From the Department Head


In addition to our faculty accomplishments, we are especially pleased to see our students’ success both at JMU and beyond. Students in Dr. Kilby’s classes were able to visit a local Buddhist retreat center; Dr. Hawk helped prepare two students for an Ethics Bowl competition; and numerous faculty supervised students as they pursued independent research projects. It is our time with you over the years that has given us some of our greatest memories of JMU, and we are lucky to have (and to have had) such a dedicated and inquisitive group of majors and minors.

We are also happy to welcome two new faculty members: Dr. Rahel Fischbach is a specialist in Islam, and Ms. Liseli Fitzpatrick is a Preparing Future Faculty fellow who is finishing up her dissertation at Ohio State while she does some teaching for us. We introduce you to both of them below.

There is some sad news as well, unfortunately. Dr. Iain Maclean passed away this summer, and Dr. Kirk’s thoughts on our colleague and friend are shared below. Though he no longer fills the hallways with his stories and laughter, Iain’s presence lives on in many of us.

We wish you the best for the new year, and we hope things are going well for you.

Chip Bolyard, Department Head

In Memoriam

The Department was saddened by Prof. Iain Maclean’s death this past summer. He was a beloved colleague and teacher, and a vital contributor to the flourishing of JMU’s academic mission.

Prof. Alan Kirk writes:

Iain was an effervescent presence in our department, beloved of students and faculty alike – certainly for his keen wit and self-deprecating humor – but also for his genuine love of people and a selflessness evident in his profound kindness and generosity to all who came in contact with him.

Behind Iain’s endearing shambolic ways and twinkling eyes was a brilliant, extraordinarily learned man. He had language facility in Afrikaans (a dialect of Dutch), Dutch, Zulu, German, Portuguese, and French, as well as ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Born to Scottish parents in Durbanville, South Africa, as a young man Iain entered the University of Cape Town, graduating with degrees in English and Greek in 1976. Sensing a call to Christian ministry, he went on to earn his BD degree (equivalent to the Master of Divinity in the U.S.) in New Testament and Theology at Rhodes University, subsequently receiving his ordination in the Presbyterian Church of South Africa. In 1985 he earned a masters degree in theology at Princeton, a year later a further bachelor’s degree in Greek and Latin from the University of South Africa, and then in 1996 his doctorate in theology from Harvard Divinity School.

During his time in South Africa, Iain also served two years as chaplain in the South African Army, at the rank of colonel. It is perhaps a little known fact that during his training Iain qualified as a sharpshooter. Years later Iain had his Browning rifle shipped to him, and – in a classic “Iain moment” that those who know Iain will immediately recognize – after picking it up at Dulles Airport ambled through the terminal holding it.

After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in 1996, Iain held visiting professor positions at Roanoke College and Washington and Lee University. In 1998 he was appointed to his position at JMU, where for nineteen years he taught courses in the department on the history of Christian thought as well as a range of courses on religion and society. Iain served as the Department’s pre-seminary advisor and tirelessly supervised many students in their religion internships. He also became famous university-wide for his “High Teas”, his attempt to bring some British class and culture to his North American colleagues.

We also remember Iain as a man of deep Christian faith. He was one of the once common but increasingly rare breed who seamlessly combined in his own person and professional life love for the academy and love for the Church. As a student in South Africa he was involved in groups such as Youth for Christ, and while a Th.D. student in Boston he pastored and revitalized an inner-city church that had been decimated by “white flight”. Over the past ten years, in addition to working full-time as a professor, he served tirelessly as minister in the Presbyterian parish in Fincastle, Virginia, preaching weekly, founding and leading a youth group, and visiting his parishioners.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer described Christ as “the man for others.” Iain Maclean was a man for others. We will miss him. May he rest in peace.

