A Newsletter of the Department of Religion at the University of Florida
On November 30 to December 1st, 2009,
in the village of Uapui Cachoeira, on the
Aiary River, Alto Rio Negro, a large assembly
took place to inaugurate a new "shamans' school"
co-founded by the son and daughter of the
principal shaman of the Baniwa, Manuel da Silva,
and the anthropologist Robin M. Wright, who
has worked with communities of the Aiary, and
especially with Manuel and his family, since 1976.
According to Dr. Wright, the shamans' school was
the fruit of years of searching for a foundation
interested in supporting the art and practice of
"traditional shamanism." This was different from
the traditional medicine" projects implanted in
communities of the Icana River, where indigenous
"health agents" since the 1980s have sought to
forge a middle ground between knowledge of
medicinal plants and Western biomedicine. The
shamans' school, supported by the Foundation
for Shamanic Studies, coordinated by the world-
renowned anthropologist Michael Harner,
emphasizes the transmission of the cosmology
and metaphysics of the "true shamans" wisdom,
which has for years suffered attrition and was in
danger of disappearing altogether. Dr. Wright
has worked on the organization of the House of
Shamanic Knowledge since its inception. At the
founding ceremony, he gave the new Shamans'
school an album of photos of all Baniwa shamans
of the Northwest Amazon whom he had known
or heard of and a photo of a dabukuri taken in
1959. He also gave to the illi. l .... I an album
of reproductions of ancient maps, drawings, early
photos of Baniwa ill .'. II t ,- Iiil.. ; (from the
1920s to the present), and various individuals
important to their history. The last was intended
not only as a pedagogical tool but also as a way of
"bringing the ancestors closer to us," as one Baniwa
school teacher stated.
In November, Dr. Zoharah Simmons received the "Quiet Courage" award
from the Rosa Parks Quiet Courage Committee of Gainesville. According to
a Gainesville Sun article on the award ceremony (Nov. 30, 2009), "The award
goes to those who, through their actions, display the same courage as Rosa
Parks, a black woman who in 1955 refused to give up her seat on an Alabama
bus to make room for a white passenger. Her actions became a symbol of the
civil rights movement and launched a boycott of the Montgomery bus system."
Dr. Simmons was honored for her work, beginning in 1964, with the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as the SNCC, in Mississippi. The
Sun article quoted Dr. Simmons: "Little people can change things. Things that
seem unchangeable can be changed. I lived it."
Ihe' Faut News Iv
Vasudha Narayanan published an article "Hindu
Attitudes to Genetically Modified Food" in
Acceptable Genes: k,.'.t.., .,,.*. CulturalPerspectives.
She is also an Associate Editor of the Brill
Encyclopedia ofHinduism (vol, 1, 832 pages), which
has just been published. She also gave several papers
at the annual meeting of the AAR and a talk at the
National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore,
India in December 2009. She is also leading a group
of UF faculty planning for a possible university-wide
required humanities course. She is team-teaching a
trial version of the course, tided "What is the Good
Life," this spring.
Jason Neelis is spending the 2009-2010 academic
year in Bochum, Germany, where he is a research
fellow at the Ruhr-Universitit Bochum.
Anna Peterson's new book, Everyday Ethics
and Social Change, was published by Columbia
University Press in September 2009. The book
argues that resources for an alternative social and
environmental ethic are embedded in everyday
life. The book was the subject of an interview
published by ,. *'".i Dispatches. Professor Peterson
is also involved in two new collaborative research
projects, one on religious values in practice, with
colleagues at UF, and another on "animal virtues,"
with biologist Marc Bekoff and several others. She
is presently team-teaching a course on "The Ethics
of Sustainability" with colleagues from UF's schools
of Building Design and Construction. The course
is part of a grant supported by the National Science
Foundation, which will also lead to a textbook to be
published next year.
Mario Poceski published a new book, Introducing
Chinese I i..,I.. L. June 2009). The book
serves as a comprehensive yet accessible historical
survey of Chinese religions. It covers the whole
spectrum of Chinese religious history, providing
a thorough and balanced coverage of major
developments, texts, traditions, beliefs, practices,
and institutions. The book adopts a combination
of diachronic and thematic approaches, starting
with an exploration of the earliest forms of
religious beliefs and practices in ancient China,
and ending with a discussion of present-day
trends and predicaments. A substantial part of the
book focuses on the three main Chinese religious
traditions-the so-called "three teachings," namely
Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism-ach of
which is allocated two chapters. However, other
relevant traditions-such as popular religion,
Christianity, and Islam-also receive adequate
coverage. While separate chapters are dedicated
to the main traditions, throughout the book there
are also discussions of the mutual influences and
intersections among the diverse religions, and the
models of religious pluralism that evolved in the
course of Chinese history. The book also considers
the ways in which religious traditions interact with
other social forces and cultural phenomena, such as
political authority, literary production, and artistic
representation. In addition to the new book, in
2009 Professor Poceski also wrote a number of
shorter publications, including two book chapters,
three books reviews, and an encyclopedia entry.
