Research Fellowships

CSWR Research Fellowships are available each year for two student residents who wish to enhance their academic study through research that makes a distinguished contribution to the mission of the Center in accordance with its current themes:

• Race, Religion, and Nationalism

• Matter and Spirit: Ecology and the Non-Human Turn

• Poetry, Philosophy, and Religion

• Time and Technology

• The Future of (the Study of) Religion

Research Fellows will work closely with the Director to design and implement programming related to these themes, including but not limited to lectures, conferences, reading groups, workshops, etc. These fellowships include a taxable stipend of $4000 to each Research Fellow, disbursed in two payments in October and March.

Research Fellowship applications should include an academic autobiography, an explanation of how one’s own research interests align with one or more themes of the Center, and ideas for designing and implementing academic programming in line with those themes. Each applicant will also be interviewed by the Director.

Guidelines and Suggestions

  • Applicants are welcome to consult with the Associate Director in preparing their application.

  • Applications should not exceed 1000 words.

  • The application should be attached to the regular application for residence at the Center.

  • Please note that award of a Research Fellowship is contingent upon being awarded residence at the Center.

Current Research Fellows

The 2019–20 CSWR Research Fellows are:

Mary Balkon is a third year MDiv student who works in conjunction with the “Matter and Spirit: Ecology and the Non-Human Turn” and “The Future of the Study of Religion” programming threads at the CSWR.  Her project specifically focuses on the study of animism in its indigenous and Western forms.  She facilitates a biweekly Animism reading group, in which students read and discuss scholarship related to animism, spanning disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, philosophy, physics, art, and literature.  In addition, Mary has worked with the CSWR to invite speakers to discuss their work, including David Abrams and Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Nicole Morris (she/her/hers) is a second-year MTS student in the African/African-American Religious Studies concentration and she focuses on the intersections of public health, religion, and racial justice in African-American and other marginalized communities. As a CSWR Research Fellow, she is researching the role of faith communities in addressing a variety of health concerns in various marginalized communities using a womanist theological bioethics lens. She will be hosting a series of events related to this research throughout the academic year with the theme of ‘Theological Bioethics in Marginalized Communities’. In addition to this work, Nicole is the Events Chair for Harambee at HDS and the Academics Chair for HDSSA this year.

Andre Uhl is a PhD candidate at Harvard University’s department of Visual and Environmental Studies with a secondary field in Science, Technology and Society at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. His ‘Ancient Modern AI’ research project at the Center for the Study of World Religions explores the ethics of Artificial Intelligence through the study of religion. Rather than just a scientific concept, we seek to understand ‘Artificial Intelligence’ as a powerful symbolic device that is shaped by the particular cultural identities, norms, and value systems scientific communities are embedded in. At a time where the quest for ethical AI standards has become a shared mandate of science, industry and policy, and both techno-utopian as well as -dystopian imaginaries are successfully harnessed for the solidification of scientific, political and economic interests, we seek to offer a more holistic, inter-cultural perspective for the age of global participation:

How can the study of world religions inform the ethical decision-making processes of our time? Do Christian, Buddhist and indigenous belief systems offer different pathways for ethical AI research? If so, how do we reconcile the diverse Gods of our cultures?

As a bridge between scholars of religion and the AI research community, the Center for the Study of World Religions will help to illuminate and intervene into the manifold sites of co-production where a society’s ongoing quest for shared values reverberates in the industry’s search for meaning in a technology in the making.


Past Fellows

Fellows from previous years include:

Sherah Bloor is a PhD student in The Study of Religion who works in conjunction with the “Poetry, Philosophy, and Religion” programming thread at the CSWR.  Her project manifests in managing the Divinity Poetry Workshop, which meets weekly and allows students to write and discuss poetry.  In addition, she works as the poetry editor for Periphery, the CSWR-sponsored journal of literature and art.

Hal Edmondson, M.Div  candidate. This fellowship explored the practice and meaning of monasticism in the 21st century through a lecture series featuring scholars, practitioners, and those who rightfully claim both titles. These talks examined the spirituality—and physiology—of silence, the value of contemplative practice to racial justice, and the ways that even the category of ‘monastic’ takes on political valences.

Michael Mango

Melissa Coles, MDiv candidate. Melissa is a scholar of religion, interfaith dialogue, and pilgrimage; she is a practitioner of Roman Catholicism. Her project for the Junior Fellowship is titled: "When We Walked: Pilgrimage Across Tradition." For this series, a dedicated pilgrimage discussion group meets once a month. Each meeting explores pilgrimage through the lens of a different religious tradition and features two presentations—one academic and one experiential—followed by a respondent from a different religious tradition and then group discussion. The aim of the series is to deepen awareness within individual traditions and increase dialogue across religious boundaries. All are invited on the journey.

