Faculty: Religion in History

Coordinating Faculty:

Stephen Kern, Scott Levi, Robin Judd, Kristina Sessa

Affiliated Faculty:

John Brooke began his scholarly career exploring the tension between civil and religious meanings in eighteenth-century New England funerary symbolism and material culture. His first book, The Heart of the Commonwealth, centers on the competing public visions of established Congregationalists and dissenting Separate Baptists in eighteenth-century Massachusetts. His second book, The Refiners Fire, proposes that the origins of the theology of Mormonism has to be understood in the context of the material spiritualism embedded in early modern European hermetic belief and alchemical practice. Religious belief, organization, and practice form critical themes in his teaching about early America.

Nicholas Breyfogle is the author/editor of two books on the history of Christian religious dissent in Russian history, Heretics and Colonizers: Forging Russia’s Empire in the South Caucasus (2005) and Russian Religious Sectarianism (2007). He has also written numerous articles examining faith and pacifism, religious institutions and the public sphere, Russian Sabbatarianism and Jewish history, the ideas and practices of religious toleration in Russia, the patterns and meanings of conversion, and the links between religious communities and nonviolent political/social protest movements. He is currently interested in questions of the relationship between religiosity and environmentalism and the ways we can use religious history to understand humanity’s relationships with the natural world. He is also exploring the history of Buddhism, Shamanism, and Orthodoxy in Siberia.

Matt Goldish is currently the Samuel M. and Esther Melton Professor of Jewish History, and Director of the Melton Center for Jewish Studies at The Ohio State University. He is author of Jewish Questions: Responsa on Sephardic Life in the Early Modern Period (2008); The Sabbatean Prophets (2004); and Judaism in the Theology of Sir Isaac Newton (1998); as well as numerous articles and book chapters. He is also editor of Rabbinic Culture and Its Critics: Jewish Authority, Dissent, and Heresy in Medieval and Early Modern Times (with D. Frank; 2008); Spirit Possession in Judaism: Cases and Contexts from the Middle Ages to the Present (2003); and Millenarianism and Messianism in Early Modern European Culture, Book 1: Jewish Messianism in the Early Modern World (with R.H. Popkin; 2001). Professor Goldish is a long-time teacher in the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, and is now teaching his second year for the Wexner Foundation Heritage Program. He has presented hundreds of talks to audiences of scholars, university students, and community learners from numerous backgrounds. He is also Co- Director of the Jewish History Media Project, which is now completing its first film, The Other Men in Black: The Hasidic Movement, Past and Present. Matt Goldish is Writer and Executive Producer of this multimedia docu-drama.

Timothy Gregory has always sought to elucidate the relationships among religion, society, and the use of material culture (archaeology) in dealing with both of these. His dissertation and first book, Vox Populi. Violence and Popular Involvement in the Religious Controversies of the Fifth Century AD (1979) dealt with the Christological controversies of Late Antiquity and their social and political dimension. His later work on the relationship between ancient polytheism and progressively triumphal Christianity looked at the evidence for the phenomenon at the local and individual level, while my work at present continues to examine how the change between paganism and Christianity took place and how relations between Eastern Christianity, Islam, and Western Christianity helped to shape modern views of religious differences. His main focus is on eastern (Orthodox) Christianity, but he remains interested in local cults, pagan survivals, and relations among religions in the Middle Ages and afterwards. He also serves as Director of the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia, a research and teaching project that is involved in the excavation and study of the ancient Sanctuary of Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth (in Greece) and its medieval successors.

Tryntje Helfferich, who teaches classes on the Reformation and early modern Europe, studies religious war and the intersection of religion and politics in early modern Europe. Her most recent research project, 'The Scepter Rests Well in the Hands of a Woman': Faith, Politics, and the Thirty Years War, examines, among other things, the influence of religious motivations in driving international warfare.

Jane Hathaway teaches a broad range of courses dealing in some fashion with Islam, including a unique course on Jewish communities under Muslim rule. Her specialty is the Ottoman Empire, which was an officially Muslim polity with significant non-Muslim populations. Her recent research has included the manner in which Ottoman harem eunuchs displayed their devotion to Islam, more particularly to the Prophet Muhammad and the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. In addition, Professor Hathaway serves as a member of the Melton Center for Jewish Studies.

