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A Letter from the Director


Dear Faculty, Students, Teaching Assistants, and Friends, 

As the new director of the School of Religion, I would like to offer each of you a warm welcome back to campus. Before launching into  announcements, I would like to open by expressing my gratitude to Prof. Duncan Williams for his years of exceptional service to our program. His is an impossible act to follow, but I look forward to serving the department to the best of my ability.

And now for the announcements: First, the department is delighted to announce that we will be launching a Ph.D. program. The new program will offer doctoral degrees in three tracks: Comparative Christianities, Global Islam, and Asia Pacific Religions. We will begin accepting applications this fall and are currently working on promotional materials. Prof. Sherman Jackson has kindly agreed to serve as Director of Graduate Studies. We will be releasing more detailed information on the application process, as well as promotional materials, in the weeks to come.

Secondly, I am thrilled to welcome several new members to our faculty. This fall Profs. Cavan Concannon and Jessica Marglin will be joining our department. You will find short features on them in an upcoming newsletter. I would also like to mention Prof. Rongdao Lai, who joined us last spring. You can find out more about Profs. Concannon, Marglin, and Lai here:

Third, I am happy to share that Prof. Lynn Dodd has agreed to serve as Director of Undergraduate Studies. Please send news of events, recent accomplishments, new courses, research and fellowship opportunities, etc. to her at Your contributions help us keep this newsletter robust, so please don’t forget to keep us informed. (You needn’t be a faculty member to send us news: we encourage everyone on the list to send updates!) Also, a big thanks is due to Prof. James McHugh, who served as Director of Undergraduate Studies last year. Prof. McHugh earned tenure in the spring and is now on a research leave, having won fellowships from both the NEH and the ACLS.

Next, a few words about upcoming events. As you can see below, there are a number of  talks and events planned for September: a major conference on Muslims in Public Service (Sept. 5), organized by Prof. Jackson; a talk by Fr. Peter Phan (Sept. 10), organized by Prof. James Heft; and a conference on yoga, meditation, and integrative health (Sept. 20-21), organized by Dr. Rita Sherma (details to be posted soon). 

We also have several upper-division courses that are under-enrolled. If you have advisees or friends who are looking for REL courses, please ask them to consider REL 331, 339, or 442. We need to get a few more students in these courses in order to keep them from being closed. These small courses offer a great opportunity for students to work closely with our faculty.

And finally, please remember to check our tumblr blog and Facebook pages from time to time:

Many thanks for your continued support. I look forward to a fruitful and engaging year.

All best,

Lori Meeks

Muslims in Public Service: An Full-Day Conference, Sat., Sept. 5 (Organized by Prof. Sherman Jackson)

A full-day conference featuring Muslims in various aspects and levels of government discussing their experiences, challenges, advice and vision for the future. Keynote address to be delivered by Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).


Since 9/11, the place of Islam and Muslims in American society has become a major national preoccupation. From no-fly lists to secret surveillance of mosques to legislative campaigns against shari’a law, Muslims have frequently come under suspicion regarding their socio-political roles and aspirations in the United States. Some have even questioned whether Muslims are entitled to constitutional protections that are recognized as the birthright of all other Americans, arguing that “Islam is different.”

Yet lost in all of this controversy is the fact that Muslims continue to function as public servants at virtually every level of American government, from elected officials to advisors and political appointees, from congresspersons to judges to Homeland Security personnel. “American Muslims in Public Service,” a one-day conference that will be held on 5 September 2014 at the University of Southern California’s Tudor Conference Center, will bring together a broad cross-section of American Muslims in public service to share their experiences, perspectives, fears, hopes, advice and prognostications. The conference will be inter-active, inviting questions and perspectives from the audience, along with responses from the participants. It will be capped by a special keynote address that evening by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota). 