New Scholar in Islam

The Department is very pleased to have Dr. Rahel Fischbach join the Religion faculty as a tenure-track scholar of Islam. A recent graduate of Georgetown University, Dr. Fischbach originally hails from Germany, where she graduated from the Free University of Berlin. Her research specializes in Qur’anic studies, hermeneutics, and interreligious dialogue. Most of her research focuses on Lebanon and Syria, but she has also undertaken research in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. A particular passion of hers is the ambiguity of pre-modern Islam and the impact of modern epistemologies, colonialism, and imperialism on Muslim thought, practice, and social organization. She is currently finalizing her book, “Politics of Scripture: Discussions of the Historical-Critical Approach.” She teaches courses on the Qur’an, Islam, religion and violence, gender and Islam, writing and reasoning, and world religions. Welcome Rahel!

New Fellow in Religion

Liseli Fitzpatrick is with the department this year as a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow in Religious Studies. She is a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University, where she is studying African Diaspora religions in the Caribbean. More specifically, Professor Fitzpatrick’s research topic, “Sexuality through the Eyes of the Orisa: Ifa and the Sacredness of Sexuality in Post-colonial Trinidad & Tobago,” explores the inter-connectedness of spirituality and sexuality in Yorùbá cosmology and philosophical thought. It examines concepts of gender within the African Diasporic spiritual system of Ifa/Orisa and the pantheon of deities in post-colonial Trinidad and Tobago. Orisa is a syncretic Afro-Trinidadian spiritual system rooted in the West African Yorùbá sacred tradition of Ifa (located in present-day Nigeria). She will teach a course on African Diasporic Religions in the Spring of 2017.

Debrot's Debut

Frank Debrot, Philosophy, has published a novel, Journey to Colonus: A Novel of Race, Espionage and Redemption (Silverwood Books, 2016). “It is the summer that man first walks on the moon, the Vietnam War is dragging into its sixth year and riots are breaking out in American cities. At a black pride university two young men on opposite sides of the racial divide come to know an elderly and enigmatic teacher with the reputation of an Uncle Tom. Through the power of Professor Doswell’s character and the unfolding of his mysterious past, their lives are transformed. Inspired in part by the true story of Whittaker Chambers, this novel is grounded in meticulous research based largely on discoveries from the previously undisclosed Venona Project as well as KGB files opened to Western scholars following the fall of the Soviet Union.” Debrot has plans for two additional novels, The Love Experts and Grandpa’s Gift.

Faculty Awards

Department faculty have received several awards this past year. Chip Bolyard was a recipient of the 2017 Madison Vision Teaching award, given to faculty members at JMU who “excelled in encouraging engaged learning in their students.” Unique at JMU, the recipients are selected entirely by students from the SGA. Andrea Veltman received a Provost Award for research. Emily Gravett received a JMU IDEA grant ($4,000) to pilot a “Preparing Faculty to Be Inclusive Teachers” Fall 2017 Institute with Dr. Andreas Broscheid and Dr. Matthew Lee. She also won the 2017 Christine A. Stanley Award for Diversity and Inclusion in Research at the annual conference for the Professional and Organizational Development Network in October, for an article entitled “Educational Development as Pink-Collar Labor: Implications and Recommendations” (2016), co-authored with Dr. Lindsay Bernhagen (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point). And we would be remiss not to note that Andrea Veltman was promoted to Full Professor this year. Kudos to all!

Buddhism in the Valley

In April of 2017, students from Dr. Kilby’s Tibetan Buddhism course journeyed through the picturesque farms of the Shenandoah Valley to the Mindroling Lotus Gardens retreat center. A gleaming gold statue of the Buddha Maitreya, standing twenty feet tall, greeted them beside a pond brimming with lotus blossoms. The main temple, bedecked in vibrant color, housed large-scale canvas tangka paintings of Buddhas and great Tibetan lineage masters. A faint scent of medicinal incense hung in the air. We removed our shoes and made the ceremonial circuit clockwise around the worship space.

Their goal in visiting Lotus Gardens was to observe how Tibetan Buddhism--a tradition rooted in landscapes and lineages far across the globe--has adapted to the North American context. While Buddhism has always presented itself as a universal religion, infinitely adaptable to diverse languages, cultures, and dispositions, the realities of adaptation are often surprising.

