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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.  In his work at the Interfaith Center, 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, 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

Paul and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish history at New York University and Director of the Goldstein Goren Center for American Jewish History. Hasia 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.

Dr. Laura Harrington

Introduction to the Study of Buddhism

Teaches 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. John Stratton Hawley

Introduction to the Study of Hinduism

Claire Tow Professor of Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University, where he teaches a course on New York City's Hindu communities. Jack is the author, co-author, or editor of some twenty books on Hinduism, bhakti traditions, and the comparative study of religion. These include Sur’s Ocean, Krishna the Butter Thief, and the award-winning A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement.

Dr. Charles Haynes

Religious Liberty in American History and Ideals

Founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum, 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, teaching coach, and Program Director at the Lyons Community School, a small public school in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Jody has taught for nearly 20 years, and regularly teaches 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. Katherine Merriman

Muslim Harlem Walking Tour Leader

Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of Islamic Studies at University of Detroit Mercy, and the founder of Muslim History Tour NYC. Katie's research centers on charitable giving and moral subjectivity in American Muslim communities. She has also done rights-based social justice work in Arab and Muslim communities in the United States and Jordan, and lectures publicly on religious literacy and anti-racist practice.

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 Chair of Religious Studies at 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.

Dr. Josef Sorett

Teaching Lived Religion Through Literature

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

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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