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Orthodox Christian Studies Distinguished Fellowships

Dr. Mariz Tadros, contributor to the Orthodoxy and Human Rights project

The Orthodox Christian Studies Center has provided fellowships to dozens of scholars at various stages of their careers and research projects. Their work has contributed seminal research to the fields of Byzantine history, Orthodox Christian tradition and contemporary geopolitical issues. The study covers the broad landscape of Orthodoxy, including among others: Albanian, Antiochian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Coptic, Greek, Russian, Serbian, Ukrainian, and American Orthodox.

Support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and other funders has been critical in helping to build a thriving community of scholars. While in residence at the Center, participants have access to Fordham’s vibrant academic community that creates space for intellectual exchange and broadens public scholarship.

 

Available Fellowships

Faculty Fellowship
Dissertation Completion Fellowship

Orthodox Christian Studies Center co-directors George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou.

Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, each year the Orthodox Christian Studies Center invites applications for one Faculty Fellowship and one Dissertation Completion Fellowship in Orthodox Christian Studies. The Center welcomes fellows from all humanities disciplines whose projects focus on some aspect of the history, thought, or culture of Orthodox Christianity and contribute to fostering Orthodox Christian studies as a discipline in its own right.

 

Research Fellowship in Coptic Orthodox Studies

Two men conversing with each other.

The center invites applications for a Research Fellowship in Coptic Orthodox Studies open to current faculty, independent scholars, and advanced Ph.D. candidates completing their dissertations. The center welcomes applications from all humanities and social sciences disciplines whose projects focus on some aspect of the history, thought, or culture of Coptic Orthodox Christianity, whether in Egypt or abroad.

 

Postdoctoral Fellowship in Armenian Christian Studies

Wwarded in conjunction with the Zohrab Information Center at the Armenian Church of America (Eastern Diocese), the Postdoctoral Fellowship in Armenian Christian Studies is a two-year research fellowship (with the option for a third year of support) that doubles as the position of Director of the Zohrab Information Center.


Current Fellows

Michael Azar

 

Michael G. Azar (Faculty Fellow)

Michael G. Azar is a deacon in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and Associate Professor of Theology/ Religious Studies at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, where he also directs the graduate program. He holds an MA in Theology from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and a PhD in Theology, with a focus on the New Testament, from Fordham University. His first book, Exegeting the Jews: The Early Reception of the Johannine “Jews” (Brill, 2016), examines Greek patristic readings of the infamous “Jews” of John’s Gospel, and he has otherwise published a variety of articles that examine the impact of the Bible in Eastern Christian-Jewish relations and related topics. His other scholarly pursuits include New Testament studies, especially apocalyptic thought and the "parting of the ways," and the effects that contemporary sociopolitical policies have on scholarly understandings of the ancient world. His current project, Reframing Christian-Jewish Relations in Light of Orthodox Christianity in the Holy Land, examines the ways in which Orthodox Christianity’s history, theology, and contemporary expression in Palestine and Israel can recontextualize the academic field of Christian-Jewish relations and the general Palestinian-Israeli-European/American interaction that it often affects.

Michele E. Watkins (Faculty Fellow)

Michele Watkins

 

Michele E. Watkins is an assistant professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego. She earned her Ph.D. and M.Div. at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Howard University in Washington, DC (Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude), and a Certification in Non-Profit Management from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  She will use her fellowship to work on her first monograph, tentatively titled Deification of the Desacralized: Critical Correlations Among Womanist & Orthodox Theologies. With this project, she uses a womanist methodology, a research method that places black women and their communities at the center of theological reflection, to critically analyze how the omission of race, gender, class, and sexuality in on the doctrinal principle of theosis preserves the status quo of white supremacy that devalues the sacrality of black women’s embodiment and personhood. She hopes to create a meaningful dialogue between Womanist and Orthodox theologians on the experience of salvation that affirms the sacred worth of black women and contributes to the survival and flourishing of marginal communities within a culture of epistemic and structural violence. 

Watkins is the Executive Director for the Society for the Study of Black Religion, the oldest scholarly guild dedicated to the study and production of knowledge on black religious experience. Her research and forthcoming publications include work on black and womanist, patristic, and Orthodox theologies on faith, reason, and theosis; the political theology of Paul J. Tillich, and the post-theism of Friedrich Nietzsche and Delores S. Williams.