First, they attended a meditation session in the Künzang Gatsal Shrine Room. The meditation instructor emphasized mindfulness and tranquility, topics quite accessible to a western secular audience, but she avoided discussing the wrathful female dakini spirits whose support in meditation is central to the Tibetan tradition. After experiencing a walking meditation outdoors, we queried the instructor about the presence of local gods in the mountains, rivers, and trees, who form an integral part of Tibetan religious cosmology and daily practice. The instructor related that their center has reimagined local deities in terms of American Indian conceptions of the spirit life of the earth.

Had Tibetan Buddhism become an “indigenous religion” of the Shenandoah Valley? We left Lotus Gardens with plenty of questions to contemplate back in Cleveland Hall.

Freakonomics of Food

Freakonomics was first a book on the unusual aspects of human economic activity, written by award-winning Univ. of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner. It has since morphed into a small cottage industry, which includes a media presence, Prof. of Religion Alan Levinovitz, author of The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths About What You Eat, was interviewed recently for a broadcast on, in a segment entitled “The Demonization of Gluten.” The transcript/recorded broadcast can be found here.

Faculty Engaged

Thomas Adajian was Chair of the APA Colloquium on Metaphysics (Pacific Division) on the subject, “How Sparse Properties Save Nicod’s Principle.” He also served as commentator on Thomas Leddy’s “The Dilemma of Everyday Aesthetics Resolved in a Pluralist Way” at the American Society for Aesthetics (Pacific Division meeting) and on Michel-Antoine Xhignesse’s “Social Kinds and Meta-ontological Revisionism” at the American Society for Aesthetics (National meeting).

Chip Bolyard has an article forthcoming, “Augustine on Error and Knowing That One Doesn’t Know,” in Andreas Speer et al. (eds.), Irrtum (Miscellanea Mediaevalia Series XXX). He presented two papers at international conferences: “Hexis and Haecceitas: John Duns Scotus and the Stoics on Unity and Individuation,” at the ATINER 12th International Conference on Philosophy (Athens, Greece) and “Henry of Harclay on Quantity and Multiple Location,” at the Congress of the Société Internationale pour l’Étude de Philosophie Médiévale (SIEPM) in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He was also the faculty “learning partner” for a student-led Alternative Spring Break trip to St. Joseph's Bay, Florida, where he spent a week helping with the upkeep of a nature preserve.

Mike Brislen presented a paper, “Two Kingdom Theologies, the Religion/Secular Dichotomy, and Interfaith Dialogue: Contesting Categories,” at the Believers' Church Conference at Goshen College in Indiana; he also taught a 2-week intensive course, “Globalization,” at the University of Burao in Burao, Somaliland.

Robert Brown published “The Bible in the Seventeenth Century” in The Oxford Handbook of Bible in America. He also published two encyclopedia articles, “Messiah” and “Language (Hebrew, Greek) in The Encyclopedia of Jonathan Edwards (Eerdmans). His long-labored critical edition of Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana (Vol. 9) is slated for publication after the new year. He continues to serve as the Associate Head of the department, and as a First Year Advisor.

Rahel Fischbach published “Rereading the Qur’an – Challenging traditional authority: Political implications of Qur’an hermeneutics” in the Journal of the Middle East and Africa. She also received a research grant from Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa for research on the article “Battling Extremism with the Qur’an – New Pluralist Qur’an Hermeneutics in Lebanon,” the results of which she presented at the 10th annual ASMEA conference in DC this past Fall.

Dan Flage presented a paper entitled “The Querist: Social Engineering and Natural Law” at the Berkeley conference in Galway, Ireland.

Frances Flannery gave an invited lecture at the “Torture, Abuse, and Desecration in the Name of Religion” Workshop at Brown University, entitled “Theorizing the Social Function of Torture and Torture Narratives: In-Group/Out-Group Formation as a Commitment Mechanism.” She was interviewed along with Rodney Werline on With Good Reason (National Public Radio) on “Policy Debates and the Bible” (Airdate: January 14, 2017).

She was also the respondent for the session “Dreams and Visions and Religious Experience” for the Religious Experience in Antiquity Section, Society of Biblical Literature National Meeting in Boston. She co-wrote curricula with Pat Marshall for the Society of Biblical Literature Education Resources and Review Committee, which is developing curricula for high school history and literature classes in Georgia that are informed by academic biblical scholarship, as part of a grant with the Newseum in Washington D.C.

