Religious Studies


Jay Williams '54, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies emeritus

Areas of Expertise: comparative religion.
Jay Williams '54 earned an M.Div. degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. More >>

His specialty is the philosophy of religion and in that area he has published two books, The Riddle of the Sphinx and A Reassessment of Absolute Skepticism and Religious Faith, as well as several articles.

Never content with just metaphysical abstractions, he has applied his philosophical understanding to the thought of both west and east, publishing books about the ancient Hebrews, Jesus, and Jewish history.

He has also written several scholarly articles about Mesopotamian mythology, the Bible, the Cambridge Platonists, theosophy and Christian theology. Williams has published articles on the I Ching, The Confucian Analects, the Tao Teh Ching, the Lotus Sutra, and the Vimalakirtinirdesasutra. In 2000 he published a biography of Edward Robinson (Hamilton 1816), the 19th century explorer of Palestine and long-time president of the American Oriental Society. In 2004 he published a translation of and commentary upon a previously unknown gospel, probably from Tang dynasty China. In a different vein, Williams published The Voyage of Life, a collection of his own poetry, as well as Around the Quad, a collection of verse that evokes memories of Hamilton College. In 2008 he published The Path and it Power: Lao Zi’s thoughts for the 21st Century, as well as Religion, What it has been and what it is. Today, most of Williams' courses concern religious thought and expression in south and east Asia.

Abhishek Amar, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Areas of Expertise: archaeological history of South Asian religions, especially Buddhist and Hindu traditions; research in themes of inter-religious dynamics, syncretism and religious transformation; colonialism and reconfigurations of sacred centers; and religion and water management in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions.
Abhishek S. Amar specializes in the archaeological history of South Asian religions. More >>

After completing his Ph.D. in history from SOAS, University of London, he received a fellowship from Kate Hamburger Kolleg at Ruhr University, Germany, in 2009 to conduct research on inter-religious interactions in early Medieval India. In 2013 Amar received The John R. Hatch Class of 1925 Excellence in Teaching Award at Hamilton College.

Amar has co-edited Cross-Disciplinary Perspective on a Contested Buddhist Site: Bodhgaya Jataka (2012) and also published articles in leading scholarly journals and edited collections. He is currently working on his monograph, Contextualizing Bodhgaya, which examines the issues of expansion, sustenance and religious transformation of Buddhism at the site of Buddha’s enlightenment.

Amar is also directing a digital research project, Sacred Centers in India, which examines material culture and texts to unravel the multi-layered histories of Hindu and Buddhist cities of Gaya and Bodhgaya respectively.

Stephenson Humphries-Brooks, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies

Areas of Expertise: New Testament studies; literary and social-historical criticism of the Gospels; religion in film; early Christian mysticism; and theories and methods for the study of religion.
Humphries-Brooks came to Hamilton in 1983 as a visiting instructor of religion. He received the Ph.D. in religion from Columbia University/Union Theological Seminary with a specialization in New Testament studies. More >>

Teaching and research interests include literary and social-historical criticism of the Gospels, religion in film, early Christian mysticism, theories and methods for the study of religion. Humphries-Brooks' early research and publication concentrated on the Gospel of Matthew. His most recent book, Cinematic Savior: Hollywood's Making of the American Christ (Praeger, 2006) examines how the life of Jesus has been portrayed in mainstream films. His current book project, Raging Gods, also a class—RelSt 421—discusses the contributions of Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese to the religious culture in American Film.

Brent Plate, Ph.D., Visiting Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Areas of Expertise: religion and media; religion and popular culture; comparative religions; blasphemy and controversial art; and religious life in the U.S.
S. Brent Plate joins Hamilton as visiting associate professor of religious studies. His teaching and research focus on how ways of seeing affect ways of being religious. More >>

His teaching and research focus on how ways of seeing affect ways of being religious. What humans look at, the type of images created, and how humans learn to see images, are all shaped by cultural, biological and religious environments.

Investigating "religious visual culture," Plate's work is interdisciplinary, moving between developments in cultural anthropology, art history, film studies, and increasingly cognitive science, along with his home discipline, religious studies. Book-length publications include Religion and Film (Wallflower Press, 2008), The Religion and Film Reader (2007), Blasphemy: Art that Offends (2006), Walter Benjamin, Religion, and Aesthetics (2005), Re-Viewing the Passion: Mel Gibson's Film and Its Critics (2004), and Representing Religion in World Cinema (2003). Plate is also co-founder and managing editor of the journal, Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief.

More about S. Brent Plate >>

Heidi Ravven, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies

Areas of Expertise: Baruch Spinoza, neurophilosophy, Jewish studies and philosophy of religion.
Heidi M. Ravven is professor of religious studies and has been on the faculty since 1983. She teaches Jewish studies and the philosophy of religion and she has also become a neurophilosopher. More >>

Ravven is a specialist on the philosophy of the 17th century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. She was the first to argue that Spinoza's moral philosophy is a systems theory of ethics. Ravven was also the first philosopher to propose that Spinoza anticipated central discoveries in the neuroscience of the emotions.

In 2004 Ravven received an unsolicited $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to write a book rethinking ethics. That book, The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will was published by The New Press in May, 2013. It is an extended and multidisciplinary inquiry into moral agency: why we are moral, why and when we are not, and how to get people to be more moral.

Ravven is a member of the advisory editorial board of the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics, and informatics. She is responsible for advising and editorial activities in neurophilosophy and ethics.

Seth Schermerhorn, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Areas of Expertise: anthropology of religion, global Christianities, religion in American, Native American religious traditions, traditional ecological knowledge, pilgrimage, personhood, and place.
Seth Schermerhorn specializes in the interdisciplinary study of indigenous religious traditions, particularly in the southwestern United States. More >>

Although Schermerhorn has worked with several indigenous nations, he works most extensively with the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona. Schermerhorn teaches classes on indigenous religious traditions, Native American religious freedom, indigenous ecologies, pilgrimage, and global Christianities.

Richard Seager, Ph.D, Bates and Benjamin Professor of Religious Studies

Areas of Expertise: religions of the United States, with emphasis on new, marginal or excluded groups and their relationships to the core American values; Buddhism in the U.S. over the last century; and Mexican-U.S. border issues and tensions.
Richard Seager’s field of study is the religions of the United States. His interests include immigration, religion and the environment, and cultural encounter in the age of globalization. More >>

Seager has written most extensively about the movement of Asian religions into this country. His first two books were devoted to the World’s Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893, a signal event in the East/West encounter. He then published Buddhism in America (Columbia, 1999), an examination of prominent communities and leading figures in a range of Buddhist traditions currently setting down roots in this country. Seager published his latest book, Encountering the Dharma (University of California Press) in March, 2006. It offers a rare insider’s look at Soka Gakkai Buddhism, one of Japan's most influential and controversial religious movements, and one that is experiencing explosive growth around the world. 

Seager is currently working on the history of the movement of Yoga from India to the West. He teaches the history of this material both in his seminar Yoga West to East at Hamilton and in Yoga teacher training retreats held under the auspices of the Yoga Institute of Houston, Texas.