From the Department Head

Greetings to our Philosophy and Religion Alumni and Friends!

On behalf of the department, I invite you to read this inaugural edition of the Philosophy and Religion Newsletter.  As you’ll see below, our department has been doing many wonderful things over the past year. 

In the past 20 years we have nearly tripled in size, growing from 8 full-time faculty in 1995 to our current 22-member-strong department.  Let us know how you’ve been doing as you have gone on to further your studies, pursue your careers, or generally find valuable ways to spend your time.   Up until last year, when I devoted most of my efforts to teaching, students would sometimes ask me the daunting philosophical question “What is the meaning of life?”  In my new job as head of the department, however, students are much more likely to stop by the office to ask instead “What should I do with my life?”  I still don’t have great answers to either question, but this is where you can help.  The more we hear about the paths you have taken, the better we’ll be able to advise our students as they head off into the post-JMU world.

We wish you the best for this year and beyond!

Chip Bolyard, Department Head

Prof. King to Retire

Dr. Sallie King

Dr. Sallie King, professor of Buddhist studies, has announced her plans to retire at the end of the current academic year.  For nearly 25 years, Dr. King has been tireless in her teaching, scholarship, and service to the university, and a respected and admired colleague, both here in the department and across the globe.  Her courses on Buddhist Thought and on Interreligious Dialogue are some of the most popular courses on campus.

Prof. Alan Kirk recently caught up with her, and asked her to reflect on her years here at JMU.

Sallie, in key respects you are the founder of the Religious Studies program at JMU. What was the state of Religious Studies at JMU when you came in 1992?

I remember that the curriculum needed revision and expansion. We had courses in the Bible and Christian Theology, but there was just one course, called “Topics in World Religions,” for everything else. And that “everything else” was most of the world! So the religion program really needed expansion in the area of world religions, to make it a program that was globally oriented, one that studied all religions as equal in importance and interest. Gradually the JMU administration realized that Religious Studies really was a global studies program, and that helped the program to find its proper niche in the University.

What do you find particularly satisfying about teaching religion to undergraduate students? What things have made you think, “This is really worthwhile!”?

I’ve enjoyed teaching the World Religions survey (GREL 101). Students have found that course empowering. They come to realize: “This is the world, a big place with a lot of diversity.” I’ve seen many students come in to that course with a closed, fixed attitude about religion and about the “religious other.” And without particularly targeting that issue, but by just laying out, “Here’s what goes on in these religions,” they begin to see how much commonality there is. That factor alone breaks down their sense of the complete otherness of other religions.

One of my favorite things that we did recently in the GREL 101 was to read a book called the Faith Club, written by a Christian woman, a Jewish woman and a Muslim woman right after 9/11. They were really upset by this event, and they wanted to do something. They ended up entering into a multi-year dialogue between the three of them, which is reflected in this book. It’s great because these are women, and we rarely hear from women, and though these three are completely untrained as religion scholars, they have the same concerns and interests and commitments that everyone has. Through this book, students in the class find their way to talk to other people about really sensitive issues, they find their way to be really honest with and challenging to each other, but at the same time to be accepting of each other.  It’s hard to do all of those things at once. So my students have enjoyed seeing that what they are discovering in the GREL 101 class can also have an impact in their daily life as they interact with all kinds of people.

Something else that that stands out for me is the Buddhist Thought course. When I came to JMU, I thought it would be great to teach this course as one cross-listed in both PHIL and REL, to teach it legitimately on the philosophy side as well. I started out with an enrollment of 30, and the course quickly closed on the first day of enrollment. That was little bit startling to me, and eventually we ended up raising the enrollment to 90. The course doesn't fulfill any particular requirements - the students tell me they enroll just because they are just interested in it.  That's refreshing!  The students in that course aren't shy; they ask questions and make comments, and so it’s a very engaged classroom.

Why you think the study of religion in the university context is important?

Well, the world is a big place. Many of our students have already traveled the world, and most of them certainly will. The world is globalizing, and our students are going to live in a world in which their neighbors, and their co-workers and maybe their spouse and their friends are going to be people from other cultures and religions. One of the definitions of religion is that it is the “depth dimension” of culture, and I really think that is true. One of the most valuable investments that a student can make is studying world religions; it’s foundational to understanding how the rest of the world thinks and feels, and looks at things. And the study of religion for most students is just fascinating, as they realize, “People think this way about this subject?” Most students have a personal interest in the subject as well. And who knows if the opportunity for this kind of careful, sustained thinking on the subject from many perspectives will ever come again for them: the chance to think about the big questions in life. A lot of students grab the chance. They are at an age when they are thinking about the big questions, about the meaning of life, where they come from and where they are going.  I think the life that never takes the opportunity to think about such things is really diminished. So everybody should take at least a handful of courses in religion.