In her role as Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace, she organized a Listening Café Workshop entitled Safe at Home: Immigration and Security. This event brought together over 40 faculty and students from JMU and Eastern Mennonite University with local leaders from immigrant communities and national practitioners, including two Guests of Honor: Arjun Sethi Singh and James Patton. She continues to participate in the Council on Foreign Relations Religion and Policy Conference Call series. A personal highlight was meeting Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy's Faith-in-Action Awards. Finally, she continues to mentor CISTP undergraduate Student Research Interns: Lauren Brittigan and Maxwell Titus are preparing papers for publication on a Systems Dynamics Model for Refugee Creation and Resettlement. Catie Robertson and Sarah Baker-McEvilly are working on the Friendly City Cultures Collective, a public education project on immigration and refugees for the City of Harrisonburg in conjunction with Mayor Deanna Reed's office, for which they just procured a Student Government
Association Grant.

Emily Gravett received funding from the College of Arts and Letters to pilot a Fall 2017 student teaching observation program, in collaboration with Dr. Pia Antolic-Piper in Philosophy. She published the article “Tracing a Developer’s Development: A Self-Study in Teaching” in the International Journal for Academic Development, and was named to the Editorial Board of the journal To Improve the Academy. She presented at Virginia Tech’s Conference for Higher Education Pedagogy, JMU’s Diversity Conference, the University of Virginia’s Pedagogy Summit, and at the Lilly Conference for Teaching and Learning in Asheville, NC. She also served on the Provost’s Faculty Diversity Council at JMU.

Bill Hawk continues to serve as the Director of the Madison Collaborative, JMU’s program for student ethical learning, the very model of engaged learning. This year JMU fielded its first Ethics Bowl team at a competition in New York. Two Philosophy & Religion majors, Ben Culpepper and Scott Ingram, participated. In addition to overseeing the “It’s Complicated” program, and helping other faculty to include ethical reasoning in their classes, he directs presentations to or workshops with the regional Rotary International, a national teachers’ conference, Virginia housing counselors, international faculty workshops in Brussels, Indonesia, Japan, professional mediators, fraud examiners, the Chamber of Commerce, and social work agencies. They are also doing workshops for all 700 employees of a company that sets up biological research and clinical trials.

Steven Hoeltzel presented a paper entitled “Fichte and Kant on the Ends and Ideas of Reason,” at a conference in Seoul, South Korea. He spent much of the year editing The Palgrave Fichte Handbook (forthcoming), which offers a comprehensive and in-depth overview of Fichte’s philosophy (comprised of 23 new essays from leading scholars in North America, Europe, and Asia). In the spring he published “Fichte, Transcendental Ontology, and the Ethics of Belief” in a volume that he co-edited: Transcendental Inquiry: Its History, Methods, and Critiques (Palgrave Macmillan). He also served on committees for several (non-JMU-affiliated) scholarships that were endowed by his father before his untimely death. These include the Harvey Hoeltzel Memorial Scholarship (for first-generation college students, as was Mr. Hoeltzel); the Harvey Hoeltzel Architectural Scholarship (for graduate students in architecture at the Univ. of Michigan, his alma mater); and the Nancy Hoeltzel Early Education Scholarship (for college students going into early education, which was Steve’s mother’s field).

Alan Kirk gave a paper at a conference on the Gospels at Leuven University, Belgium. While there he led a graduate level class at the University that was studying his recent book, Q in Matthew: Ancient Media, Memory, and Early Scribal Transmission of the Jesus Tradition. The most recent issue of Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus was dedicated to a review of his book. Four scholars wrote article-length reviews, and he contributed a response. A session at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Boston in November was also devoted to a consideration of the book: two papers were given on the book, followed by Kirk’s response, followed by a discussion among the panel, with questions from the floor. Next year Dr. Kirk will serve as Faculty Member in Residence at JMU's Semester in London program.