Yeonseo (Evelyn) Nam, MTS candidate. Evelyn’s project for the Junior Fellowship is titled: "Victims and Survivors: Personal Testimonies to Life Beyond Sex Trafficking."

The most vulnerable are falling through the broken economic, education, and political systems. This gap is often a signal where religions or interfaith workers have failed to intervene. The goal of this Junior Fellow seminar series is to empower discussion amongst students and faculty across the university, to navigate ways in which religions can meaningfully assist the victims of sex trafficking and prevent the crime from happening in the first place. Upon the initial screening of a documentary film, each succeeding discussion will be informed by the implications both stated and unstated in the film, with the focus on the role of religion in exacerbating, informing, and influencing the issue of sex trafficking. The series of discussions will examine particularly the role of religion that comes to constitute a biased culture unfair to the victims of sex trafficking. Some of the guiding questions for this discussion series include: What role do religious communities play in reinforcing the issue of sex trafficking in South Korea and in other regions of the world? Where is the confluence of religion, culture, and economy in sometimes empowering the practice of sex trafficking? What can religion do to prevent the girls from turning to the last resort, and what can it do to help the victims recover? How would the role of religion in eradicating sex trafficking look different in each nation of different cultures? 

Nariman Aavani, MTS candidate with a focus on comparative religion. Nariman is a scholar of religious studies, with a focus on Comparative Theology. His project for the Junior Fellowship is titled "The Self in Light of the Other: Lectures in Comparative Theology." The core of the program will be a series of monthly lectures delivered by Harvard MTS, MDiv, ThD and PhD students whose work is in comparative theology.  The aim of this series is for the students of Comparative Theology to benefit from each other’s insights and to provide the opportunity for the presenters to develop presentation skills and share their work with fellow students.

Kate Yanina DeConinck, ThD candidate with a focus on religion and society. DeConinck's academic interests center around religious and cultural memory/memorialization, particularly as related to Ground Zero in New York City. Her junior fellowship project was titled "Aftermaths: Religion, Ritual, and Remembrance in a Multireligious World." Some of the guiding questions for this series included: What role do religious communities play in the aftermath of natural disasters or mass murder? How can rituals help individuals or groups overcome the devastation of such violence? And, what is at stake in how faith communities choose to remember (or forget) atrocities, in terms of both how they view themselves and how they view others? The programming consisted of two components: first, a series of lunchtime discussions with faculty concerning their research on themes of ritual and remembrance; and second, a variety of events coordinated in conjunction with the newly formed Religion and Politics Colloquium.

Usra Ghazi, MTS candidate with a focus on Religion, Ethics, and Politics. Ghazi’s academic interests center around the role of religion in civic engagement. In examining the intersection of religion and public life, she is particularly interested in models of interreligious engagement that situate religious actors and communities as peace-building agents, especially in instances of interreligious and ethnic conflict. Her junior fellow project is titled “Interfaith as antidote: models of faith-based civic engagement.” Some of the guiding questions for this series include: Do the social services of faith-based communities strengthen social cohesion? What impact do interfaith partnerships have on issues like homelessness? What are the sources of religious illiteracy and interreligious intolerance? This series consists of four panel conversations between representatives of faith-based and interfaith organizations as well as Harvard faculty to discuss both successful and challenging models of interfaith activism.

Leslie Hubbard, MTS candidate with a focus on Buddhist studies. Hubbard's academic interests center around medieval Chan Buddhism and specifically the role that art and bodily practices played in the assimilation of Buddhism into Chinese culture during the onset of Buddhism in China. Her junior fellow project was titled "Beyond Words: Intersections of Meditation, Visual Art, and Sacred Music and Dance across Religious and Cultural Boundaries." Some of the guiding questions for this series included: What impact do meditation and art have on the religious experience among the various world religions? What universal human needs do art and meditation fulfill in religious traditions? How can art and meditation function as a place of refuge for interreligious dialogue? This series consisted of two components: first, a monthly meditation and art engagement series in which presenters offered a short lecture followed by an active participation in the experience of meditation and/or art, and second, a series of panel presentations and discussions by Harvard faculty members on the subject, with the intention of discovering intersections of practice and theory among the world's varying religious traditions.

Naohito Miura and Jiou Park, MDiv and MTS candidates. Naohito is a scholar of religion and practitioner of a religious tradition from Japan.  Jiou is a scholar of gender and non-western societies’ response to westernization and modernization. Their joint project for the Junior Fellowship is titled "Religion, Gender and Modernity in Korea and Japan." The core of the program will be a reading group of individuals meeting on a monthly basis. In addition, they will be organizing several panel discussions, lectures, interactive seminars and /or film screenings.