Click here to RSVP

DATE: Friday, September 5, 2014
TIME: 8:00 AM - 7:30 PM
LOCATION: Panels - USC Tudor Campus Center; Keynote - USC Bovard Auditorium
Continental breakfast provided
Reception to follow keynote

PANEL 1: Advisors, Aides, and Hopefuls
  • Suhail A. Khan, Conservative Activist and former Bush Appointee
  • Rahmat Khan, Candidate, Torrance (CA) City Council
  • Ilhaam Jaffer, White House Advance Associate
  • Asim Ghafoor, Former Legislative Assistant

PANEL 2: Law Enforcement and the Courts
  • Sylvester Johnson, Police Commissioner, Philadelphia
  • Mona Youssef, Jurist, Third Judicial Circuit of Michigan-Juvenile Division
  • Hassan A. El-Amin, Associate Judge for the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Maryland

PANEL 3: Muslims in Public Service in Los Angeles and California:
  • Halim Dhanidina, Judge, Los Angeles County Superior Court
  • Farrah N. Khan, Community Services Commissioner, City of Irvine
  • Belal Dalati, Commissioner, City of Anaheim
  • Haroon Azar, Department of Homeland Security Regional Director for Strategic Engagement

PANEL 4: Federal, State and International

  • Saud Anwar, Mayor of South Windsor, Connecticut
  • Larry Shaw, Senator, North Carolina
  • Shaarik Zafar, Special Representative to Muslim Communities, U.S. Department of State
KEYNOTE: Congressman Keith Ellison
5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Congressman Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Fifth District includes the City of Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs and is one of the most vibrant and ethnically diverse districts in Minnesota. Rep. Ellison’s guiding philosophy is based on “generosity and inclusion,” and his priorities in Congress are building prosperity for working families, promoting peace, pursuing environmental sustainability and advancing civil and human rights. As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, the congressman helps oversee the nation’s financial services and housing industries, as well as Wall Street. In response to the foreclosure crisis that began in 2008, Rep. Ellison wrote the Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act, which requires banks and other new owners to provide at least 90 days’ notice of eviction to renters occupying foreclosed homes. 

For the 113th Congress, Rep. Ellison was elected co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which promotes the progressive promise of fairness for all. He is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, founded the Congressional Consumer Justice Caucus and belongs to more than a dozen other caucuses that focus on issues ranging from social inclusion to environmental protection. Before being elected to Congress, Rep. Ellison was a noted community activist and ran a thriving civil rights, employment and criminal defense law practice in Minneapolis. Born and raised in Detroit, he has lived in Minnesota since earning his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990. He is the proud father of four children.

Co-Sponsored by:
  • USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture
  • USC Office of Religious Life
  • USC School of Religion
  • USC Center for Law, History and Culture
  • USC Department of American Studies and Ethnicity
  • USC Muslim Student Union
Questions? E-mail

REL Faculty Featured in Dornsife News

The Dornsife website ran multiple stories on Religion faculty and courses this summer. 

This story features Prof. David Albertson, who won the 2014 Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for his new book:

This article examines Prof. Don Miller’s work on the role that religion can play in healing the wounds of genocide survivors:

This story takes a closer look at Prof. Lori Meeks’ Maymester course, which explored the use of classical Buddhist scriptures in contemporary Buddhist communities:

And this piece explores the digital photography techniques pioneered by Prof. Bruce Zuckerman:


A Conversation with Fr. Peter Phan, Wed., Sept. 10, 2014 

Get to know the Religion faculty better: enroll in one of these small, upper-division courses!

The Religion Department is offering several small-enrollment courses this term. These courses offer the rare and rewarding opportunity to study closely with our award-winning faculty.


REL 331: Religions of East Asia

Time: Thursdays 2:00-4:50 pm
Place: VKC 204
Instructor: Rongdao Lai 

What is religious about traditional Chinese medicine? Is the Japanese emperor divine? What does Shamanism have to do with student protest in Korea? This course tries to answer some of these questions. Students will be introduced to the basic worldviews, teachings, texts, and practices in the religions of China, Japan, and Korea.


REL 339: Studies in the History of Christianity: Christianity in the Second Century
Time: T/Th 12:30-1:50 pm
Place: VPD 107
Instructor: Cavan Concannon

Martyrs. Theological Controversy. Heresy. Miracles. The second century had it all. The various Christianities of the second century were shaped by heated debates over everything to do with theology, ethics, and identity. Out of the second century come some of Christianity’s most familiar concepts and some of its most interesting lost possibilities. It was a time of new possibilities, experimentation, and debate around issues not all that dissimilar from those that find there way into our own political and theological debates. Christians in the second century debated piety, education, identity, ethnicity, politics, and even the interpretation of art and architecture. Come explore this fascinating and vibrant period of Christianity’s history. In this course we will read together the surviving texts of the second century and explore the complex engagements between Christians, Jews, Greeks, and the broader Roman Empire. No prerequisites required. All are welcome.


