Department of Religion

News & Events



Sam Thomas (CLU Religion Department) was one of three lead editors for A Teacher for All Generations (Brill, 2012), a collection of essays honoring James C. VanderKam on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday and twentieth year on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame. An international group of scholars—including peers specializing in Second Temple Judaism and Biblical Studies, colleagues past and present, and former students—offers essays that interact in various ways with ideas and themes important in VanderKam's own work. The collection is divided into five sections spanning two volumes. The first volume includes essays on the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East along with studies on Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Essays in the second volume address topics in early Judaism, Enoch traditions and Jubilees, and the New Testament and early Christianity.

Sam Thomas published The "Mysteries" of Qumran: Mystery, Secrecy, and Esotericism in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Society of Biblical Literature / Brill, 2009) as part of the Early Judaism and Its Literature series. The book provides a new interpretation of the functions of “mystery” language and secrecy in the Qumran scrolls. The texts preserved and composed at Qumran by the apocalyptic group known as the Yahad display an interest in revelation, interpretation, and ritual practice, and attest to the active cultivation of esoteric arts such as astrology and astronomy, physiognomy, and therapeutic “magic.” Much like its Babylonian priestly-scribal counterparts, the Yahad fostered and guarded its “mysteries”—its store of special knowledge available only to the elect—and used “mystery” terminology (especially raz) to claim authority and to erect social boundaries around themselves as the “men of the vision” and the “house of holiness.” The “Mysteries” of Qumran offers an in-depth semantic analysis of relevant terminology and integrates social-scientific and intellectual-history approaches in focusing on an important motif in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dr. Streeter recently published the book, Human Nature, Human Evil, and Religion: Ernest Becker and Christian Theology (University Press of America, 2008). The book relates the anthropological theories of social scientist Ernest Becker to Christian anthropology as it pertains to human evil.

Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community, and World, edited by Pamela Brubaker, Rebecca Todd Peters, and Laura Stivers, was named a 2007 Outstanding Academic Title by CHOICE Magazine, which is the academic magazine of the American Library Association. The book "guides readers through the complex social issues stemming from globalization, including land use, immigration, corporate accountability, and environmental and economic justice" (Westminster John Knox Press).



Past Events

Sarah Forth, Ph.D., author of Eve's Bible: A Woman's Guide to the Old Testament, gave a presentation on Wednesday, April 8 at 4pm in the Samuelson Chapel. Her lecture was entitled, "Wise Women, Warriors, and Queens: Hunting for the Hebrew Bible's Other Half of History."


March 23, 2009

The Religion Department co-sponsored a pre-release screening of the award-winning documentary "Silhouette City" ( The film is a thoughtful exploration of the relationship between extreme, militant versions of American Christianity and structures of political and military power, demonstrating how earlier "fringe" ideologies have made their way into the mainstream in American life.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers Michael Wilson and Natalie Zimmerman, Jonathan Kirsch (best-selling author of "A History of the End of the World" and other books), MeLinda Morton (Lutheran pastor and former Chaplain of the Air Force Academy), and members of the CLU faculty.


Second Annual Deborah Sills Memorial Lecture - Dr. David Chidester

May 5, 2008

Dr. David Chidester delivered the lecture "Global Dreamscapes: Religion and Dreaming in a Changing World." In the history of religions, religious dreaming has provided media for both charismatic authority and spiritual anxiety. As religious dreams have been interpreted, narrated, and enacted, they have reinforced religious orientations but they have also mediated disorientating situations. Engaging this ambivalence of religious dreaming, Chidester explored the dreams, visions, and extraordinary experiences of contemporary Zulu shamans in South Africa and North America. Bringing together religion, electronic media, and sensory embodiment in new combinations, these Zulu shamans have followed their dreams into a changing, globalizing world of orientation and disorientation.

Dr. Chidester is Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Institute for Comparative Religion in Southern Africa (ICRSA) at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He has also served as Special Advisor to the Minister of Education, Visiting Fellow with the Human Sciences Research Council, and founding member of the Board of Directors chaired by Deborah Sills. Chidester is the author or editor of over twenty books in North American studies, South African studies, and comparative religion. His major publications include Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture (University of California Press, 2005); Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown (Indiana University Press, revised edition 2003); Nelson Mandela: In His Own Words (Little, Brown, 2004); Christianity: A Global History (Harper Collins, 2000); and Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa (University of Virginia Press, 1996). David Chidester received the American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in Religious Studies in 1990 and 1997 and the Alan J. Pifer Award for social research in 2005.

