Politics and Publics

Penn’s Department of Religious Studies is committed to promoting public understanding of religion. Collectively, the faculty is also interested in deepening scholarly understanding of how religious communities communicate and how media outlets portray religion. Several faculty members in the department pursue focused research in this area. Prof. Butler studies notions of religion in American public life as well as in Europe and Africa; she also appears regularly on television and has bylines in outlets such as the Guardian and the Washington Post. Prof. Robb has published on how print cultures contributed to the development of religious identity and community in northern India, including analysis of gender and affect. Prof. Thomas published a book on how fans of Japanese manga and anime create “religious frames of mind” through their consumption of illustrated media, and his recent projects include analyses of media such as Buddhist magazines, wartime propaganda films, and instructional reel-to-reel films shown in public school classrooms. Prof. McDaniel's work on Buddhist public and civic architecture in Japan, Thailand, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Indonesia and Singapore speaks to the way material culture forms the public sphere. Prof. Weitzman’s recent book contributed to public understanding of religion by addressing the production of Jewish identity in a meditation on the scholarly and popular quest for origins, and his side project on the FBI and religion shows how concerns about public security may spur surveillance of, and even violent interventions in, religions’ affairs. Grad students not only benefit from faculty expertise within the department, but also from the expertise of faculty in other departments such as Law, Sociology, and Political Science.