Konrad Siekierski (Dissertation Fellow)

Konrad Siekierski

 

Konrad Siekierski holds an MA in cultural anthropology from the University of Warsaw, Poland. His research interests include religion in Soviet and post-Soviet Armenia, identity formation in the Armenian diaspora, and modern Polish Catholicism. He is co-editor of Armenia: A Modern Culture from Anthropological Perspective (2014, in Polish) and Armenians in Post-Socialist Europe (2016), co-author of Armenian Catholics in Armenia and Georgia: History, Memory, and Identity (2019, in Polish), and author of several articles published in academic journals and collective volumes. His latest article, “Scripts, Saints, and Scientists: The Social Lives of Gospel Books in an Armenian Museum,” is to be published in the Spring 2021 issue of the Journal of Orthodox Christian Studies.   

Konrad is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London. Based upon ten years of ethnographic research, his doctoral thesis, A Vow to Go: Religion, Reunion, and Roots in Armenian Pilgrimage, examines the different forms that pilgrimage takes today in Armenian culture. It offers a novel conceptualization of pilgrimage as an act mobilized by cathexis and kinetic interactions with the sacred. This concept draws upon the Armenian Christian understanding of pilgrimage as ukhtagnatsutyun – ‘a journey to fulfill a vow.’ Along three main lines of inquiry – religion, reunion, and roots – Konrad’s dissertation examines how pilgrimage reflects and responds to larger social issues, such as the precarious living conditions of post-communist Armenia, the transnational character of the Armenian Christian community, and the trauma of the genocide that in many ways define Armenian identity and religiosity. By addressing these issues, his work combines Orthodox Christian Studies and Armenian Studies while offering a contribution that will speak to scholars both within and outside these two disciplines.

Samuel Kaldas (Coptic Fellow)

Samuel Kaldas

Samuel Kaldas is a Lecturer at St Cyril’s Coptic Orthodox Theological College (Sydney College of Divinity) and currently an Anderson Junior Research Fellow at the University of Sydney. He holds a Grad. Cert. in Theology from St Andrew's Orthodox Theological College and a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Ancient History from the University of Sydney, where he also completed his PhD in Philosophy analysing the origins and religious outlook of the seventeenth-century anti-Calvinist movement known as ‘Cambridge Platonism’. Recently, he has published journal articles and book chapters in patristics, Coptic theology and early modern philosophy. As part of his research role at St Cyril’s, he has contributed along with a number of scholars to the Archive of Contemporary Coptic Orthodox Theology, an online repository of primary sources of contemporary Coptic theology in English translation.

His project for the Coptic Fellowship aims to shed light on the theological dimensions of the ‘revival’ or ‘reform’ phenomenon which transformed the Coptic Church in the twentieth century, taking liturgical theology as a case study. Beginning with the liturgical theologies of early figures associated with the Coptic Theological Seminary and proceeding through the Sunday School Movement to important liturgical theologians of subsequent generations like Bishop Bimen of Mallawi and Fr Bishoy Kamel, the project examines how liturgical life and the Eucharist in particular proved to be a constant and inexhaustible source of inspiration for Copts during a momentous and often tumultuous century. The diverse and changing purposes for which Coptic theologians reflected on and appealed to liturgical life provide a fascinating snapshot of the evolving challenges that faced the reform movement over time. From polemical defences of liturgical ritual aimed at countering the critiques of Protestant missonaries to rich and mystical reflections on the Eucharistic essence of the Church, Coptic writing on the liturgy captures in microcosm the attempts of a large, diverse and often fractious theological community to articulate a Coptic Christian identity that was at once faithful to its ancient heritage, while robust and creative enough to meet the challenges of modernity.

Jesse Arlen

Jesse Arlen

Jesse Siragan Arlen is a Ph.D. Candidate in Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Interim Director of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center. His research pertains to literature and intellectual history, with attention to education, asceticism, and mysticism in Eastern Christianity and Islam from the late antique to early modern period. His studies have appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as Viator, Manuscripta, Hugoye, and the Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, and he has contributed chapters to several edited volumes.

His dissertation, “A Window into the Tenth Century: The Life and Literary Works of Anania of Narek,” uses this pivotal but understudied figure to offer new insights onto some of the major regional developments of the era from the Islamicate world to Byzantium. As part of the project, he is preparing the first translation into a modern language of Anania’s Book of Instruction (Khratagirkʿ).

His research has been supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship for Research on Minorities in the Middle East & North Africa, the Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fund Fellowship, and a U.S. Department of Education Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Fellowship for Middle East & North Africa Studies.

