live in Atlanta and try to keep their three boys from destroying their home.


Steven Marquardt  Before coming to Emory, I earned a B.A. with a double major in Biblical Studies and Pastoral Ministry at Multnomah University (2007), an M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies at Western Seminary (2011), and a Th.M. with an emphasis in New Testament at Western Seminary (2015).

My research interests focus on Luke-Acts, the Pauline Epistles, and the Johannine Epistles. I am also interested in different critical approaches that provide insight into the biblical text. I gained experience in textual criticism by writing my Th.M. Thesis (“The Text-Critical Problem of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35") on the text-critical issue in 1 Corinthians associated with the famous passage on women’s speech in the assembly. After examining relevant external and internal evidence, I concluded that this text is most likely a post-Pauline addition to 1 Corinthians. Further, I am intrigued by the contributions that socio-historical criticism can make to biblical interpretation. Along these lines, I am interested in exploring how an understanding of Greco-Roman history, literature, and social conventions can inform exegesis. I have paid particular attention to Paul’s approach to social reciprocity, and I believe that a proper understanding of Paul’s relationship with his churches must interact with Greco-Roman concepts such as the patron-client relationship, societas, etc.

My wife and I are from the Pacific Northwest, and we come to Atlanta with our cat Midnight. When I am not studying, my wife and I enjoy traveling, discovering new restaurants, taking walks together, and participating in outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking.


Alexander P. Thompson
Alexander P. Thompson
  Background: B.A. from the University of Evansville majoring in Archaeology, Classics, and Biblical Studies; M.Div. from Candler School of Theology, concentration in Scripture and Interpretation; M.Litt. from University of St. Andrews in Scripture and Theology as the Bobby Jones Fellow

Research Interests: Literary, narrative, and rhetorical elements of the New Testament in conversation with ancient and modern literary theory. Also interested in questions of biblical theology and the overlap of religion and literature more broadly. Please feel free to contact me at

Person, Community, and Religious Life

Lauren Calvin Cooke is a Person, Community, and Religious Life student in the area of Religious Education. Her primary research interest is in Youth Ministry, and how the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible can assist young people in navigating the challenges of adolescence through the lens of faith. She holds a B.A. from Lipscomb University in Theology and Ministry with a concentration in Youth Ministry, and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary with a certificate in Theology, Women, and Gender.

Eunil David Cho
My area of concentration is in Religious Practices and Practical Theology. As a practical theologian, I primarily look into ways to link pastoral theology with psychology, intercultural studies, and congregational studies.  My current research focuses on a narrative approach to pastoral care, with particular attention to seeing how narrative can be used in understanding interpersonal identity formation and experiences of trauma and loss, especially in intercultural settings.

Prior to doctoral studies, I completed my B.A. at the University of Michigan in 2007 and my M.Div. at Emory’s Candler School of Theology in 2015. I also taught middle school social studies for two years. Currently, as an ordination candidate in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have been serving a multicultural congregation as a minister of education for several years.


Emily “Michelle” Ledder  concentration in Homiletics and Pedagogy.  In addition to my primary discipline, I teach workshops for the Jones Program of Ethics and am enrolled in the Religious Practices and Practical Theology Concentration. I earned my B.A. in Theology and Philosophy from Eastern Nazarene College in 2007. My M.Div., with a concentration in Theology and Ethics, was completed in 2010 at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. My research interests include liberative and subversive pedagogies; the relationships between power, agency, and transformation; multicultural homiletical theories and practical theologies; and practical theories of epistemology. My dissertation project will focus on using the prophetic from prophetic preaching to interrogate teaching methods and methodologies for multicultural deficiencies and to construct multicultural competencies.

Hyemin Na (Practices concentration), and I am also pursuing a certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I have a BA from Harvard in Visual Environmental Studies and an MDiv from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. My current research interests are as follows: Digital Cultures, Visual Cultures, Religious Practices, Postcolonial Theory, and Feminist Theory. 