Alan Levinovitz has a new book under contract with Beacon Press entitled One Nature Under God: How to Make the World Sacred Without Hating Ourselves. It will consider how the concept of what is “natural” has been used in politicized debates about the nature (no pun intended) of the good society.

Sushil Mittal’s article “Comparative Religion: Its Failures and Its Challenges. An Exploratory Essay” was published in The Muslim World (Volume 107, Number 2, April 2017). It explores from a Hindu perspective the success, failures, and challenges of the comparative study of religions, especially as applied to Hindu “dialogue” with Christianity and Islam, and discusses the Gandhian experience in relation to the comparative study of religions. The essay raises issues that are typically not part of academic discourse.

In June he went to India for three months (1) for meetings at Utkal University of Culture in Bhubaneshwar in East India; (2) to participate in a six-week program on nonviolence under the auspices of the International Summer School for Jain Studies in Delhi and several other North Indian cities; (3) to give a series of lectures at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University in Kolkata in East India; (4) to give a series of lectures at GITAM University in Visakhapatnam in South India; and (5) to conduct fieldwork and research on “The Gandhian Model and Practical Comparative Religion.” Dr. Mittal was invited to give a plenary address at the international conference on “State and Social Order in Dharma Dhamma Traditions” at Nalanda University in India, but he declined the invitation due to other commitments.

In the Spring Professor Mittal worked on and submitted the second, revised edition of his book, Religions of India; and in the Fall, he read and corrected its proofs. Routledge will publish the book in three editions (North American, European, and Indian) in 2018. Dr. Mittal edited and submitted for publication two issues of the International Journal of Hindu Studies (Volume 21, Issue 3 [December 2017] and Volume 22, Issue 1 [April 2018]). Dr. Mittal serves as the founding editor of the International Journal of Hindu Studies. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Mittal, after nearly a decade, cleaned his office!!!

Mark Piper had the exhilarating (and exhausting) honor of serving as the acting Speaker of the Faculty Senate in Fall 2017. He also had two publications in the last year: “Justifying Oneself,” in the European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 13:1 (2017): 27-38, and “Mass-Audience Interactive Narrative Ethical Reasoning Instruction,” in the International Journal of Ethics Education 2:2 (2017): 161-173.

Anne van Leeuwen continues to sponsor the Philosophy & Film Club, along with Prof. Steve Hoeltzel. This past year she co-edited a volume, Differences: Rereading Beauvoir and Irigaray (Oxford Univ. Press). This volume examines the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, and the critical dialogue between them. She also published an article in the Blackwell Companion to Simone de Beauvoir, “Simone de Beauvoir and the Dialectic of Desire in L’invitée.” This article argues for the importance of her early literary works for understanding her subsequent major philosophical writings.

Andrea Veltman was awarded a Provost Research Award this past year. She also published a piece entitled “Meaningful Work” in the Springer Encyclopedia of Business and Professional Ethics, and she presented a talk entitled “Autonomy, Oppression and Universal Basic Income” at the Midwest Political Science Association. She was also promoted to Full Professor.

Anne Wiles presented a paper to the Academy of Philosophy and Letters at Villanova University in June, 2017. The title of the paper was “Jefferson and Madison on Natural Law and Natural Rights.” As advisor to the JMU chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, the national honors society for philosophy, Dr. Wiles oversaw a Spring 2017 conference on “Hermeneutics: Language and Meaning in the Liberal Arts.” It featured lectures from prominent philosophers across the country, including the Catholic University of America, Villanova, Seattle University, and Boston University.

Majors and Minors, Past and Present

After majoring in Philosophy and Religion, Brian Bradford (’82) went on earn an MFA at Fairleigh Dickinson. He is now Professor and Co-Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Warren County Community College in New Jersey. He published his first novel in 2015 – Greetings from Gravipause (Jaded Ibis Press).

In future editions of the Newsletter, we hope this section will be filled with pictures and stories from all of you. Our graduates have gone on to do interesting work in interesting places. 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!


2014-2015 Alumni newsletter

From the Department Head

Greetings to our Philosophy and Religion Alumni and Friends!

On behalf of the department, I invite you to read 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.

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.

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