Whitney Sanford gave a plenary talk "A Gandhian
Approach to Food Democracy" at the Peace and
Justice Studies Association Conference at Marquette
University in Milwaukee in October 2009. She
offered a keynote address, "Greening and Feeding
the World: Interdisciplinary Dimensions," at the
Greening the Curriculum Conference, The Council
for Spiritual and Ethical Education in Miami in
January 2010, and this spring she will give a talk
on "Gandhi, Food Democracy, and Sustainability"
as the Thompson Lecture at Kalamazoo College
in Michigan. She has been invited to participate in
the 2010 U.S.-French Symposium on "Developing
Partnerships for Sustainable Water Management and
Agriculture in the context of Climate and Global
Change" this May. Sanford is on the UF Committee
on Sustainability and working on the Prairie Project,
a workshop to be offered this August for integrating
Sustainability into the UF curriculum. The Prairie
Project is modeled on Emory University's highly
successful Piedmont Project and Northern Arizona's
Zoharah Simmons has given a number of lectures
and presentations recently. She was the keynote
speaker for the Florida Free Speech Forum in
February, speaking on the subject "Islam: Myth
vs. Reality." Also in February, Dr. Simmons gave
a keynote lecture at the Memorial Tribute to Rosa
Parks, a lecture titled "Courage in the face of
Fear." Dr. Simmons was a major speaker in UF's
celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. in January,
participating in a panel on "Deconstructing Race:
Politics, History and Science." She spoke on "The
African American Struggle Against U.S. Racism."
Finally, in December, Dr. Simmons spoke on a
panel discussion on "The 1960s Sit-Ins and its
importance to the Civil Rights Movement."
Bron Taylor recently published Dark Green
R,'.`. v, Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future
(University of C -il.,, i,. and established a
new website with supplementary materials related
to it. His Encyclopedia ofk,'.1.I ,.*. tINature was
featured in a forum, to which he contributed, in
the Journal of the American Academy of .:1, ,
and he contributed two articles to the quarterly
journal he edits, the Journalfor the Study of ,.:.1.t
Nature, and Culture. He also contributed a forward
to a book entitled Biodivinity and Biodiversity and
wrote an op-ed for the St. Times, which
was republished in the Gainesville Sun and other
venues. Internationally, Taylor gave the Presidential
address of the International Society for the Study
of Religion, Nature, and Culture in Amsterdam,
and a presentation about his Summer 2009 research
on grassroots environmentalism in Kenya, at the
European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
In May 2010 he will give a keynote address at the
conference "Tools of the Sacred" at the Universite
Libre de Bruxelles, and in April, the Daffodil lecture
at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Taylor
also gave invited lectures at LeMoyne College
(New York), the University of Colorado, and
Concordia University in Montreal, and conference
talks at the inaugural meeting of the Association of
Environmental Studies and Sciences in Madison,
and at the annual meeting of the American
Academy of Religion. Taylor was interviewed by
Jean Feraca for her National Public Radio program
"Here on Earth / Radio Without Borders" and for
articles in The Globe and Mail Canada's largest
national newspaper, as well as in Miller-McCune
Magazine and the Ventura County Star. He is
developing a research project, i'. Ih, ...... Science and
the Future," which will bring a variety of scholars
to UF to explore such themes, beginning in 2010.
Links to these articles, publications, and initiatives
are at www.brontaylor.com.
Manuel Vasquez published two articles, one in
the Journal of the American Academy of R i.'
assessing the recent work of Thomas Tweed
and another in African Studies comparing Latin
American and African Pentecostalisms. He also
delivered keynote presentations on religion and
immigration at Georgetown University's Berkley
Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and
Loyola University's Jesuit Social Research Institute.