What are your plans and projects for the next few years?

I don’t see myself as retiring so much as moving. I’m enjoying scholarly life and will continue to do so. We’re moving to D.C. because we have a grandchild, which is going to be fun, and it’ll be a big part of my life and time. But I’ve also got a list of scholarly things to work on. I have a book that’s germinating in my mind that will be called something along the lines of: "A Buddhist-Quaker Spirituality." It’s a particular form of Buddhist Christian dialogue that I myself personally live out, and I think it would be of interest not only to people who have a specific interest in Quakerism and Buddhism, but also hopefully to people who have the larger interest in Christian spirituality and Buddhism.

Also I’m interested in the Buddhist Renaissance that's going on, especially in Taiwan – very creative, modernizing, and socially engaged Buddhism. I have materials on it, because I went to Taiwan a couple of years ago and spent time researching it. So I want to now finally take the time to work on that. Also, as my time opens up I want to take time to be involved in climate change action. I already have some involvement in some of the organizing that is going on in DC around that issue. It’s something very practical and immediate, and it’s a pressing concern. And so I'll be busy!

Thank you, Sallie, for your contributions to our department, and best wishes for your future projects and activities.

Prof. Piper wins the Carl Harter Distinguished Teaching Award

Dr. Mark Piper

Philosophy professor Mark Piper is the recipient of the 2014-2015 Carl Harter Award, a prize given annually by the College of Arts and Letters to its most outstanding teacher.  Dr. Piper teaches courses in ethics, and has been an active figure in the development of the Madison Collaborative, a campus-wide program that aims to bring an ethical vision to students.  He joins five other active Philosophy and Religion faculty who have won the award.  The Department has won this award in six of the last eight years, a reflection of its commitment to teaching excellence.  Congratulations to all! 

Chinese Philosophy … Squid … Gamers … and Yoda … in Tokyo … Go!

Dr. Alan Levinovitz

Religion professor Alan Levinovitz recently traveled to Japan to report on an unusual gaming competition: “I first found out about the ancient Chinese game of Go a long time ago, when I began studying Chinese philosophy. What I didn't learn until recently was that computers are nowhere near being able to beat top humans at Go, even though they regularly beat grand masters of chess.  This fascinated me, and eventually led to my attending an international computer Go championship in Tokyo at the University of Electro-Communications, and writing about it for Wired magazine. Although there are a number of such competitions, this one is unique in that the winner and runner-up get to play a handicapped match against a top Japanese professional. This year the champion was Norimoto Yoda. That's right: Yoda. He came to the matches, as he always does, dressed in a traditional kimono and carrying a fan. While in Tokyo I met many computer programmers, professional Go players, and general fans of the game, and they taught me a great deal about this incredible game and its resistance to coding. What most surprised me was that, unlike myself, these programmers, players, and fans did not see the rivalry between man and machine as particularly significant. For them, Go was a beautiful game whether or not computers could beat us. The programmers saw the riddle of programming as fundamentally different from the riddle of playing. Each night after the tournament proceedings drew to a close, I walked the neon pulsing streets of Tokyo back to my "capsule" hotel, took notes in the lobby while snacking on dried squid, and then retired to my bed – a spacious, high-tech, coffin-like cylinder. A phenomenal experience – the noodle bowls were amazing.”

Author!  Author!

Dr. Perry Neel

Professor Perry Neel, who teaches courses in religious studies, is now the author of a book of short stories, entitled The One-Legged Barber, and Selected Short Stories.  Dr. Neel began work on these stories over 20 years ago.  He writes: “I have been sitting on these stories, for reasons I cannot fathom, for the greater part of a quarter century.  For similarly obscure reasons, I have decided to set them free.  Maybe as the years wind down, one longs to leave some sort of legacy.  But the fact that these old pages started turning up in bookshelves, in file folders, even in the laundry room, maybe signaled their yearning to be let go.  So, like finding a bird in the house, I have opened the window and I'm shooing them out.”  The book is available on Amazon, and also at

