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Summer Institute

Faculty and Mentor Biographies


The Religious Worlds institute is led by Dr. Henry Goldschmidt. Henry is a cultural anthropologist, community educator, and scholar of American religious diversity. He is the Director of Programs at the Interfaith Center of New York, and formerly an Assistant Professor of Religion and Society at Wesleyan University.  Among other publications, he is the author of Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights and coeditor of Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas.  In his work at the Interfaith Center, he develops programs to engage a range of audiences in the religious diversity of New York, including religious and civic leaders, K-12 teachers and students, social workers, and the general public.



Our faculty members and curriculum mentors for the 2018 institute will be:



Dr. Ali Asani is Professor of Indo-Muslim Languages and Cultures   at Harvard Divinity School. He is the author of several books and articles, including the forthcoming Infidel of love: Exploring Muslim understsandings of Islam, and has worked to improve American understandings of Islam by conducting workshops for high school and college educators.



Eva Abbamonte is the chairperson of the Middle Division Hist­ory Department at the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York, where she helped to develop and regularly teaches an 8th grade course entitled “Legacies of the Ancient World,”  that explores the role of religion in ancient societies and to­day’s New York. 



Dr. Morris L. Davis is a historian of American religion, with a specialization in Christianity. He is Associate Professor of the History of Christianity and Wesleyan/Methodist Studies at Drew University Theological School.  The author of The Methodist Unification: Christianity and the Politics of Race in the Jim Crow Era, his research and writing explores how conceptions of race were formed within Christianity in the United States.



Dr. Hasia Diner is the Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish history at New York University and Director of the Goldstein Goren Center for American Jewish History.  She is the author of numerous books, including Lower East Side Memories: A Jewish Place in America, Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration, and The Jews of the United States: 1654-2000



Christina Grasso teaches 8th grade English and social studies in Chappaqua, NY.  She taught at the high school level in New York City for eight years, in both high-need and specialized schools, and had the pleasure of designing and teaching a two-year IB World Religions course at Brooklyn Latin School. She is a graduate of the Religious Worlds institute and is honored to return as a curriculum mentor.



Dr. Charles Haynes is the founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum, and a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center.  He is the author or co-author of six books and countless articles on religious liberty, religion and education, and other First Amendment issues.  He has been a leading policy voice in developing consensus guidelines on religious liberty in American public schools.



Dr. Elizabeth McAlister is Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University.  Her book, Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and its Diaspora, explores the spiritual and political dimensions of Haiti’s Lenten carnival.  She has also produced three CDs of Afro-Haitian religious music, and has worked to educate the American public about Afro-Caribbean religious traditions.




Jacqueline C. Richard is an activist, artist, and educator. For the past eight years she has designed and taught middle and upper school courses in social justice, world religions, and Christian ethics at independent Catholic schools in the New York metro area.  She is a native of Minnesota with a BA in Religion from Duke University and MA in Religion from Yale Divinity School, and also a graduate of the Religious Worlds institute.



Lexi Salomone is the Assistant Director of the Pluralism Project - a research, teaching, and public education initiative at Harvard University, that helps Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity.  Among other responsibilities, she trains teachers and community leaders to use the Pluralism Project’s innovative case-study method for the study of religious pluralism.  She holds an MTS from Harvard Divinity School, as well as a BA in philosophy and religious studies at Colgate University.



Dr. Josef Sorett is Assistant Professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Columbia University, and the founding director of Columbia's Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics, and Social Justice.  His forthcoming book Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics explores the role of religion in debates about black art and culture.



Dr. John Thatamanil is Associate Professor of Theology and World Religions at Union Theological Seminary.  His research has explored comparative theology, theologies of religious pluralism, and Hindu-Christian dialogue.  He is the author of The Immanent Divine: God, Creation, and the Human Predicament, and is working on a book titled, Religious Diversity After "Religion": Rethinking Theologies of Religious Pluralism.



Marnie Weir is Director of Public Education and Visitors Services at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where she develops education programs for students of all ages. Marnie earned her MS in Museum Education, with a certificate in elementary education, from Bank Street College of Education, and also holds a BA in Art History from Hobart & William Smith Colleges.



Kathy Wildman Zinger teaches world history at Newton South     High School, in Newton, MA.  Prior to teaching at Newton South, she taught in Fairfax County, VA, where she worked with colleagues to develop a widely emulated full-year world religions course.  She is a frequent speaker and trainer on the study of religion in American public schools.