Ashley Purpura (2020-21 Faculty Fellow)

Ashley Purpura is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University. She holds a Ph.D. from Fordham University and a M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School. Purpura researches the history of Orthodox Christian thought, and investigates how historical religious practices and intellectual traditions shape structures and identities within past and present religious communities. Her first book, God, Hierarchy, and Power: Orthodox Theologies of Authority from Byzantium (Fordham University Press, 2018) offers a rethinking of the development and maintenance of “hierarchy” as a theological concept. Recently, she has published several articles on religious constructions of gender and authority.

Currently, Purpura is preparing her second book monograph, tentatively titled Sanctifying the Patriarchal Woman: (mis)Representing Gender Equality in Orthodox Christian Tradition. With this project, she uses a feminist premise to critically analyze the representation of women and equality in traditional Orthodox Christian religious sources. Although many examples of hagiography, hymnography, patristic theology, canon law, and hierarchically-issued statements claim women are spiritual equals to men, this equality is often implicitly qualified through the presentation of women’s humanity via androcentric priorities. Moreover, influential Orthodox sources present spiritual progress in terms of obedience, humility, service, asceticism, and becoming more fully human, but appear to leave little room for religious values that prioritize equality. Consequently, this project examines the ways Orthodox dogmatic claims nevertheless depend on affirming the full and equal humanity of women, and offers methodological resources for engaging tradition more inclusively.

Elena Romashko (2020-21 Dissertation Fellow)

Elena Romashko was born and raised in Minsk (Belarus), she holds a magister degree in Theology and Religious Studies from the Belarusian State University and a M.A. degree in Intercultural Theology from the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany in cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences for Intercultural Theology Hermannsburg, Germany. Currently she is a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Andreas Grünschloß and PD Dr. Fritz Heinrich. For the last three years she has been teaching and working as a research assistant for the international master program Intercultural Theology at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. 

Her research looks at how the Chernobyl disaster is commemorated through Russian Orthodox symbolism, artifacts and spaces. She analyzes Russian Orthodox icons depicting the Chernobyl disaster and Russian Orthodox churches built to commemorate it. Moreover, she is working on the religious imagery in Chernobyl memorial art that is used to convey fears and challenges caused by nuclear contamination. A particular interest is directed towards the representation of women, children and people with disabilities in the memorial art. she conducted her fieldwork in Belarus, because the impact of the Chernobyl explosion on its population and culture is often unnoticed, despite the contamination of 23% of its territory.

Febe Armanios (2020-21 Coptic Fellow)

Febe Armanios is a Professor of History at Middlebury College. She is an internationally recognized expert of Coptic Orthodox and Middle Eastern Christianity, and in the growing field of Food Studies. Her research focuses on comparative religious practices between Christians and Muslims, and among Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christian communities of the Middle East and Balkans. She has explored everything from the veneration of saints and pilgrimages, to diverse food and fasting traditions, comparative gender roles, and the ways that different communities use media—particularly television—in the modern Middle East. Throughout the past two decades, her research has taken her to Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan, Greece, Lebanon, and Turkey, among many other locales. She is the author of Coptic Christianity in Ottoman Egypt (Oxford University Press, 2011) and the co-author (with Boğaç Ergene) of the award-winning Halal Food: A History (Oxford University Press, 2018). She has published multiple articles, book chapters, and blog entries, and has been interviewed as an expert on Coptic Christianity and the Middle East by numerous media establishments, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, and CBS’s 60 Minutes. In the past, she also received several awards and fellowships including from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, the Gerda Henkel Foundation, and the American Council of Learned Societies.

Her project “Coptic Orthodox Television: A Modern History” focuses on the history of Coptic channels in Egypt and the diaspora, as part of a larger book manuscript titled Satellite Ministries: The Rise of Christian Television in the Middle East. Her research situates the history of Coptic television channels within their modern Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and global landscapes—within a multifarious religious, political, and mediatic ecology. She explores the evolution of Coptic satellite channels, from 2005 till the present, as part of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s adaptation to new media technologies, shifting religious discourses, and onerous political pressures. Coptic channels were developed, at least initially, in reaction to an American televangelist presence in the Middle East and the rise of regional Arab Christian stations. In exploring this topic, she considers how Coptic clergy and laity found innovative ways to carve out a separate Coptic Orthodox identity within their diverse programming, which ranged from edifying liturgical broadcasts and talk shows to Coptic “hagiopics” (filmic hagiographies of Coptic saints) and lively music performances. Coptic media leaders achieved these feats in a regional context where public expression of Christianity had been often curtailed. In all, she argues that over the past several years, television has come to play a defining role in what it means to be a believing Middle Eastern Christian, and she emphasizes how Coptic-sponsored television has transformed traditional religion, created “virtual churches” in private homes, and beckoned the faithful to maintain their identity.

Joy Demoskoff (2019-20 Faculty Fellow)

Joy Demoskoff

 

Joy Demoskoff is an Assistant Professor of History at Briercrest College and Seminary in Saskatchewan, Canada. She graduated with an honors B.A. in history from Crandall University, an M.A. from Queen’s University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta. Her research interests include the history of modern Russia, historical approaches to the study of religion, and the history of Christianity. She contributed to the volume Orthodox Christianity in Imperial Russia, edited by Heather Coleman (Indiana University Press, 2014).

Joy is working on a book titled Sin and Crime in Imperial Russia: Healing Souls and Punishing Offence through Monastic Incarceration. It investigates the use of public penance as a disciplinary mechanism by both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state authorities between 1721 and 1917. By examining the practices involved in caring for prisoners and in disciplining their behavior as found in the archival record, while also attending to the rhetoric of penance in the teachings of the church and in the imperial law codes, this book explores the relationship between the theology and the material history of public penance in the Russian empire. Drawing on the traditional Orthodox understanding of sin as disease and penance as medicine, it considers the degree to which healing and reconciliation through penance were possible in the imperial Russian context

Sarah Riccardi-Swartz (2019-20 Dissertation Fellow)

Sarah Riccardi-Swartz

 

Sarah Riccardi-Swartz is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at New York University. After completing an honors B.A. and M.A. in Religious Studies (American religions) at Missouri State University, she came to NYU to study and research religion and politics in the United States from an anthropological perspective. Along the way, she obtained a graduate certificate in Culture and Media (ethnographic filmmaking) and an M.Phil in anthropology from NYU. Her research interests primarily focus on new forms of conservatism, far-right religious communities, fundamentalism and traditionalism, and the ever-expanding political tensions between Russia and the United States. 

Based on twelve months of fieldwork in the Appalachian Mountains with a community of Russian Orthodox Christians, Sarah’s dissertation examines the transnational, political implications of conversion alongside the social imaginaries of practitioners, paying close attention to new far-right, religio-political formations in rural economies. Russian Orthodoxy is often seen as a highly ideological, insular, and ethnically fragmented form of Christianity that rejects many of the socio-political values associated with the United States. Yet, it is attracting American-born, non-Russian converts at a steadily increasing rate, particularly in rural areas of the American South, Appalachia, and the Ozarks. Orthodoxy, often marginalized as a “Christianity of alterity,” is now being taken up by people from regions and communities that are themselves subjected to stereotypes of closure in the American imagination, thereby rendering these places and spaces as sites of global religio-political encounter. Sarah’s research complicates what it means to be a rural Christian, highlighting how long-standing political tensions between the United States and Russia are dramatized in the turn to an eastern faith.

Sarah’s dissertation research has been supported by New York University and the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. In 2018-2019 she was a Louisville dissertation fellow for the study of American Christianity. In 2019-2020, alongside the NEH dissertation fellowship from the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, she will also be a Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellow through the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Candace Lukasik (2019-20 Coptic Fellow)

Candace Lukasik

 

Candace Lukasik is a Ph.D. Candidate in Anthropology at UC Berkeley. Her research sits at the intersection of migration, religion, and politics with a focus on American geopolitical interest in Middle Eastern Christians. She has ongoing interests in secularism and secularity, the transnational politics of Muslim-Christian relations, and global Christianity.

Her dissertation project explores the transnational circulation of political subjectivities and religious practices through the lens of Coptic Orthodox Christian emigration from Egypt to the United States. For this work, she has received fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Louisville Institute for the Study of American Religion, the Institute of International Studies (UC Berkeley), and The Center for Middle Eastern Studies (UC Berkeley).

She has written opinion editorials and short-form essays for Public Orthodoxy, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, and The Coptic Canadian History Project (CCHP), and has published in The Alexandria School Journal and Middle East Critique. Since 2018, she has also been a co-curator for the Anthropology of Christianity Bibliography Blog (AnthroCyBib). The Orthodox Christian Studies Center has also included her as a participant in their project on Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights, funded by the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs and Leadership 100, between 2019-2022.

Maria Alina Asavei (2018-19 Faculty Fellow)

Maria-Alina Asavei (Faculty Fellow)

Maria-Alina Asavei, 2018-19 OCSC NEH Faculty Fellow

Maria-Alina Asavei is Lecturer at the Institute of International Studies, Charles University in Prague and Senior Researcher within Primus research project titled “Beyond Hegemonic Narratives and Myths.” She is also independent curator of contemporary art. Some of her most recent publications include: "Art and Religious Revitalization Movements in Post-Communist Romania: the Zidarus’ Case," Politics, Religion & Ideology (2017); "Call the Witness: Romani Holocaust Related Art in Austria and Marika Schmiedt’s Will to Memory", Memory Studies (2017), and “Nicolae Ceausescu: between Vernacular Memory and Nostalgia,” Twentieth Century Communism (2017).

Project

As part of her NEH research fellowship she will focus on Political Resistance through Religious Neo-Orthodox Art in (Post) Communist Romania. The aim is to demonstrate that in the Romanian (post)-communist social and political context, some religious/spiritual art productions reassessed and revisited traditional Orthodox religious discourses and narratives with the aim of mutually developing new identities from the bottom up. At the same time, these artistic productions re-enacted older religious narratives (both Christian-Orthodox allegories and elements from other world religions) as a tactic to circumvent the official understanding of the “religious” through artistic activism and grassroots mobilization.

John Zaleski (2018-19 Dissertation Fellow)

John Zaleski (Dissertation Fellow)

John Zaleski, 2018-2019 OCSC NEH Dissertation Fellow

John Zaleski is a Ph.D. candidate in the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. After completing his A.B. in Religion and Classics at Dartmouth College, John came to Harvard to study medieval Christian and Islamic history. His research has concentrated on the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East during the seventh through ninth centuries, a period of extensive exchange both among eastern Christian communities and between Christians and Muslims.

Project

In his dissertation, John examines the exchange and the transformation of Late Antique ascetic traditions, through the lens of East Syrian Christian and early Muslim writing on the central ascetic disciplines of fasting and celibacy. Although East Syrian monks were politically and confessionally separated from the Orthodox churches of Byzantium, they nevertheless created a vigorous commentary tradition in which they studied and debated about Greek monastic texts, and in so doing, significantly developed early Orthodox traditions of ascetic practice. At the same time, Muslim authors in the eighth and ninth centuries adapted, rejected, or transformed these broader Orthodox ascetic ideals, in order to create self-consciously Islamic traditions of ascetic practice. The dissertation thus expands our understanding of the development of a diverse and cross-confessional Orthodox Christian ascetic tradition and reveals the multifaceted engagement of Muslim authors with this tradition.

John has undertaken research for his dissertation at Harvard University and, from September 2016 to May 2018, as a William R. Tyler fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. In addition, his research has taken him to examine Syriac and Arabic manuscripts in Birmingham, Fes, Istanbul, London, and Paris. He looks forward with great pleasure to joining the rich intellectual community of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center as he completes his dissertation.

Aram G. Sarkisian (2017-18 Dissertation Fellow)

Biography:2017-2018 NEH Dissertation Fellow Aram Sarkisian


Aram G. Sarkisian is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Northwestern University studying the late nineteenth and early twentieth century United States, with a particular focus on American religious history. A native of the Detroit area, Aram holds a BA in Russian and East European Studies from the University of Michigan and an AM in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago.

Aram is currently a T.H. Breen Fellow at the the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies, Northwestern University, where he is organizing the conference: "Walls and Bridges: Migration and its Histories."

Project:

Aram's dissertation, titled "The Cross Between Hammer and Sickle: Russian Orthodox Christians in Red Scare America, 1908-1924," is a study of the Russian Orthodox Church's North American Archdiocese in the crucible of immigration, war, American nativism, and transnational crises wrought by the rise of Bolshevism. His project draws on a wide variety of English- and Russian-language sources, from church newspapers and administrative documents to reports and records produced by various United States government agencies, to tell a unique story about the interplay between members of a beleaguered immigrant church and an emboldened and wide-reaching federal state. Aram's dissertation argues that the mechanisms used by the federal government to out "radicals" thought to be fomenting a Bolshevik revolution on American soil, as well as national rhetoric encouraging the coercive "Americanization" of immigrants, were primary tools clergy and laity alike utilized to reinvent what it meant to be a Russian Orthodox Christian in a post-revolutionary world.