John Kloppenborg's team in Israel
John Kloppenborg’s team in Israel

From the Chair, John Kloppenborg

2010-11 has been an exciting year! In July we welcomed Simon Coleman, the fifth Chancellor Jackman Chair to be appointed by the U of T. Coleman significantly enhances our strength in the anthropology of religion, in particular the anthropology of modern Christianity. We’ve also been joined by Tobie Strauss, who teaches Modern Hebrew, and we’re preparing to welcome Kyle Smith, whose principal appointment is to the Dept. of Historical Studies at UTM, but who holds his graduate appointment at the DSR. Smith is an expert in early late Roman and early Byzantine Eastern Christianity. Three faculty members have released their first books: Amira Mittermaier’s Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination, Laury SilversA Soaring Minaret: Abu Bakr Al-Wasiti and the Rise of Baghdadi Sufism, and Karen Ruffle’s Gender, Sainthood, and Everyday Practice in South Asian Shi’ism. DSR faculty have been successful in winning research competitions and awards, too. Amira Mittermaier won a Wenner Gren grant and a SSHRC Standard Research Grant, and Frances Garrett was awarded a prestigious SSHRC Partnership Development grant, bringing to five the number of SSHRC grants held by core DSR faculty. In addition to an OCUFA teaching award, Shafique Virani won a large Early Researcher Award from the Gov’t of Ontario for a project entitled “Journey to the Roof of the World: The travels of Pir Sabzali in Central Asia.” Walid Saleh continues research sponsored by a Mellon New Directions Fellowship. Graduate students have also been busy and notably successful, with a robust contingent of students presenting papers at the annual American Academy of Religion meeting in Montreal and the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Atlanta. See “Graduate Student News” for an impressive record!

This year we’ve welcomed Dr. Mona Schrempf as a DAAD Visiting Professor. Dr. Schrempf, an expert in Tibetan religion and culture, taught two seminars on Buddhism and has interacted with faculty and graduate students working on Tibet. Two visiting scholars from Iran have spent productive time at the department too: Dr. Babak Farzaneh works on Qur’anic lexicography and Dr. Sayeh Meisami works on Islamic philosophy and leads an Islamic philosophy reading group (see pg 4). In a few weeks another visiting researcher will join us, Dr. Samah Ahmed, doing a project on religious pluralism and education in Islam in Canadian society.

For the second year, I am taking graduate students to Israel to participate in the excavations of et-Tel, probably the ancient city of Bethsaida-Julias (see the photograph above and the page 3 story, “Digging in Bethsaida”). This is funded through the generosity of the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, and the students, in addition to excavating at Bethsaida, will visit the excavations of Sepphoris, conducted by Hebrew University Prof. Zeev Weiss, as well as other archaeological sites in Israel. Another grant, this time from the DAAD, allowed Prof. Pamela Klassen to take ten graduate students with her to Germany in February to visit research institutions focused on the study of religion and religious diversity. The host institutions include the Max Planck Institute für Bildungsforschung in Berlin, the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen, and the Institut für Religions-wissenschaft at the University of Heidelberg. Yet another DSR faculty member, Prof. Joseph Bryant, taught a summer course at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

As always, as Chair I express my deep appreciation to our administrative staff, Irene Kao, Marilyn Colaco, and Fereshteh Hashemi, and to my fellow department administrative colleagues, Drs. Frances Garrett and Jennifer Harris, whose support, creativity, energy, and scholarship make this a great place to be.

Download the 2010-11 Newsletter