Robin Judd joined the Department of History in 2000 as a specialist in modern Jewish and European history. Her publications include, and several articles on Jewish ritual observance. Her teaching concerns the history of Jewish secularization and acculturation. She serves on the boards of the Melton Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for the Study of Religion at Ohio State University. She also serves on the nominating committee for the Association for Jewish Studies.

Stephen Kern Is researching book on religion and its critics in the period 1900-1940. It will explore how artists (such as James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and André Gide) and intellectuals (such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Max Weber, and Sigmund Freud) criticized religion in this increasingly secular age but remained immersed in its narratives, imagery, and rhetoric. Kern will also teach a course that surveys religion and its critics since the early nineteenth century that concludes by exploring how Nazism and Stalinism provided degraded outlets for the sorts of emotional and ideological needs that religion formerly provided. His approach in the book and the course is to explore how religion provided (or failed to provide) answers to basic questions people have such as is there a god, how did the universe begin, and what is the ultimate meaning of existence as well as why is there suffering, evil, injustice, loneliness, and death.

Ousman Kobo is Assistant Professor of African History, focusing on 20th Century West African religious and social movements. He teaches a range of courses in African History, including History of Modern Africa and History of Islam in Africa. He is currently developing a course on History of Health and Healing in Africa and History of Christianity in Africa. He is completing a book manuscript titled “Unveiling Modernity: Islamic Reform in Ghana and Burkina Faso, 1950-2000.” His recent publications include, “Africa & China: New Alliance for Mutual Development?” African Advocate, 1 (February 2008) and “The Development of Wahhabi Reforms in Ghana and Burkina Faso, 1960-1990: Elective Affinities between Western-Educated Muslims and Islamic Scholars,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 57 (July 2009) and “We are Citizens too: The Politics of Citizenship in Independent Ghana,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 48 (March 2010).

Scott Levi joined the Ohio State University Department of History in 2008 as a specialist in the history of Islamic Central Asia. Levi has authored The Indian Diaspora in Central Asia and its Trade, 1550–1900 (2002) and he has edited India and Central Asia: Commerce and Culture, 1500–1800 (2007) and co-edited (with Ron Sela) Islamic Central Asia: An Anthology of Sources (2010). His teaching engages the political, social and religious history of Central Asia from the eighth-century Arab conquests to the nineteenth-century Russian colonial era. Students in his courses explore such major social transformations as the gradual association of Central Asian peoples with the Islamic faith, Islamic mysticism and other distinctive features of the faith as it came to be practiced in this region, and the importance of Islamic institutions to Central Asian society as a whole.

Margaret Ellen Newell’s research and teaching interests include colonial and Revolutionary America, Native American History, economic history, material culture, and comparative colonial American/Latin American History. She has explored the relationship between economic development and religious culture in publications including From Dependency to Independence: Economic Revolution in Colonial New England (1998); “The Birth of New England in the Atlantic Economy, 1600-1770,” in Engines of Enterprise: An Economic History of New England, ed. Peter Temin (2000); "The Colonial Economy," in The Blackwell Companion to Colonial America, ed. Daniel Vickers (2002); and Merchants and Miners: Economic Culture in Seventeenth Century Massachusetts and Peru" Revista de Indias, LIV (May-Sept. 1994). She is currently finishing a book for Cornell University Press, entitled "‘The Drove of Adam's Degenerate Seed': Indian Slavery in New England,” which explores the varieties of enslavement and enforced servitude experienced by Native American communities in colonial and Revolutionary New England, which includes discussion of the religious, ethical, and legal aspects of racialization and enslavement. Her next project will focus on the popular Enlightenment.

Kristina Sessa joined the Department of History in 2007 and is a specialist in the history of early Christianity and the late Roman Empire.  Her teaching and research emphasize the central role played by religious thought and practice in ancient social relations, ethics, and power.  She is the author of a forthcoming book, “The Formation of Papal Authority in Late Antique Italy: Roman Bishops and the Domestic Sphere.”  She also teaches courses on the intersections of gender and religion and on the emergence of competing forms of ancient Christianities. She is the Associate Director for the Center for the Study of Religion and an affiliated faculty member of the departments of Women’s Studies and Greek and Latin. 

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