Graduate Students

About our Graduate Students 

Sarah Berns
Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean 

Sarah is a second-year RAM student, focusing on the religions of ancient Israel and Canaan.  She received a B.A. in Religious Studies from Smith College in 2010 and an MTS in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament from Harvard Divinity School in 2013, and has excavated at Tel Megiddo.  Her research focuses on situating religious practices and texts in relation to everyday life in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean.  She is particularly interested in households and work sites as centers of religious action and identity.  Her methodological interests include comparative Semitic philology, archaeology, art history, and theories of practice.


Anna Bialek
Religion and Critical Thought

Anna BialekAnna Bialek

Anna entered the Religion and Critical Thought program in 2009 after graduating with an A. B. (summa cum laude) in Religion from Princeton University.  She is interested in practices of valuing and perceiving value in relations of love, care, protection, and the recognition of fragility.  Her current work focuses on love and vulnerability in Christian ethics, analytic philsophy, and feminist ethics, examining the construal and misconstrual of value in these discussions and its ethical and political significance.  More broadly, her interests include contemporary religious ethics, modern Western religious thought, feminist ethics, moral psychology, and philosophies of beauty.  Anna is a recipient of the Chancellor Thomas A. Tisch Fellowship for Graduate Studies, the Pembroke Fellowship, and Brown University's Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching.  Her dissertation research is supported by an American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women.  In 2014-15, she will also serve as a fellow at the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown.

Elizabeth Cecil
Asian Religious Traditions

Elizabeth is a Ph.D. candidate in the South Asian Religions Program.  She received a B.A. with High Distinction in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Hastings College in 2005, and an M.A. in Religious Studies and Sanskrit from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2008.  Elizabeth's dissertation, "Mapping a Contested Landscape: Religion, Politics, and Place in the making of Pashupata Identity," investigates the growth of the earliest Shaiva devotional movement (i.e. the Pashupatas) in the early medieval northwest India.  Through an interdisciplinary approach that unites philological work on Sanskrit manuscripts and inscriptions with the study of material culture, her research explores the use of sanctified spaces to articulate a Shaiva identity grounded in site-specific religious practices.

From August 2011 -May 2013 Elizabeth was a visiting Research Fellow in the Institute of Indian Studies at the Univeristy of Groningen in The Netherlands where she joined an international team of scholars in the editing and analysis of the Skandapurana, a recently recovered Sanskrit text preserved in the 9th century palm-leaf manuscripts.  As part of the Skandapurana research team, she also conducted fieldwork at temple sites throughout north India and assisted with archeological survey in Maharashtra.  Elizabeth is currently completing her dissertation fieldwork in India with the support of Mellon Dissertation Research Fellowships from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the Social Science Research Council (SSRC).

Elizabeth's teaching and research interests include Indian devotional movements, Sanskrit narrative literature, Indian epigraphy, the material culture and heritage of India, and practices of pilgrimage in South Asia.  She is also competent to teach courses on Theory and Method in Religious Studies and the History of World Religions.  In Spring 2015, Elizabeth will teach a course at Brown that explores the history and use of images in Indian religions. 

Larson DiFiori
Asian Religious Traditions

Reyhan Durmaz
Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean 

Reyhan is a student of Late Antiquity and Syriac Christianity.  She received an M.A. in Anatolian-Civilizations and Cultural Heritage Management from Koc Univeristy (Istanbul) in 2010, specializing in the ecclesiastical architecture of the Syrian Orthodox Church.  She received a second M.A. in Medieval Studies from Central European University (Budapest) in 2012; in her CEU thesis she analyzed a group of saints' lives from Tur 'Abdin, focusing on their thematic foci and perceptions of sacred space.  In addition to monasticism and hagiography of the Syriac Church, she studies the dialogue between the hagiographical traditions of Christianity and Islam.  She is a dedicated student and friend of the Suryoye in Tur 'Abdin, and a devout lover of Istanbul.  