Dr. Deborah Sills was Associate Professor of Religion at CLU from 1990 until her death in 2006.  She received her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara and taught in the areas of global religions, religion and popular culture, Jewish studies and women’s studies.  Her research focused on Philo and, more recently, the study of women, religion and issues related to popular culture. The last ten years of her life were spent bravely battling cancer, and she was a source of inspiration to many as she joyfully celebrated each day of her life to the end.  This lecture series has been initiated by her husband, Dr. Giles Gunn, and the CLU Religion Department to honor her and to keep her spirit alive at the university she loved.


April 17, 2008

Dr. James C. VanderKam gave a lecture entitled, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians." Dr. VanderKam is one of the world's leading experts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Judaism, and early Christianity. He is John O'Brien Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at the University of Notre Dame, and has authored and edited many books including The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, which has been translated into six languages. More recently he co-authored The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls with Peter Flint. Additionally, he has edited many of the officially published texts in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series, co-edited The Dead Sea Scrolls Encyclopedia with Lawrence Schiffman, and is currently the chief editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature, one of the premier journals in the field of academic biblical studies. His other works include the definitive critical translations of the Book of Jubilees and of 1 Enoch (with George Nickelsburg), Textual and Historical Studies in the Book of Jubilees, Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition, Enoch: A Man for All Generations, Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Measuring Time, An Introduction to Early Judaism, From Revelation to Canon: Studies in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Literature, and From Joshua to Caiaphas: Jewish High Priests After the Exile.


February 28, 2008

Dr. Richard T. Hughes discussed “The Lutheran Tradition and the Life of the Mind” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 as part of a Spring series on “The Reformation Heritage of CLU.” Dr. Hughes is the Distinguished Professor of Religion and Senior Fellow at The Boyer Center at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. He is the founder and former director of the Pepperdine University Center for Faith and Learning and was named “Faculty Person of the Year” by the college’s students. Dr. Hughes is the author of many books on American religion and Christian higher education, including Models for Christian Higher Education: Strategies for Survival and Success in the 21st Century, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind and the just-released The Myth of Christian America.


October 15, 2007

Distinguished Finnish biblical scholar Heikki Räisänen gave a lecture entitled, “Christianity and Islam:  The Mutual Intellectual Challenge” at 10am on October 15 in the Samuelson Chapel.  Professor Räisänen is known internationally for his work on the New Testament and early Christianity, and especially the epistles of Paul and Paul’s views regarding the Jewish tradition and the status of the Law.  Professor Räisänen is the author of many books including Paul and the Law, Beyond New Testament TheologyMarcion, Muhammad and the Mahatma: Exegetical Perspectives on the Encounter of Cultures and Faiths, and Challenges to Biblical Interpretation.  He was Professor of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Helsinki from 1975 to his retirement in 2006.  In Spring 2006, Professor Räisänen received the Gad Rausing Prize of Sweden’s Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities in recognition of his outstanding research on early Christian ideology.


First Annual Deborah Sills Memorial Lecture - Dr. David Carrasco

April 23, 2007




Last year's speaker was Dr. Davíd Carrasco, the Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America at Harvard Divinity School, with a joint appointment with the Department of Anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University.

Carrasco is a historian of religions specializing in hermeneutics in the study of religion, Mesoamerican religions, and the Mexican-American borderlands. He is director of the Moses Mesoamerican Archive and Research Project, which was founded at the University of Colorado, where he taught from 1977 to 1993. He then moved to Princeton University, where he taught from 1993 to 2001, when he came to Harvard. His work has been focused on the symbolic nature of cities in comparative perspective, utilizing his 20 years of research in the excavations and archives associated with the sites of Teotihuacan and Mexico-Tenochtitlan. This has resulted in publications on ritual violence and sacred space; the Great Aztec Temple, the myth of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent; and the history of religions in Mesoamerica. His work has included a special emphasis on the religious dimensions of Latino experience: mestizaje, the myth of Aztlan, transculturation, and La Virgen de Guadalupe. He is co-producer of the film Alambrista: The Director's Cut, which puts a human face on the life and struggles of undocumented Mexican farm workers in the United States, and he has recently edited Alambrista and the U.S.-Mexico Border: Film, Music, and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants (University of New Mexico Press). He is editor-in-chief of the award-winning three-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures. Carrasco was recently given the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor the Mexican government gives to a foreign national (from