Philosophy Faculty establish a New Institute at JMU

The Logic and Reasoning Institute (LRI) was founded in 2012 by philosophy professors Thomas Adajian and Tracy Lupher, along with faculty from the departments of mathematics, computer science, and graduate psychology.  Drs. Adajian and Lupher serve as the co-directors of the LRI.  The LRI’s goals are to foster collaboration among faculty and students in the study of logic and reasoning across disciplines; to emphasize the key role of logic and formal reasoning in the humanities, sciences, and mathematics; to develop and maintain a logic and reasoning minor; to develop new and existing courses in logic and reasoning; and to emphasize the philosophical foundations of logic and reasoning in and across the disciplines such as mathematics, the sciences, philosophy, and economics. The LRI's multi-disciplinary colloquium series, which has featured talks from faculty in philosophy, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, and linguistics, serves these ends.  The LRI sponsored an international conference in 2013 called “Logic Across the Disciplines,” which featured talks on Buddhist logic, quantum mechanics and logic, logic and legal reasoning, logic and computing, and philosophical logic.  (For more information, see

Dr. Flannery establishes the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace (CISTP) at JMU

Religion professor Frances Flannery is the founder and Director of CISTP, which arose out of her conviction that the humanities have a vital contribution to make to the understanding of terrorism, particularly for agencies directly engaged with terrorism such as the intelligence community.  CISTP brings together JMU Faculty Fellows with disciplinary expertise in the Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Education, and puts them in conversation with the intelligence community and with public policy officials (CISTP is non-partisan, and receives no funding from governmental agencies).  The Center offers a comprehensive, systemic approach to problems related to terrorism by focusing on long-term efforts to create and sustain peace.

CISTP’s broad-based, multi-disciplinary approach embraces a new definition of peace that distinguishes it from other programs on terrorism.  Instead of thinking of “peace” in terms of national security and the physical safety of persons and property in the U.S., CISTP understands “peace” as entailing the physical, psychological, material, cultural, and ecological well being of peoples.  This change in focus to a sustainable global peace as the goal of analysis and policy goes to the root causes of the cycles that give rise to terrorism.  In practical terms, this approach means that analysts who engage with the Center encounter an enlarged spectrum of opinions, from subject matter experts in religious studies, counseling, refugee education, international affairs, justice studies, psychology of trauma and resilience, climate change science, history, and intelligence analysis.  

CISTP is part of a multi-center project to aid the nation of Kosovo in preventing extremism in the long-term.  This “Kosovo Working Group” comprises over twelve other centers at JMU and Eastern Mennonite University.  CISTP’s contribution is a program called “Eco-Kosovo,” which envisions a new national direction of sustainable development and environmental education that will safeguard the nation in the long-term from the appeal of religious extremism.  Dr. Flannery and Faculty Fellow Dr. Edward Brantmeier traveled to Kosovo in 2014, where they attended the Interfaith Kosovo conference, and had the opportunity to meet with numerous governmental leaders of Kosovo to discuss the Eco-Kosovo program.  Addressing future causes of discontent, such as high unemployment, energy dependence, and post-conflict trauma, this project is an exemplar of the systematic approach characteristic of CISTP.  (For more information, see

Faculty in Action

Thomas Adajian.  Along with Dr. Lupher, Dr. Adajian serves as co-director, as well as co-founder, of the Logic and Reasoning Institute at JMU (see news item above).  He presented papers at a number of scholarly conferences, including “Definitions of the Arts and the Definition of Art” (Canadian Society for Aesthetics), “Kant and Peirce on the Nature and Function of Aesthetic Ideals” (The Charles S. Peirce 2014 International Centennial Congress), and “On Stephen Davies’ Defining Art and Artworlds” (American Society for Aesthetics).  Perhaps most notably, Dr. Adajian has been promoted to Associate Professor, with tenure.

Charles Bolyard.  Dr. Bolyard has recently become the new Head of the department.  In the Fall of 2013 he spent a semester writing in Cyprus as a Fulbright Scholar.  He regularly runs a summer Study Abroad program, “JMU in Ancient Greece.”  He recently published a co-edited anthology entitled Later Medieval Metaphysics:  Ontology, Language, and Logic, to which he contributed a chapter.  He also published “Henry of Harclay on Knowing Many Things at Once” in Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales.  He gave a lecture at the Univ. of the West Indies in Barbados, “Miracles and Matter:  Henry of Harclay on Quantity and Multiple Location.”  Dr. Bolyard was also honored this past Spring by the Alpha Delta Pi sorority for his academic contributions to its members.

Robert Brown.  Dr. Brown serves as the Associate Head of the department.  In the past year he has presented at two conferences: “Of Priests and Periwigs: Cotton Mather and Manly Fashion,” given at the Cotton Mather at 350 conference held at the Congregational Library in Boston; and “Navigating the Loss of Interpretive Innocence: Reading the ‘Enlightenment’ Bible in Early Modern America,” given at “The Bible in American Life” Conference held at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture (IUPUI).  He contributed seven entries to the newly published Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, and continues his work on the 9th volume of Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana, America’s first (modern) Bible commentary.