REL 442: Religion and Science

Time: M/W 2:00-3:20 pm

Place: SOS B47

Instructor: Sheila Briggs

What is our place in the universe? What are the origins of life? What is the future of humanity? These are questions that science and religion seek to answer in their different ways. This course asks how contemporary science can inform the religious and ethical answers to these questions.

You can find enrollment information here:

Diversity and Explorations Program at Harvard Divinity School November 4-6, 2014 (Applications Due Sept. 15)

Three days. Infinite possibilities. And it’s on us. 
November 4-6, 2014
Dear Dr. Lisa Bitel, 

Harvard Divinity School (HDS) is pleased to announce that the online application is now available for its eighth annual Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx) to be held November 4-6, 2014.  This year’s HDS faculty speaker will be Mayra Rivera Rivera, Associate Professor of Theology and Latina/o Studies.  To see what some DivEx alums are saying about their DivEx experience, I invite you to take a look, and share, our new DivEx video

The application deadline is September 15, 2014.To refer a prospective DivEx applicant, please complete our brief online DivEx referral form or simply forward this email inviting them to take these steps:

·         Apply to DivEx

·         Complete our online inquiry form to learn more about Harvard Divinity School

·         Contact our office with questions at or 617.495.5796
The Diversity and Explorations Program is intended to interest students who are underrepresented in the graduate study of religion, with a particular focus on African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American students. We welcome applications from talented undergraduates whose backgrounds demonstrate a commitment to issues of diversity, social justice, and the fields of religion, theology and ministry. Students who have already graduated from an undergraduate program and those who may be considering second career options will be considered if space is available.

Selected participants will be provided with transportation to Harvard Divinity School as well as room and board for the duration of the program.  The program offers an opportunity to explore graduate theological education in a variety of ways, including class visits, panel discussions, and formal presentations by faculty, alumni, staff and students.  

Thank you in advance for introducing us to future DivEx participants. 
Warm regards, 

Prudence Goss
Director of Admissions
Office of Admissions
Harvard Divinity School
14 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138

Tel. +1.617.495.5796
Fax +1.617.495.0345



Stellar Religion Students Receive Major University Awards

Religion and Archaeology students at USC have scooped up an outstanding number of awards this year - quite possibly a record number for any department!


An incredible total of FOUR out of the ten Steven and Kathryn Sample Renaissance Scholars this year are Religion or Archaeology students: Kausar Ali, Grant Dixon, Karissa Masciel, and Adeel Mohammadi.


Adeel Mohammadi was one of only seven students to receive the University Trustees Award.


Kalena Giessler in Archaeology, and Karissa Masciel and Adeel Mohammadi in Religion all received the prestigious Andrew W. Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships – only seven in total were awarded.


See this article for the full lists of honors.



Commencement 2014: Congratulations to Religion Students!

Some images from USC Commencement ceremony 2014. Congratulations to all our very successful religion students.


Karissa Masciel at the post commencement reception. Karissa also just received an award for Extraordinary Community Service:


Birka Burnison and Grant Dixon at the reception.



Professors Duncan Williams and David Albertson on the commencement stage.




End of Year Message from Chair Duncan Williams

Dear School of Religion Community,

It is my great pleasure to announce that Professor Lori Meeks has been appointed the incoming chair of the School of Religion when my term ends this summer. She is a leading scholar of Buddhism and Japanese religions with national and international prominence in those respective fields as reflected in her service as the American Academy of Religion Buddhism Section Co-Chair and the Society for the Study of Japanese Religion’s President. Please help me welcome her to this new leadership role.

As this newsletter is one of the last ones of the semester, let me briefly list up some of our department’s recent developments. First, we have recently added three new tenure-track faculty members: Rongdao Lai (Chinese religions), Jessica Marglin (modern Judaic studies), and Cavan Concannon (early Christianity). Second, we have revamped the undergraduate curriculum, reversing some previous trends with a gradual increase in majors, double majors, and minors. Third, the faculty worked hard to develop a new Ph.D. program proposal and curriculum, which should be on track to be approved in the near future. Finally, several development initiatives such as the funding of a new endowed chair in Hindu Studies (pledge to be completed by the end of the year) has added new momentum to the already robust development efforts of the various religion-related research centers directed by SOR faculty.