R. Nick Peterson
Concentration in Religious Practices and Practical Theology.  My research interests focus on issues of race and racism within liturgical contexts.  My work explores how racial identities are constructed, performed, affirmed, and disavowed within liturgical practice and worship.  I am also interested in the legacy of white supremacy in Christian worship and how antiracist social movements can inform the construction of radically inclusive Christian liturgies.  Prior to my time at Emory, I pastored Capital Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, PA and was the worship coordinator and an adjunct at Lancaster Theological Seminary. I hold a B.A. in Africana Studies and Business Management from Franklin & Marshall College and a M.Div from Lancaster Theological Seminary.  I am currently pursuing ordination in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.


Theological Studies

Jennifer Carlier
My research focuses on the language we use to talk about and relate to God. While working on my M.A. in English Literature (Leiden University, The Netherlands, 1999) I discovered how potent words can be: they encapsulate memory; they have the power to subdue, and the potential to liberate; they allow the imagination to soar, yet limit what the mind is able to think. During my M.T.S. (Utrecht University, The Netherlands, 2007) and later my M.Div. studies (Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA, 2014) I began to explore the possibilities of language for liberating and expanding our sense of who God is, how we relate to God, and how we relate to each other as a result. I am particularly interested in feminist and queer theologies, as well as theories of metaphor. I am using the cognitive linguistic theory of metaphor to explore how metaphorical language both describes and prescribes our notions of, and relation to God. I’m curious about the challenges and opportunities metaphors provide for opening up constructive and communal approaches to addressing and naming a God who is both revealed and wholly other.

I am currently working towards a Ph.D. in Theological Studies, and am enrolled in the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies certificate program.

Diana (Rodriguez) Click
My research in Theological Studies draws upon women’s voices within Latino/a theologies, Christian mysticism, Global theology, and World Christianity. In my studies, I am principally concerned with how theology done in conversation with the history of Latino/a communities (esp. Puerto Rican women) contributes to fuller Christian understandings of doctrines of revelation, theological anthropologies, and pneumatologies. The passion I have for vocational work in theological education remains informed by the conviction that diverse cultural expressions of Christian theology are key sources for Christian theological epistemology. My educational background includes a B.A. in Humanities and Bible from Johnson University Florida and a M.Div. from Candler School of Theology.

Wyatt Harris My research interests are in systematic theology, continental philosophy, and critical theory. I am primarily interested in exploring various metaphysical systems and their construction in the above fields with a special emphasis on alternative metaphysical projects that work within and against the normative tradition, especially those of western religion and western Christianity in particular. Constructively, I am interested in what different metaphysical apparatuses and constructions might do for theology, especially for issues in Christian systematic theology such as the formation of the doctrine of God, the Trinity, Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. I am also specifically interested in exploring what different and alternative metaphysical systems, and the theologies resulting from them, might mean for the ethical and political thought of the church in the public sphere. My interests here lie with, and find much inspiration from, the thought of Protestant theologian Robert W. Jenson and also the continental philosopher Gilles Deleuze.

Before entering the GDR in Theological Studies at Emory, my educational background includes a B.A. in English from the University of Mississippi and a M.Div. from Beeson Divinity School, Samford University. 

Callie Tabor
  My research interests include feminist theology, twentieth-century Catholic theology, and theology and literature.  I am particularly interested in exploring the relationship between theology and comedy, drawing upon writings on the theology of nature and grace, as well as literary sources.  Before arriving at Emory, I spent five years studying in the UK where I received an MA (Hons) in English from the University of St. Andrews and an MA in Christian Theology (Catholic Studies) from Durham University. 

Michael Yandell
  I received a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of Tennessee at Martin (2011) and a Master of Divinity from Brite Divinity School (2015). I am an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As a veteran of the U.S. Army, I am interested in the concept of moral injury – especially as it relates to a doctrine of God that provides opportunity for reconciliation between aggressors and victims of violent acts. I plan to engage with other disciplines on the topic of moral injury through Emory’s concentration in Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding.