Daniel Flage.  Dr. Flage published a book on the Anglo-Irish philosopher George Berkeley this past year, entitled Berkeley (Polity Press).  He also published “Descartes and the Real Distinction between Mind and Body” in The Review of Metaphysics.

Frances Flannery.  In addition to her work as Director of CISTP (see news item above), Dr. Flannery maintains an active scholarly life.  She published “Dreams, Visions, and Religious Experience in the Apocalypses and Apocalypticism” in the Oxford Handbook of Apocalypticism (2014), and “Towards a New Social Memory of the Bosnian Genocide: Countering Al-Qaeda’s Radicalization Myth with the CIA ‘Bosnia, Intelligence, and Clinton Presidency’ Archive,” in The Role of Intelligence in Ending the War in Bosnia in 1995 (2014).  She is currently at work on a book for Routledge Press entitled Understanding Apocalyptic Terrorism: Countering the Radical Mindset.  She also presented several papers at conferences: “Locating Ourselves as Border-Crossers” (Society of Biblical Literature), “Rethinking the Synoptic Gospels in Light of Evidence from the Asklepios Traditions” (Barton Scholars Conversations), and “Talitha Qum! An Exploration of Early Christian Appropriation of Imagery from the Asklepios Cult” (Montreal).  

Patrick Fleming.  Dr. Fleming published his essay, “Ego-Depletion and the Humean Theory of Motivation” in the Open Journal of Philosophy this past Fall.  He also presented a paper at the 9th Annual International Conference on Philosophy entitled “Arbitrariness and Value-Based Reasons.”  Along with other philosophy faculty at JMU, he spoke to the philosophy honor society, Phi Sigma Tau, on the topic of bridging the Analytic and Continental divide in philosophy.

Jeffrey Goodman.  Dr. Goodman published two journal articles recently: “Creatures of Fiction, Objects of Myth,” in Analysis, and “A Problem for Fine Individuation and Artist Essentialism” in Estetika: The Central European Journal of Aesthetics.  He also gave two presentations on these subjects, at the American Society for Aesthetics and at the Chilean Society of Analytical Philosophy.

Steven Hoeltzel.  Dr. Hoeltzel has been at work on a number of publications on German philosophy.  He is co-editor of the forthcoming anthology, Kant, Fichte, and the Legacy of Transcendental Idealism, to which he contributed a chapter as well.  His essay on Johann Fichte’s idealism will appear in the forthcoming Fichte and Transcendental Philosophy.  This past October his essay on Fichte’s philosophy of religion appeared in the anthology, The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism.

Alan Kirk.  Dr. Kirk published an essay, “The Memory-Tradition Nexus in the Synoptic Tradition: Memory, Media, and Symbolic Representation,” which appeared in Memory and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity: A Conversation with Barry Schwartz (2014).  He also gave several conference presentations this year: “Whatever Happened to the Eyewitness Memories?,” at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, at Brock University; “Ancient Scribal Practices and the Order of the Double Tradition in Matthew,” at Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego, and finally, “Cognitive Science of Memory, Cultural Media, and the Origins of the Synoptic Tradition: What are the Connections?,” an invited paper for the Annual Meeting of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, held at Szeged University, Szeged, Hungary.

Alan Levinovitz.  Dr. Levinovitz has been very active in public discussions about a variety of health issues.  To this end he published an essay in the online magazine Slate, “This Article is Fortified With Antioxidants,” concerning the court case involving POM Wonderful and Coca Cola.  His forthcoming (2015) book looks at the conflicting claims of the diet industry: The Gluten Lie and Other Myths About What You Eat (Regan Arts/Phaidon).  He also published (and was interviewed for “With Good Reason,” on an NPR affiliate) “Get Your Stadiums Out of Our Churches,” about Division 1 sports on college campuses, in Slate magazine.  He recently travelled to Japan for Wired magazine, and reported the story in “The Mystery of Go, the Ancient Game That Computers Still Can’t Win” (see news item above).  He has an essay coming out next year in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, entitled “Dao with a Capital D: A Study in the Significance of Capitalization.”