In addition, Manuel is co-organizing with Philip
Williams (UF, Political Science), Timothy Steigenga
(Florida Atlantic University), and Marie Marquardt
(Agnes Scott College) a major conference entitled
"Latino Immigration to Atlanta: Connecting Faith
Communities and Addressing Critical Issues," which
will report the preliminary results of their multi-year
research project on Brazilians, Guatemalans, and
Mexicans in the New South. The conference will
take place at Emory University's Candler School of
Theology, March 19-20. For more information, see
I Stay'n TI(ch I
The next time you're surfing the web, visit the
department web site at www.religion.ufl.edu.
It's a great way to keep in touch with what is
happening in the department. Also, alumni are
encouraged to participate in the Department
of Religion alumni listserv. Alumni on this list
may post and receive e-mails to and from other
alumni and the department. This service is free,
and you may unsubscribe anytime you wish. If
you wish to subscribe, send an e-mail to
email@example.com. We hope you will join us in
Winter 2009-2010, Connections, A Newsletter of the Department of Religion at the University of Florida
Mallory Bolduc traveled to Santiago, Chile in
summer 2009 to conduct preliminary dissertation
research on religion and politics in post-transition
Rose Caraway received a 2009-2010 Latin
American Studies Doctoral Teaching Award,
to teach the LAS 4935/REL 4936 seminar on
"Religion, Culture, and Power in the Caribbean,"
which she is teaching spring 2010 semester.
Eleanor Finnegan received a teaching award from
UF's Center for European Studies that enabled her
to teach a course on Muslim Stories and Histories
in Europe during spring 2009 semester.
Gayle Lasater has moved to Philadelphia with
her new husband. Congratulations, Gayle and
Lou! She is teaching at Temple University and
finishing up her dissertation on returned Mormon
Sean O'Neil also traveled to Chile during
summer 2009 to conduct dissertation research
on "convergent Christianity," and specifically
Leah Sarat gave a conference presentation in
Mexico last summer, "El 'suefo mexicano' y
el 'Dios sin fronteras': dos visions del viaje
indocumentado en El Alberto, Hidalgo," at the
53rd Congreso Internacional de Americanistas
which was held at the Universidad Iberoamericana
in Mexico City in July 2009. She will also be part
of the Featured Speaker Series sponsored by the
UF Division of Student Affairs this spring, giving
a talk titled "The God without Borders and the
Mexican Dream: Two Visions of the Migration
Journey" in February 2010.
IAnln i News I
Shreena Gandhi defended her dissertation
and received her Ph.D. in August 2009.
Congratulations Dr. Gandhi! She is teaching at
Kalamazoo College in Michigan.
Michael Gressett also defended his dissertation
and received his Ph.D. in August 2009.
Congratulations Dr. Gressett! He is teaching
Religions of India for the department in spring
Luke Johnston is another recent Ph.D. recipient.
He defended his dissertation in spring 2009 and
is now a post-doctoral fellow at Wake Forest
University in North Carolina (his undergraduate
alma mater). Congratulations Dr. Johnston!
Charity Lanier (B.A., 1998, Law 2001) was
recently promoted and is now the Director of
Education at Medvance Institute in Baton Rouge,
Gracie Maye Switalski was born on September
15, 2009 to Paul Switalski and Katie Wasylik.
Paul and Katie are living and working in their
hometown of Tampa, Florida.
Sam Snyder (Ph.D. 2008) has moved to
Anchorage, Alaska, where his wife Liz has a
position at the University of Alaska. Sam is
working on a number of volunteer and scholarly
projects. In spring 2010 he will spend several
months as a postdoctoral fellow at the National
Sporting Library in Middleburg, Virginia, where
he will conduct research on conservation and fly
fishing. In November 2009, Sam organized and
moderated a very successful symposium titled
"A River Never Sleeps: Conservation, History,
and the Fly Fishing River." More information
on the symposium is available at www.nsl.org/
Randy D. Thomhill (B.A. 1994) reports that his
nine year old son started a non-profit organization
here in Florida. Randy writes that "Between
going to school, doing homework, playing tackle
football, being involved with our church, he
found time to start Rockwater Project: www.
rockwaterproject.org. He is trying to raise $1.00
from as many people as he can."
On February 9, Professor Ann Gold of Syracuse
University gave a talk titled "Why sacred groves
matter: Post-romantic claims."
And on February 12, Professor Virginia Garrard-
Burnett of the University of Texas gave a talk,
also sponsored by the Center for Latin American
Studies, titled "Terror in the Land of the Holy
Spirit: Guatemala under Gen. Efrain Ros Montt,
Robert Alter, renowned literary critic and author
of a series of celebrated studies and translations of
biblical literature, will offer an advanced workshop
on translating the Hebrew Bible (for faculty and
graduate students only), followed by a public
lecture on biblical literature (title TBA). This
event is being organized by the Center for Jewish
Studies and was made possible by a generous grant
from the PosenFoundation. The lecture, which
is free and open to the public, will take place on
Sunday, March 14, 5:30 PM at Hillel: 2020 W
University Ave. More information will be made
available on the CJS website: www.jst.ufl.edu.
Religion and Nature Panel
In October 2009, Religion and Nature graduate
students organized a well-attended panel
discussion titled "A Sacred Responsibility,"
addressing the ways different religions are
responding to the environmental crisis and
how religious values influence sustainable
behaviors. The panel was moderated by Ph.D.
student Eleanor Finnegan. Participants included
Rabbi David Kaiman of Congregation B'Nai
Israel; Alysia Radder, a religion major and
representative of the International Society for
Krishna Consciousness; Professor Sarra Tlili of
the Department of Asian and African Languages
and Literatures; and a student representative from
Campus Crusade for Christ. The students are
planning the second panel in the series, to be held
in April at the Food Summit.
Teaching Highlights: Religion and Animals
Students in Dr. Peterson's "Animals and Religion" with the students about the human-animal bond
class in fall 2009 had a visit from Dodger, a and about Paws on Parole, which matches shelter
therapy dog in training with the Paws on Parole dogs with inmates at the Florida Department of
program. Animal Services Education Coordinator Correction's Work Camp in Gainesville (www.
Hilary Hynes and trainer Anne Pantall spoke alachuapets.com/pop/index.html).
Winter 2009-2010, Connections, A Newsletter of the Department of Religion at the University of Florida
UF Department of Religion
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
UNIVERSITY of FLORIDA
107 Anderson Hall
PO Box 117410
Gainesville FL 32611-7410
PERMIT No. 94
From~ the Char
It has been a very busy Fall and Winter season with a lot of exciting news. We
are celebrating several awards and recognition. A list of new books by faculty
is on our website, and I hope you take a few minutes to read about them.
As you will see in this newsletter, Professor Zoharah Simmons was
honored with the 2009 Rosa Park Quiet Courage Award. Her lifetime
commitment and interest in civil rights and women's issues resulted in her
selection as one of four women to receive this award in Gainesville. Zoharah
has also been featured in our UFL homepage "spotlight!"
You can also see Professor Robin Wright's work in a wonderful video
which you can access from our website. He has been involved in a project
on the preservation and transmission of Shamanic knowledge in Northwest
Amazon. Just as the World Heritage Sites preserve the great monuments
on behalf of all cultures, this too, is a preservation of our common human
heritage. With funding from the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, the
indigenous people of Uapui village of the Northwest Amazon inaugurated the
first House of Shamanic Knowledge in the history of the Northwest Amazon,
and Professor Wright attended the event. The purpose was to revitalize interest
among youth in shamanic practice and stimulate the training of new shamans.
Several new initiatives are underway. Many of our faculty members are
spearheading an initiative to engage scholars from around the university in
a discussion about strengthening the connections between environmental
The Department of Religion hopes to provide students with academic
experiences that will offer perspectives on religion's role in our everyday
lives. We hope that through an Alumni Lecture Series and other activities,
both students and alumni will gain insights from some of today's most brilliant
minds. These occasions will also offer the opportunity for today's classes to
connect with those who came before them.
Please consider a gift to the Department of Religion to support the
department's critical educational activities for those following in your footsteps.
Please complete the form and return to the address below. Thanks for your
Yes! I would like to support the Alumni Lecture Series! (Fund #00767)
Amount: (please circle)
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studies and the humanities. We will also be
contributing towards a Sustainability major that is
in the works in the university. On another front,
along with Professors Mary Watt (chair, Languages,
Literatures, and Cultures) and Sean Adams
(History), I am teaching a pilot version of a new
interdisciplinary Humanities course called "What is
the Good Life?" Next Fall, we will be teaching several
sections of this course to 600 students.
On the teaching front, some exciting news about Fall. We are so happy
that three of our professors have been successful in a university-wide call
for proposals by the Honors program. This means that we will have some
innovative courses in 2010-11. David Hackett will be teaching Sacred
Journeys, Whitney Sanford will be doing a new course called Foodscapes (in
collaboration with Rosalie Koenig of Agronomy), and Robert Kawashima,
in collaboration with Nina Caputo of History, will teach a course called The
Bible and Western Culture.
We have started a new Friday Bulletin to give updates on our lectures,
events, and news. Please let us know if you would like to receive this via email!
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