West and South Asian Religons

Tenzin Bhuchung
I graduated with a Shastri degree in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist philosophy from the Central University of Tibetan Studies, Varanasi, India and with a Masters in Asian Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. My graduate research at Emory will focus on the intersection of Buddhist philosophy and practice by engaging in an in-depth research on the philosophical foundations and contemplative practices leading to the state of liberation. Liberation, as a soteriological concern within this tradition has many levels. For example, engendering a particular way of thinking based on loving-kindness and empathy can give rise to ‘liberation’ from hatred. Ultimately, liberation refers to the state of perfect Buddhahood. My concentration will be on ‘practical’ madhyamaka philosophy as it relates to the fundamental Buddhist quest of seeking liberation from afflictive emotions. I will do so by undertaking a comparative study of madhyamaka philosophy and meditation techniques in the Dzogchen teachings of Nyingma tradition and the Madyamaka and tantric teachings of Geluk tradition of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

Rose Deighton 
Rose is a doctoral student in the West and South Asian Religions program where she studies Islam and Sufism primarily and works on Buddhism as her secondary tradition. She received her M.A. in Religion and Islamic Studies from the University of Toronto, where she focussed on the translation and analysis of Medieval Sufi writings from North Africa. Rose’s current research is situated at the confluence of Sufi theology and literature, feminist thought, and theories of embodiment. Her dissertation project looks specifically at how mind-body dualism in Sufi theology is an instrument in the construction of oppressive, patriarchal literary and popular imaginations and social configurations of gender.  She seeks to re-imagine and re-purpose theoretical insights from the contemporary body-positivity movement as hermeneutic tools and use them to construct a body-positive Sufi theology. Using Muslim feminist writing and contemporary body-positivity models as her theoretical framework, Rose seeks to redefine popular paradigms in Sufism in ways that affirm the body as an integral dimension of the human being . Her research will introduce the voices of several female Sufi teachers who have been overlooked by scholars, to the realm of academic study and critical analysis. 

Rose is the Graduate Assistant to the IDEAS Fellowship (Interdisciplinary Exploration and Scholarship), which she has helped to facilitate for four years. She is currently an ORDER Fellow (On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers) and teaches IDS 220, a course called “What Does it Mean to be Human?"  Rose is passionate about liberal arts education and aspires to work in the development of new curricular models for undergraduate programs. She pursues this interest and her passion for creative and inclusive pedagogy through extensive work and involvement in Emory’s Institute for Liberal Arts. 

Aalekhya Malladi  My research interests are mainly in bhakti (devotional) narratives, specifically, those centered on/written by women. I am particularly interested in studying a Telugu poet, Tarigonda Vengamamba, whose versatile compositions have earned her the title “Telugu Mīra”. I will study Vengamamba’s compositions, which provide a unique female perspective on bhakti and yoga. I also hope to extend my research to examine how her life-story and compositions are received in the modern day. I am interested in pursuing a certification in Women and Gender Studies, and concentrate in Religious Practices and Practical Theology. 

I received by B.A. in Comparative Literature and African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures from Rutgers University, New Brunswick (2014), where I wrote my honors thesis about women’s narratives in the Vana Parva of the Mahābhārata. I received my M.A. in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies from Columbia University (2016). My M.A. thesis focused on gender representations in pre-modern Telugu texts. I am proficient in Telugu, Hindi, Sanskrit, and French, and have training in classical Carnatic music. 

Siti Sarah Muwahidah
Her study concentrations are in Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding as well as in Political Theology and Theory of Practice. She received an MA in Religious Studies from Florida International University, in the United States and another MA in Religious Cross-Cultural Studies from Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies, Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia. She has been actively engaged in and has managed programs in human rights, interfaith and peacebuilding among elite and grassroots groups, especially during her tenure at MAARIF Institute for Culture and Humanity, Jakarta. She serves as a board member and program director for an Atlanta NGO, Building Understanding.  She is a Fulbright Presidential Fellow (2010) and Asian Public Intellectual Fellow (2009).  Currently, she is conducting her dissertation fieldwork on Sunni-Shī'i relations in Indonesia. Since 2004, she has conducted research on conflict and peacebuilding issues in Southeast Asia, including in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Her research interests include: Sunni and Shī'i dynamics, interfaith dialogue, religion and peacebuilding, Islam and human rights, religion and science, religion and ecology, as well as women and religion.

Ved Patel
My primary focus is on Hinduism, and a secondary focus on Islam. My primary area of interest is Hindu devotional movements in late medieval and early colonial India, specifically in Gujarat. Currently, I am exploring the emergence of service practices in the Swaminarayan Sampraday and Pushtimarg. My research is supported by the Religious Practices and Practical Theology concentration, and I also serve as the Religious Life Scholar for Hindu traditions at Emory. I completed my BA at the University of California, Irvine in Religion and then went on to complete two MA degrees in Religion at the University of Florida (2012) and Oxford University (2014).

Upali Sraman  Before coming to Emory Upali graduated from Harvard with a Master of Divinity degree in 2016. He was born in Bangladesh but did all his studies in Sri Lanka, having graduated with a B.A degree  with Sanskrit major at Peradenya University. After completing his studies at Peradeniya he spent a Fall semester in 2011, at the Goettingen University of Germany. He also completed an M.A. (Buddhist Studies) at the Sri Lanka International Buddhist Academy. Officially within the West and South Asian Religions (WSAR) track, Upali Sraman primarily focuses on Buddhism and his secondary field of interest includes religion in South Asia. 

Azadeh Vantanpour My research interest focuses on the Yārsān religious group in Iranian Kurdistan. My current research is on the correlations and connections between Yārsān’s sacred music, sacred food, sacred texts, materiality, and religious beliefs and their effects on healing and public well-being.  I am also interested in the concept of Madness in Sufism and the appropriation of healing as a resistance movement and a path to liberation among marginalized religious groups.

I hold three master degrees in Iranian Culture and Languages from Shiraz University in Iran, Folk Studies, and Religious Studies from Western Kentucky University. 


Alex Yiannopoulos My research focuses on late Indian Buddhist philosophy, especially the issue of “reflexive awareness” (svasaṃvitti) in its relation to the theory of perception and the wider discourse on the nature of consciousness. After graduating with degrees in Linguistics and Philosophy from Boston College, I moved to Nepal, where I spent nearly six years studying Buddhist texts and the Tibetan language at a monastery in Kathmandu. My M.A. is in Buddhist Philosophy and Himalayan Languages, awarded from the Rangjung Yeshe Institute (Center for Buddhist Studies) at Kathmandu University.


Riza Yildirim My primary research interest is Alevi doctrines and praxis of Islam (broadly defined) across Islamic world with special reference to Turkey, Iran, and the Balkans. I approach to the phenomenon of “Alevi Islam” within an interdisciplinary perspective, attempting to understand  it within a combined vision of popular Shi’ism, Sufism, and Islamic orthodoxy (versus heterodoxy) discourse on the one hand, and in comparison with mystic, messianic traditions in sister religious traditions with special stress on Jewish messianism, on the other. In order to better assess the intellectual infrastructure and learning tools of Alevi traditions, I am particularly interested in Oral Tradition and collective memory studies. In my previous scholarly career, I have already studied the history of Alevi and Bektashi people in the Ottoman lands. My first dissertation obtained from Bilkent University focused on the emergence of the Qizilbash identity in the course of the Otoman-Safavid imperial confrontation. In Emory University, I am further digging into religious aspects of the Alevi identity. In the meantime, I am expanding my research towards other Alevi groups such as several popular Shi’ite communities (ostensibly Twelver), Ismailis, Ahl-i Haqq, Nusayri Alevis or Alawites, and Bektashis in the Islamic world. I hope to develop a conceptual framework to understand and study these non-orthodox versions of Islam, which I provisionally call “the other Islam”, the other in a sense that the literature on Islam, both modern Western and classical Islamic, pay dramatically disproportional attention when compared to their demographic and practical prevalence among Islamic masses.