Rebecca Stephens Falcasantos
Early Christianity

Rebecca FalcasantosRebecca Falcasantos

Rebecca is a Ph.D. candidate in the Early Christianity program.  She graduated from Creighton University in 2002, with a Classical Bachelor of Arts and a double major in Theology and Greek.  She earned her Master of Arts in Early Christian Studies from the University of Notre Dame in 2005, and entered her doctoral program at Brown in 2009.  During the summer of 2010, she attended the Summer School in Byzantine Greek at Dumbarton Oaks.  Rebecca's primary field is Christianity in Late Antiquity and Early Byzantium, and her research broadly focuses on the formulation of Christian identity and contestations over cultural hegemony in the Eastern Empire.  She is particulary interested in issues of religious diversity and strategies used in the promulgation of a normative Christian cultural identity, including homiletics, hymnography, architectural programs, ritual life, and material-oriented practice.  She is also interested in the role of memory and topography in the creation of religous landscapes.  Rebecca's dissertation examines public ritual life in Constantinople during the fourth and fifth centuries C.E. and its role in contributing an aura of legitimacy for Christianity in the developing imperial capital.  

Nicholas Friesner
Religion and Critical Thought 

Nicholas received an A.B. in Philosophy from Brown in 2006, and a M.A.R. in Philosophy of Religion and Philosophical Theology from Yale Divinity School in 2011.  His current work focuses on the efforts of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists to articulate a progressive understanding of religion, and how their thinking can contribute to conversations at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and ethics.  His work also explores how traditions in American religious thought are related to broader narratives of Western religious thought, and how the American tradition can contribute to contemporary discussions on the future of philosophy of religion, environmental ethics, and how to theorize religion.  

Alexis Glenn
Religion and Critical Thought 

Alexis is a second-year RCT student, entering the program after earning a dual B.A. in Religious Studies and Anthropology from the Univeresity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2008, and an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 2012.  Her primary interests lie at the intersection of Aristotelian moral philosophy, early modern Anglo-American ethical traditions, and constructions of the self within historical texts.  Her current work focuses on issues of ethical formation, moral anthropology, and the conceptual roles of 'tradition' and 'history' within early modern Western philosophical thought.  Her broad research interests include late medieval and early modern English and colonial American history, Aristotelian virtue, ethics and its commentators, democratic theory, and political theology.  

Samuel Goldstein
Asian Religious Traditions 

Robert Kashow
Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean

Caroline Kory

Religion and Critical Thought 

David Le
Religion and Critical Thought 

David entered the Religion and Critical Thought program in 2010.  He received a BA with honors in Religion from Vassar College in 2007.  In 2008, he conducted a Fulbright research project in Hanoi, Vietnam on state monumentality, civil religion, and national identity in a postcolonial context.  His current work focuses on Hegel, secularism, and determination of the sacred within a contemporary American frame.  His research interests are in philosophy of religion and visual and material culture in the study of religion.

 Megan K. McBride
Religion and Critical Thought 

Megan received a B.A. in Psychology from Drew University in 2000 and a M.A. in Liberal Arts from the Great Books program at St. John's College in 2004.  At St. John's College her thesis explored the concepts of freedom, morality, and civil government in the work of Immanuel Kant.  She went back to school after a short break, and completed a M.A. in Government from John Hopkins University in 2010.  At JHU her thesis focused on the psychology of terrorism and proposed a new construct for understanding the role that ideology plays in motivating terrorist violence. Megan is interested in the relationship between religion, politics, and violence; the use of religious themes in sanctioning the non-normative morality of terrorist movements; and the ethics of participating in violent or non-violent activism. 

 Michael Payne
Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean 

Daniel Picus
Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean

Daniel PicusDaniel PicusBA Macalaster College (Classics, magna cum laude); MSt Oxford (Jewish Studies in the Greco-Roman Period, with distinction)

Daniel is a fourth year in the Department of Religious Studies.  He is broadly interested in religion in Late Antiquity, specializing in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.  Though he focuses particularly in the Rabbinic period between Byzantine Palestine and the Sassanian Empire, his interests extend to Syriac, Greek, and Latin sources.  He is interested in the way religion and the idea of learning, education, or paideia relate to each other in this period, particularly in the embodied practice of reading.  Daniel will be spending the 2014-15 academic year in Rome, as the Resident Instructor at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome.  

Kerry Sonia
Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean

Kerry SoniaKerry SoniaKerry is a fifth year in the RAM program, focusing on the religion of ancient Israel in its ancient West Asian context.