Tracy Lupher.  Dr. Lupher serves as the co-director of the Logic and Reasoning Institute, which he co-founded along with Dr. Thomas Adajian (on the LRI, see the news item above).  Along with Dr. Adajian, he is editing a new book entitled Philosophy of Logic: 5 Questions.  Dr. Lupher recently published “A Logical Choice: The Role of Modal Logics in the Modal Ontological Argument” in the Southwestern Philosophy Review.  He gave a talk at the European Philosophy of Science Association in Helsinki, Finland, entitled “The Limitations of Physical Equivalence in Algebraic Quantum Field Theory.”

Sushil Mittal.  Dr. Mittal was on sabbatical in Spring 2014, during which he was the Shivdasani Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, University of Oxford, an invitation-only fellowship.  In this capacity he gave a series of lectures: “Comparative Religion: Its Failures and Its Challenges,” “Gandhian Technique for Conflict Resolution: Satyagraha,” “Communalism, Nationalism, and the Limits of Secularism in India,” and “Hinduism and Peace-building.”  He spent the second part of his sabbatical in India doing field research on Hindu Occidentalism. He gave an invited lecture entitled “Gandhi’s Influence on the American Nonviolence Movement” at GITAM University, in Visakhapatnam, India.  He edited and published several issues of two journals, the International Journal of Hindu Studies and the International Journal of Gandhi Studies, for which he is the founding and current editor.  He also published an entry entitled “Gandhi, Mahatma (1869–1948)” in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology.  Finally, Dr. Mittal served as Expert Advisor to the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, Netherlands, for a cultural emergency relief project to restore and safeguard a Hindu temple and its relics in Ulipur, Bangladesh.
Mark Piper.  In addition to receiving the Carl Harter Award (see news item above), Dr. Piper has been very active in the Madison Collaborative, for which he received a JMU Summer Curriculum Development Grant towards developing an online project called The Madison Collaborative Interactive.  He and Dr. Veltman co-edited the volume, Autonomy, Gender, and Oppression, published by Oxford University Press this year, to which he contributed a chapter.  He also co-wrote an essay for the anthology, The Role of Intelligence in Ending the War in Bosnia in 1995, entitled “Beyond Bosnia: Ethical Reasoning in Political Deliberations about Humanitarian Intervention.”  He presented a paper, “Autonomy and the Demands of Love,” at the Inaugural European Conference on Ethics, Religion and Philosophy in England.

Andrea Veltman.  Along with Dr. Piper, Dr. Veltman co-edited and published Autonomy, Gender, and Oppression (Oxford Univ. Press), to which she contributed a chapter.  Dr. Veltman is currently engaged on the philosophical issues relating to work, and has made two recent presentations in this regard: “Does all labor have dignity?” (American Philosophical Association), and “Meaningful Work” at the University of Puerto Rico.  She also published an essay, “Aristotle and Kant on Self-disclosure in Friendship” in the scholarly anthology, Ancient and Medieval Concepts of Friendship.

Ann Wiles.  Dr. Wiles serves as the advisor for JMU’s chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, the international honor society in philosophy, and was recently re-elected national vice-president of the organization.  She has given several scholarly papers this year, including “Dante's Philosophy of Language” (Partristic, Medieval, Renaissance Conference), “Aristotelian Structure of Justice in the Divine Comedy” (American Catholic Philosophical Association), “Maritain on Thomas Aquinas: The Apostle of Modern Times” (Canadian Jacques Maritain Association), and “Bernard of Clairvaux as Guide (?) in Dante's Paradiso” (MRC Conference, Villanova).  She published “Habit, Natural Law and Natural Rights” in Human Nature, Contemplation and The Political Order, and “Maritain on Education” in Redeeming Philosophy: From Metaphysics to Aesthetics (both with Catholic University Press), and “The Aristotelian Structure of Justice in the Divine Comedy” in Aristotle Now and Then: Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association.

Majors and Minors, Current and Former

JMU senior chosen to study at Yale summer bioethics institute

John Gardner, a fifth-year senior at James Madison University, recently completed a two-month intensive summer program at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. “I always like to challenge myself, even during the summer months,” said Gardner, who is double majoring in philosophy and religion. “It was a little intimidating at first, being at Yale and in group discussions with people from around the world who are experts in their fields, but I feel like I held my own intellectually.” Gardner was one of 75 American and international students from a variety of disciplines who were chosen to participate in the summer institute, which consists of lectures and seminars on bioethical issues presented by scholars from Yale and other institutions, as well as group discussions, field trips and a research “mini-conference” during which participants are required to present a paper on a topic of their choice.

You are here?  In future editions of the Newsletter, we hope this section will be filled with pictures and stories from all of you.  This is your opportunity to let your classmates and professors in Philosophy and Religion know what you’ve been up to.  We’d love to hear from each of you!

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