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Institute Director

The Religious Worlds institute is led by Dr. Henry Goldschmidt.  Henry is a cultural anthropologist, community educator, interfaith organizer, and scholar of religion.  He is the Director of Programs at the Interfaith Center of New York, and formerly Assistant Professor of Religion and Society at Wesleyan University.  He is the author of Race and Religion among the Chosen Peoples of Crown Heights, an ethnography of Black-Jewish difference in a contested Brooklyn neighborhood, as well as other publications on American religious diversity and religious studies pedagogy (see our Resources for Teachers page for Henry’s essays on K-12 pedagogy).  In his work at ICNY, Henry develops interfaith dialogue, social action, and education programs for a range of audiences, including religious and civic leaders, K-12 teachers and students, social workers, attorneys, and the general public.

Academic Faculty and Curriculum Development Mentors

Eva Abbamonte

K-12 Leader and Curriculum Development Mentor

Dean of Faculty and Chairperson of the Middle Division Hist­ory Department at the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York. An experienced teacher, teaching coach, and school leader, Eva helped create 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. Ali Asani

Introduction to the Study of Islam

Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard Divinity School, and former Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program. Ali is the author of several books and articles, including the forthcoming Infidel of love: Exploring Muslim Understandings of Islam. He has worked to improve American understandings of Islam by leading workshops for high school and college educators, and the general public.

Dr. Julie Byrne

Introduction to the Study of Christianity

A historian of American religion with a specialization in Catholic studies, Byrne holds the Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman Chair in Catholic Studies and serves as Professor in the Department of Religion at Hofstra University.  She is the author of The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion and O God of Players: The Story of the Immaculata Mighty Macs, as well as scholarly and popular articles on American religion and global Catholicism.

Dr. Hasia Diner

Introduction to the Study of Judaism

Professor Emerita at New York University, and former director of the Goldstein Goren Center for American Jewish History. Hasia is a leading scholar of Jewish history, immigration history, and women's history, and 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.

Dr. Clarence E. Hardy III

Teaching Religion through Literature

Professor of the Practice of Religious Studies at Fairfield University.  Clarence is a scholar of African-American Christianity, whose work has focused on religious literature and social ethics.  He earned his PhD at Union Theological Seminary, studying with the renowned liberation theologian Dr. James Cone.  He is the author of James Baldwin’s God: Sex, Hope, and Crisis in Black Holiness Culture.

Dr. Laura Harrington

Introduction to the Study of Buddhism

Faculty in the Religion Department at Boston University. Laura's research focuses on Buddhist material culture, with a particular emphasis on the role of embodiment and emotion in the production of religious belief. Her research interests also include Buddhist art and aesthetics, Tibetan Buddhism in the United States, and the impact of so-called “modernity” discourse on the study of Tibet.

Dr. Charles Haynes

Religious Liberty in American History and Ideals

Founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Freedom Forum, and senior fellow at the First Amendment Center. Charles is the co-author of Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum, and author or co-author of many other books and articles on religious liberty, religion in schools, and other First Amendment issues. He has been a leading national voice in developing consensus guidelines on religious liberty in American public schools.

Jody Madell

Curriculum Development Mentor

Social studies teacher and teaching coach at the Essex Street Academy on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and formerly at the Lyons Community School in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Jody has taught for nearly 20 years, including a Field Studies course that uses the cultural resources of New York City as a way to understand the world.  She is a graduate of the Religious Worlds institute.

Dr. Elizabeth McAlister

Introduction to the Study of African Diaspora Religions

Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Wesleyan University. Liza's first 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.

Dr. Rachel McDermott

Introduction to the Study of Hinduism

Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College and Columbia University.  Rachel's research focuses on goddess-centered Hindu traditions in Bengal and Bangladesh, and on South Asian poetic traditions.  Her books include Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams: Kali and Uma in the Devotional Poetry of Bengal, and Revelry, Rivalry, and Longing for the Goddesses of Bengal: The Fortunes of Hindu Festivals.

Elinor Pierce

Case Study Teaching Workshop Leader

Research Director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, a research, teaching, and public education initiative that helps Americans engage with religious diversity.  Among other responsibilities, Ellie leads the Case Initiative and is the author of more than twenty decision-based case studies.  She holds a BA in anthropology and international studies from Macalester College, and an MTS from the Harvard Divinity School.

Jacqueline Richard

Curriculum Development Mentor

An educator, artist, social activist, and former chair of Religious Studies at the Marymount School of New York. For over a decade, Jacqueline has designed and taught middle and upper school courses in social justice, world religions, and Christian ethics at independent Catholic schools. She holds a BA from Duke University, MA from Yale Divinity School, and is a graduate of the Religious Worlds institute.

Kathy Wildman Zinger

Curriculum Development Mentor

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 (discussed in her essay "Electing Comparative Religion"). She is a frequent speaker and trainer on the study of religion in American public schools.

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