Seeking Respondents for the Religious Studies Project’s Podcast!

From Prof. Rebecca Barrett-Fox, Religious Studies Project Features co-editor:

The Religious Studies Project​<>, a digital endeavor to promote religious studies, seeks respondents to write commentaries on our podcasts.

Respondents get to preview RSP interviews of high-profile religious studies scholars, then offer about 1000 words of commentary that can include critique, reflection, or connection between the podcast and other sources. They may but don’t have to include references to academic texts, but they will also include lots of hyperlinks and citations to any academic references. Images are welcome, as are suggestions for intriguing titles. Finally, we would need a short bio statement and photo of you to add to the podcast.​

About once per month, a features editor sends out an email to everyone in our pool of respondents listing all the podcasts we’ve recently recorded that are in need of respondents. If a podcast interests you, you’ll email me or co-editor Marek Sullivan to let us know you’d like it assigned to you. After listening to the audio/reading the transcript, you will craft a response of about 1000 words. While we are happy to work with your schedule, turnaround time is typically two weeks.

I have listed podcasts-in-process that are in need of a respondent below; if you see something of interest, please email me at rbarrettfox (at)  If you don’t see something of interest now but would like to be included in future calls for respondents, please let me know. Additionally, if you know of someone you think would be a thoughtful respondent, please share this with them or forward their name to me so I can add them to our list of potential respondents.

Looking forward to bringing you some great podcasts soon!
Rebecca Barrett-Fox, RSP Features co-editor
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Arkansas State University
rbarrettfox (at)

1. Slenderman and online mythology, with Vivian Asimos by Ross Downing

Ross Downing discusses personal and communal narratives, online mythology and the grey areas between religion and media with Vivian Asimos, whose work has investigated the potentiality of video games as contemporary mythology in popular culture. In the broader context of BASR 2018, the overall theme of boundaries and categories is explored, as is the possible insights online movements can yield in the perception and application of theories of religion. ​

2. A Global Study on Government Restrictions and Social Hostilities Related to Religion with Katayoun Kishi by Benjamin P Marcus

In this podcast, we speak with Dr. Katayoun Kishi, who oversaw the ninth in a series of reports by Pew Research Center analyzing the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices. The share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose, but the share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of social hostilities involving religion remained stable. In total in 2016, 83 countries (42%) had high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government actions or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups–up from 80 (40%) in 2015 and 58 (29%) in 2007. We discuss the findings of the report as well as methodology for collecting and analyzing data. Dr. Kishi summarizes findings for different regions of the world–including the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa–and explains long-term trends evident from Pew’s reports.

3. Preserving identity and empowering women. How do Canadian Muslim schools affect their students? with Jasmine Zine by Mariia Alekseevskaia

In this interview, Dr. Jasmin Zine talks about Muslim schools in Canada and their impact on their students’ identity development and integration in the society. Having served for decades as a tool to preserve a particular religious identity, Islamic schooling also plays a crucial role in empowering female students. In some cases, Muslim schools have become a safe haven, especially for women, “a place where their identity is not in question, where they can feel safe and comfortable.” Also, Dr. Zine describes to Mariia Alekseevkaia the challenges that Canadian Muslim schools face today, including a difficulty to promote critical thinking and “the spirit of debate” while teaching about religion as well as maintaining patriarchal religious cultures. Lastly, Prof. Zine discusses academic colonialism and shares her personal story of what it means to be Muslim woman in academia.

4. Negotiating Gender in Contemporary Occultism with Manon Hedenborg White by Sammy Bishop

In this interview conducted at the 2018 EASR conference in Bern, Sammy Bishop speaks to Manon Hedenborg White about the development of Western esotericism, charting the influence of the infamous Aleister Crowley and his philosophy of Thelema. They explore Crowley’s somewhat ambiguous view of gender, before brining the research into the present day, on how gender roles in contemporary Thelema can be contested and negotiated. Finally, Hedenborg White delves into the important but often overlooked role of women in the development of contemporary Occultism.

5. The Hugging Guru: Amma and Transnationalism with Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger by Sammy Bishop

In this interview conducted at the 2018 EASR conference in Bern, Marianne Ovortrup Fibiger speaks to Sammy Bishop about Amma, a guru who has become world famous for her healing hugs—apparently giving more than 33 millions hugs over the past 30 years. They discuss the ways in which different audiences can interrupt Amma’s message and how she reconnects Hindus in diaspora with their traditions. Focusing particularly on the guru’s global reach, Fibiger discusses her fieldwork in Amma’s Kerala ashram and how Western devotees in India or influencing developments here.

6. The Therwil Affair: Handshakes in Swiss Schools with Philipp Hetmancyzk and Martin Bürgin, by Thomas White

In this podcast, recorded at the Annual EASR Conference in Bern, Dr. Philipp Hetmanczyk and Martin Bürgin of Zurich University talk to Thomas White about the Therwil Affair, a controversy that emerged in 2016 after two Swiss Muslim schoolboys declined to shake hands with their female teacher. The seemingly rather local, minor incident escalated into a major national debate and received global media attention. As the issue moved from one of school governance, to public values, to law and later immigration, the Therwil Affair became a focal point for national discussions on religious freedom, gender equality, civic duties, multi-ethnic integration and cultural identity in Switzerland. Following an explanation of the historical backdrop to contemporary Swiss ‘culture wars’ that the Therwil Affair spoke so clearly to, the discussion moves to how Swiss educational law has shifted subsequent to the Therwil Affair, with schools now expected to report to Swiss Immigration similar instances of supposed integration failure. Since schools are not merely centres for education but also sites for the teaching and reproduction of standardised norms and values, in countries of religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, those values and norms are contested. Perhaps what may be better, as Dr. Hetmanczyk suggests, is for schools to resist expectations that they should be cultivating a cultural homogeneity and instead focus on preparing pupils for moments of cultural difference.​​​

Author: Molly Farneth

Molly Farneth is Assistant Professor of Religion at Haverford College.

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