She received an A.B. in Religious Studies from Brown (2007) and an M.T.S. in Hebrew Bible from Harvard Divinity School (2009). Her research interests include ancient historiography, comparative Semitic philology, theories of sacrifice, and ancient conceptions of death and afterlife. She is particularly interested in reconstructions of Israelite ancestor cult and its relationship to the Jerusalem Temple. Her current research examines this relationship in light of recent theoretical work on family religion and the dynamics of cultic competition in ancient West Asia and the Mediterranean. 

Jonathan Sozek
Religion and Critical Thought

Jon received a B.A. in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College in 2003, then went on to complete an M.A. (honours) in religious studies at McGill University in 2006 with a thesis on Richard Rorty's and Charles Taylor's critiques of modern epistemology, focusing on the relation between these critiques and Rorty's and Taylor's very different attitudes toward religion.  After working for several years in secondary education, Jon moved to Belgium to complete a second B.A. (2009) and M.A. (2010) in philosophy at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.  His thesis in Leuven examined the recently published correspondence between Hans Blumenberg and Carl Schmitt in light of their differing conceptions of secularization and of the political function of myth in the modern period.  Jon's ongoing research interests include the conceptual histories of 'religion' and 'the secular' and of their relation, modern theories of myth and the politics of mythmaking (as in Sorel, Cassirer, Blumenberg), political theology (as in Schmitt, Mililbank, Kahn) and critical theory (Benjamin, Agamben).   

Elizabeth Stoker
Religion & Critical Thought 

Adrien StoloffAdrien StoloffAdrien Stoloff
Asian Religious Traditions 

Adrien received a B.A. from St. John's College in Liberal Arts and an M.A. from Columbia University in East Asian Languages and Cultures with a specialization in East Asian Religion and Philosophy. His primary research interests include: Classical Daoist thought, the appropriation by Daoists of Chinese ideas of cosmogony and cosmology, the influence of Daoist beliefs on Chinese (especially Chan) Buddhism, Daoist perceptions of the body as a vehicle for transcendence, and Daoist body cultivation including neidan and waidan practices. His secondary, broader interests include: Daoist beliefs and their influence on Classical Chinese Medicine, the reception of Daoist beliefs in Japan, how Daoism was viewed in early modern Chinese society, and how these views were transmitted to a Western audience. 

Andrew Tobolowsky
Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean

Andrew received a B.A. from Brown University in Religious Studies in 2007,Andrew TobolowskyAndrew Tobolowsky and M. Phil in Literature from Trinity College, Dublin in 2008., and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Brown in 2010.  He has excavated at Ramat Rahel and Khirbet el-Ras, the latter within lion-roaring distance of the Jerusalem Zoo.  His research interests center around interactions in the Mediterranean between Levantine and Greek civilization from around 1200 BCE to around 500 BCE.  He is especially interested in the interaction between narrative and geography, and the porous nature of borders with respect to myths and ideas.  He has recently begun learning about cultural geography, and about folklore, both of which he imagines will be fruitful directions for research.  He is from Dallas, Texas, a place whose weather he misses very badly some days. 

Soyoung You
Asian Religious Traditions 

Stephen L. Young
Religions in the Ancient Mediterranean 

Stephen YoungStephen YoungStephen's research focuses on Judaism in the Hellenistic through early Roman Imperial periods and Christianity in the first through third centuries. He uses his expertise in these areas to explore his broader interest in the dynamics, social-locations, and re-uses of myth; ideas and rituals relating to the afterlife; discourses and ideologies about deities; as well as claims about and religious practices involving reading/writing and sacred books in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.

In his dissertation, "Paul the Apostle, the Mythmaker: Innovative Reuse of Recognizable Myths to Explain his Christ Cult to Gentiles," Stephen argues that Paul reused known mythic themes and patterns in the Greco-Roman world, and reused materials from his Jewish sacred books in the light of these mythic schemes, to explain the relevance of his Jewish Christ-cult for Gentiles. Paul would thus have been recognizable to his audiences as a religious expert among the many in their world who reused known myths to articulate and authorize the divine benefits they offered.

Stephen also researches Paul and the reception, construction, and contestian over Paul through the 4th century; Cognitive and Psychological approaches to religion, morality, and human diversity; and the Cultural/Intellectual "elites" among American Evangelical and "post-Evangelical" Christians, capitalizing upon their scholarship and discourses as a rich and varied data set for studying modern religion.