Munjed Murad, ThD candidate with a focus on comparative religion. Munjed is a scholar of religious studies, with a focus on the environment in Islamic and Christian intellectual traditions. His project for the junior fellowship, titled "Religion and Nature," involves both a lecture series and a showing of films concerning the intersection of religion and nature. The aim of this series is to better understand religions through their environmental perspectives, just as it is to enrich scholars' perspectives on the environment through presentations on religious intellectual understandings of nature.

Chan Sok Park, ThD candidate in New Testament and early Christian studies. Park's research interests include the social and political ramifications of religious language, texts, and movements; individual and communal self-definition in antiquity; and Johannine Christianity. As a junior fellow, he hosted a series of reading group meetings of doctoral students on the topic of the place of reading practice in the study of religion. The group had two particular interests: First, how do we understand our own reading practice of religious texts in its academic, study-of-religion form, institutionalized in a modern university setting? What is its relation to religious reading of and for contemporary religious communities? Is this distinction even appropriate, and why? Second, what are the contemporary methodological tools for the study of religious texts in interreligious and interdisciplinary contexts? What are their strengths and limits, and the implications for the group members' own textual study?

Axel Takács, ThD candidate studying comparative theology, with a focus on medieval Christian and Islamic mysticism and theology. Takács' junior fellow project consisted of a series of public lectures on or related to comparative theology. These lectures were given both by scholars within the field of comparative theology and by scholars of a particular religious tradition whose work is in some way "theological," either explicitly or implicitly. In addition, he held several smaller, private roundtable discussions on comparative theology with HDS students .

Laura Anne Thompson, PhD candidate in the Committee on the Study of Religion, with a focus on Islamic Studies. Thompson’s junior fellow project focuses on the re-imagining of Islam in the post-Arab Spring moment. Her lectures and roundtables cover a range of topics, from the future of Islamism in Tunisia and Egypt, to the status of religious minorities in Arab Spring contexts, to the theology of post-Al Qaeda jihadism. The series will specifically explore debates about religious identity and authority, in a moment in which self-described Islamists, and in more extreme cases jihadists, have moved from the margins of the State to its center. Promising to bring together scholars from inside the region and in the United States, the series intends to initiate discussions across disciplines about how claims to “Islam,” the authority to protect it or speak in its name, are working on the ground, in a moment of great transition.

Konchok Tsering, visiting PhD student from the College for Tibetan Studies at Minzu University in Beijing, China. Born and raised in northeastern Tibet, Tsering is currently conducting research on the history of Bonpo and Buddhist religious traditions at Harvard Divinity School. Her junior fellow series tapped experts from Harvard and area schools to explore religious traditions including Bon, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Shinto. The series will explored what discourages scholars from paying closer attention a given minority tradition, what can be gained from dialogue between scholars of such traditions and those studying more popular faiths, and how an understanding of these traditions enhances the study of other, better known traditions with which they have historic interactions.

John Winter, MDiv candidate with a focus on Buddhist studies. Winter is a practicing Buddhist in the Tibetan Kagyü tradition, former Managing Director of the Dharma Ocean Foundation, and currently president of the Vajra Amrita Mandala, a small Buddhist sangha based in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to his work and Buddhist studies, Winter carries a long-held interest in opportunities for multi-religious encounters, which began during his undergraduate years at Naropa University in Colorado where intellectual life mixed with the experiences and insights of contemplative practitioners of differing religious traditions. Winter's junior fellow project, titled "Don't Know Much About: Students Teaching Students About the HDS Religious Landscape," is giving MTS and MDiv students a chance to gain basic fluency from each other about their respective traditions of study. Inspired by the observation that many students enter HDS with strong backgrounds in some traditions while having only a vague conception of others, this series of lunch conversations aims to create a welcoming space in which to "fill the gaps." Each month, presenters from one tradition share what they think every HDS student should know about their tradition, along with its most important aspects for them personally. Each presentation is followed by an informal discussion period of open exploration and curiosity.

Funlayo E. Wood, PhD candidate in African Studies with a concentration in religion. Wood's research centers on African indigenous religions, with a particular focus on the Yorùbá Ifá-Òrìsà tradition, which originates in Southwest Nigeria, and its variations and influences in the Americas. As a junior fellow, she completed a project titled "African, Diasporic, and Indigenous Religions in Conversation," through which she sought to increase the visibility of and engagement with indigenous religions at the Center and the University. She organized a series of discussions, film screenings, and a day-long symposium titled "Sacred Healing and Wholeness in Africa and the Americas," all of which explored indigenous religious worldviews and practices with particular attention to how they positively articulate with today's world.