REL Advisory Board

Michael J. Altman

Michael J. Altman received his Ph.D. in American Religious Cultures from Emory University. His areas of interest are American religious history, colonialism, theory and method in the study of religion, and Asian religions in American culture. Trained in the field of American religious cultures, he is interested in the ways religion is constructed through difference, conflict, and contact.

Along with his research, Dr. Altman teaches a range of classes in the department from REL 130: Religion, Politics, and Law to REL 450: Religion and Power in Colonial India. His courses are notable for their use of digital projects such as course blogs (for examples, see American Religion in America and Monks and Nones.) He is also the producer and host of the REL Department podcast, Study Religion and manages the various REL Department social media accounts.

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Nathan R. B. Loewen

Nathan Loewen, who began in REL as of January 1, 2015, earned his Ph.D. in Modern Philosophy of Religion at McGill University’s Faculty of Religious Studies. Prior to coming to UA he taught at McGill University (2005-2009) and in the Department of Humanities at Vanier College (2009-14), both of which are in Montreal, Canada.

Dr. Loewen has two primary areas of research and publication. One focuses on globalizing discourses within the philosophy of religion, and the other analyzes the emerging confluence between Religious Studies and Development Studies.

A third area of interest for him is critical digital pedagogy–how today’s students might critically analyze the structure and function of digital platforms that are being used in higher education. His work in this area focuses on innovations that enable teachers and classes to reflect upon how they engage not only with each other but also with wider circles of scholars and various publics on both local and global contexts.

It is this last research focus that has led to his role as Faculty Technology Liaison for the College of Arts and Sciences. He manages the College’s website for teaching and professional development, assists A&S faculty in the processes of revising or developing online courses, organizes events (such as OLIS) and participates in technology committees across campus.

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Richard Newton

Richard Newton received his PhD in Critical Comparative Scriptures from Claremont Graduate University.

Dr. Newton’s areas of interest include theory and method in the study of religion, African American history, the New Testament in Western imagination, American cultural politics, and pedagogy in religious studies. His research explores how people create “scriptures” and how those productions operate in the formation of identities and cultural boundaries. In addition to an array of book chapters and online essays, Dr. Newton has published in the Journal of Biblical Literature and Method & Theory in the Study of Religion among other venues. His book, Identifying Roots: Alex Haley and the Anthropology of Scriptures (Equinox, 2020), casts Alex Haley’s Roots as a case study in the dynamics of scriptures and identity politics with critical implication for the study of race, religion, and media. And you can learn more about his use of digital media and pedagogy at his site, Sowing the Seed: Fruitful Conversations in Religion, Culture, and Teaching.

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Vaia Touna

Vaia Touna completed her doctoral studies at the University of Alberta 2015. Although Greek is her first language, she is also fluent in English, French, and Italian, as well as working in ancient Greek source materials. Her research focuses on the sociology of identity formation with examples drawn from the ancient Greco-Roman world and modern Greece. Prof. Touna is currently working on a project—which is intended as a new monograph—that draws upon her first book, Fabrications of the Greek Past: Religion, Tradition, and the Making of Modern Identities (Brill 2017), where she demonstrates how the discourses of historical agents (mainly scholars) signify past material by placing them in current narratives, thereby authorizing certain identities (whether national or personal) both in the present and past. The new book project expands on this first work and will be a significant contribution in the field as it will demonstrate how the construction of the past and people’s identities in the present is a dialectical, interactive process that involves not only scholars and the artifacts they study—as the first book maintained—but also an often unnoticed collaboration between a variety of participants (e.g., archaeologists and local residents, worshipers and tourists, museum visitors and curators, etc.), who each have their own narratives about, and investments in the past. Her project involves fieldwork ethnography and archival research in Greece.

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