On a personal note, it has been a privilege to work with everyone in the SOR community (students, faculty, staff, external supporters) during the past three years. With the recent establishment of the newly renamed USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, I will be shifting over to directing that center as a hub for the study of Japan on the USC campus.

Please continue your enthusiastic support for the department under the new leadership of Lori Meeks. I am very confident that she will take the department to new heights with your ever warm-hearted support.

Finally, just a reminder that the department is hosting a welcome reception for Rongdao Lai, who joined us this semester from McGill and a celebration for James McHugh, who has recently been promoted to Associate Professor with tenure. This event will take place at 5pm on Monday, May 5th at the University Club.

Please join us if you can,


Religion Honor Society Ceremony, April 10


Some of this years students who were inducted into the TAK National Honor Society at a ceremony on the University Club on April 10 2014.



Prof Sherma Wins 2014 Professors of Color Award

Professor Rita Sherma has been selected to review the 2014 Professors of Color Recognition Award, hosted by the Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, and the Academic Culture Assembly of USCs Program Award.

The awarding body stated that Prof Sherma has been described by her nominators as inspirational, passionate, and dedicated. And that she has created active thinkers and leaders by constantly challenging her students to think critically and creatively.



April 23 - Mehfil Massive: South Asian Religions, Music and Poetry

Friday April 25 - Religion Democracy and the Arab Awakening

On Friday, April 25, the USC Center for Islamic Thought, Culture and Practice, the USC Knight Program for Media and Religion, and GlobalPost will sponsor a one-day conference, “Religion Democracy and the Arab Awakening. The gathering will be a groundbreaking exchange and collaboration between scholars and journalists, aimed at advancing knowledge and strengthening coverage of a critical topic The conference will conclude with a keynote address by Professor Tariq Ramadan at 5 p.m. in the Annenberg Auditorium. A reception will follow.

Registration is not required but to RSVP for Religion, Democracy and the Arab Awakening, please visit: .

Two Lectures on Buddhism this Week

The Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture is hosting two lectures on Buddhism this week.

Monday April 14th:

Levi McLaughin is speaking about “The Origins of Soka Gakkai: Tracing the Transformation of an Educational Reform Society into Japan’s Largest Religious Organization.”

5:00-6:30 pm in the East Asian Seminar Room of Doheny Library.


Tuesday April 15th:

Robert Buswell (UCLA) will be speaking at an event to launch the new Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism.

5:00-7:00 pm in the Alumni Conference Room, Davidson Conference Center. 



The USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture presents: “The Origins of Soka Gakkai”

The USC Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture invites you to our upcoming lecture by Professor Levi McLaughlin of North Carolina State University:

The Origins of Soka Gakkai: Tracing the Transformation of an Educational Reform Society into Japan’s Largest Religious Organization

 5:00-6:30 PM

East Asian Seminar Room (110C), Doheny Memorial Library 

**Please RSVP to**

 Soka Gakkai, literally the “Value Creation Study Association,” is a lay organization rooted in Nichiren Buddhism that rose in the postwar era to become the largest religious organization in Japan, and most likely the largest religious group in Japanese history. Perhaps ironically, Japan’s largest religion did not begin as a religion at all but instead started in the 1930s as a small collective of schoolteachers and intellectuals committed to educational reform. Drawing on rare primary sources and interviews with veteran adherents, this presentation will trace Soka Gakkai’s foundation and will identify crucial points in its development by discussing how its twin legacies of medieval Japanese Buddhism and modern humanism conflated within the group’s practices – such as youth training, cultural activities, and political mobilization. Analysis of Soka Gakkai’s remarkable transformation into a religious mass movement will reveal distinctive aspects of “New Religions” that take shape in the context of modern nation-states.  

This talk comprises portions of Prof. Mclaughlin’s forthcoming book Soka Gakkai: Buddhism and Romantic Heroism in Modern.

This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided!