Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Religions
Course of Study Description
AAMER (Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Religions)
The course of study in AAMER (Asian, African, and Middle Eastern Religions) focuses on Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Indigenous and Islamic traditions (listed alphabetically with no implied hierarchy), as well as Christianity and Judaism as they are practiced in Asian, African, and Middle Eastern regional contexts. The course of study changed its name to AAMER in 2022 from its previous label WSAR (West and South Asian Religions) to better encapsulate the full range of what our faculty and students study. AAMER draws on the extensive strengths of Emory’s faculty in these diverse traditions to offer seminars and dissertation supervision from a range of methodological perspectives. While the named religious traditions broadly define study within AAMER, students and faculty also engage traditions comparatively with attention to cross-fertilization of ideas, exchange of practices, and common patterns between traditions practiced in this broad region as well as diasporic communities throughout the world.
Students in AAMER typically specify a primary religious tradition from among those named above as the focus of their training and research. Students also develop a secondary field of expertise: a second religious tradition within AAMER or an area of academic inquiry that critiques, reframes, or modifies how religious traditions are understood and practiced. The result is a diverse intellectual community that engages in conversations about religion in a wide range of cultural, historical, and theoretical contexts. These conversations are pursued through the regularly scheduled AAMER colloquium, at which faculty and advanced graduate students present their research.
Methodologically, the faculty in AAMER prepare students in a broad range of approaches to religious studies, including ethnography, history, gender studies, philosophical studies, performance theory, philology, cultural and post-colonial studies, literary and legal studies, hermeneutics, and contemplative practices. Most students will specialize in one of these approaches, usually incorporating elements of one or more of the others. Seminars in these methodologies are offered regularly in the GDR, which requires students in all courses of study to take at least two specially designated “theory and method seminars.” In some cases, methodological preparation will come through directed readings in addition to seminars.
The AAMER faculty hold that indigenous categories and local cultures play crucial roles in the formation of the academic study of religion. Thus, in addition to the rigorous training in methods described above, AAMER students are encouraged to conduct research in Asian, African, and Middle Eastern communities, whether in diasporic contexts or in the many nations that comprise the AAMER region of focus. Our students have outstanding success in securing external grants to fund this year of research.
Languages are key to exploring indigenous categories and local cultures and AAMER places high premium on language competency. Language requirements for AAMER students are tailored to their projects and are decided in conjunction with their primary adviser in consultation with the wider AAMER faculty upon admission to the program. AAMER students must demonstrate advanced research proficiency in two or more languages (other than English), at least one of which must be an Asian, African, or Middle Eastern language. Emory currently offers introductory to advanced levels of instruction in the following languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi-Urdu, Persian, and Tibetan. Students also may study other less commonly taught languages, such as Bahasa, Kannada Sanskrit, Swahili, Tamil or Telugu through tutorials. AAMER faculty offer advanced reading courses in some of these languages, though students may need intensive language programs outside of Emory (through other US university summer programs, international summer programs, or private tutorial) for beginning and intermediate instruction. Some language preparation prior to admission is nearly always necessary.
Students complete two years of course work that includes seminars, language study, and teacher training (in two assistantships and one associateship). In the third year, students take preliminary exams and prepare the dissertation prospectus, which must be completed by the beginning of the fourth year, when they enter “candidacy.” While these requirements are standard, every student’s career will differ to some degree. After entering candidacy, students generally devote the fourth year to dissertation research; the AAMER program encourages research “in the field” (whether that is in a distant country, in a diasporic community in the USA, in archives and museums, or deep engagement with digital media linked to religious communities and traditions). Whatever the case, students most often do fieldwork with the support of a research grant. In the fifth year, students write up their research, aiming to complete the dissertation by the end of that year or, in some cases, the year after. Upon admission, students receive a stipend for five years of full-time study (continuously through summer months when courses and seminars are not offered on campus). Financial support can be extended to six or more years by applying for competitive grants and fellowships that are offered by external foundations or, to a limited degree, by Emory’s Laney Graduate School.
Emory’s Woodruff Library houses significant holdings in Asian, African, and Middle Eastern religions. The Pitts Theology Library also has extensive holdings related to these fields. Considerable acquisitions are being pursued via electronic formats, including extensive holdings in Tibetan texts.
Emory and Atlanta offer wide resources in support of the program. Many AAMER students join the certificate programs that GDR offers in fields such as: Religion, Conflict and Peace-Building; Global Christianity; and Religious Practices. Others join the certificate programs offered by Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS); or the Center for Mind, Brain and Culture (CMBC). The Emory Forum for the Ethnographic Study of Religion offers interdisciplinary lectures and workshops. Emory’s School of Law houses the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, offering seminars and symposia in the interrelations among law, religion, and religious human rights. The Atlanta metropolitan area offers significant opportunities for the study of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern religious traditions in their diaspora context in the American South. Emory enjoys cordial relations with many religious communities, which have been most hospitable in welcoming students to observe and study their communities and practices.
Associated Research Programs and Forums
Emory Forum for the Ethnographic Study of Religion
South Asia Seminar
PhD Program in Islamic Civilizations Studies
Rose Deighton, “Finding God Between Water and Clay: Contemporary Sufi Women Re-Imagine the Self, Teachings, and Community,” Post-doc, The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University.
Tenzin Bhuchung, "Gampopa's Mahāmudrā: View, Meditation, Conduct"
Alexander Yiannopoulos, "The Structure of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy: A Study of Object-Cognition in the Perception Chapter (pratyakṣapariccheda) of the Pramāṇasamuccaya, the Pramāṇavārttika, and Their Earliest Commentaries"
Cheikh Seye, The Concept of Jihad in Mouridism (1883-1923)
Anandi Knuppel, “Beyond Seeing: Embodied Multisensory Performance, Experience, and Practice in Contemporary Transnational Gaudiya Vaishnavism”
Summar Shoaib, "Fulfilling the Mission: Minhāj-ul-Qur'ān, Women's Authority and Reinstilling Love for the Prophet
Rebecca Makas, “In Spite of Their Thoughts Their Words Require Interpretation: Silence and Ineffability in Medieval Islamic Mysticism” - Assistant Professor at Villanova University
Deeksha Sivakumar, Dolls on Display: A South Indian Festival of Identity and Play"
Recent Placements and Promotions (2012–2017)
Gil Ben-Herut, Assistant Professor, University of South Florida
Manuella, Ceballos, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Antoinette DeNapoli, Associate Professor, Texas Christian University
Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, Co-Founder and President, Courage of Care Coalition
Philip Dorroll, Assistant Professor, Wofford College
Tiffany Hodge, City Director for After School Programs, Center for Refugees, Nashville
Aftab Jassal, Assistant Professor, Colgate University
Harshita Mruthinti Kamath, Assistant Professor, Emory University, Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies
Constance Kassor, Assistant Professor, Lawrence University
Jonathan Loar, South Asian Reference Librarian, Library of Congress
Mohamed Mohamed, Assistant Professor, Northern Arizona University
Mohammad Abdun Nasir, Assistant Professor, State University of Islamic Studies, Lombok, Indonesia
Jennifer Ortegran, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College
Brendan Ozawa-de Silva, Associate Director for Education Programs, Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics, Emory University
Catherine Prueitt, Assistant Professor, George Mason University
Peter Valdina, Assistant Professor, Albion College
Katherine Zubko, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina, Asheville
Recent Dissertations (2012–2017)
Manuella Ceballos (2016): “Violence and Communal Boundaries in the Western Mediterranean.”
Tiffany Hodge (2016); “The Rules of God: The Practice of Religion and Law in Rural Bangladesh.”
Jonathan Loar (2016): “My Bones Shall Speak from Beyond the Tomb: The Life and Legacy of Shirdi Sai Baba in History and Hagiography.”
Catherine Prueitt (2016): “Carving out Conventional Worlds: The Work of Apoha in Early Dharmakīrtian Buddhism and Prayabhijñā Śaivism.”
Brooke Dodson-Lavelle (2015): “Against One Method: Toward a Critical-Constructive Approach to the Adaptation and Implementation of Buddhist-based Contemplative Programs in the United States.”
Jennifer Ortegren (2015): “Dharma and Aspiration: The Shifting Religious Worlds of Rajasthani Women.”
Brendan Ozawa-de Silva (2015): “Becoming the Wish-Fulfilling Tree: Compassion and the Transformation of Ethical Subjectivity in the Lojong Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.”
Aftab Jassal (2014): “In Search of Nagaraja: Narrative, Place-Making, and Divine Embodiment in Garhwal”
Constance Kassor (2014): “Thinking the Unthinkable: Conceptual Thought, the Nonconceptual, and the Philosophy of Go rams pa bSod nam Seng ge.”
Gil Ben-Herut (2013): “Narrating Devotion: Representations and Prescriptions of the Early Kannada Śivabhakti Tradition According to Harihara’s Śivaśaraṇare Ragaḷegaḷu.”
Philip Dorroll (2013): “Modern by Tradition: Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī and the New Turkish Theology.
Mohammad Abdun Nasir (2013): “Islamic Law and Social Change: The Religious Court and the Dissolution of Marriage among Muslims in Lombok, Indonesia.”
Peter Valdina (2013): “Reading the Yoga Sūtra in Colonial India.”
Harshita Mruthinti Kamath (2012): “Aesthetics, Performativity, & Performative Maya: Imagining Gender in the Textual and Performance Traditions of Telugu South India”