2011 Scholars

Damien Arthur is enrolled in a Ph.D. program at West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV. He has completed a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) from Boston University in Religion, Culture, and Personality and graduated third in his class with the honors designation of magna cum laude.  His Bachelors degree (B.A.) is in Biblical Criticism and Theological Studies from Gordon College in Wenham, MA. His Ph.D. is in Political Science and Public Policy. The major fields of his degree are in American Political Development, American Public Policy, and Public Administration. His minor field is in Higher Education Administration and Policy. He is also completing a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies. Most of his interests focus on the intersections of religion and politics, along with many derivatives of this such as gender, sexuality, and other morality policies. He is interested in the socio-political impacts of religion on the political process/public policy and how these phenomena affect our daily religious and political lives, particularly social, racial, and religious oppression. He hopes, through the State of Formation, to critically, analytically, and rationally question and articulate contemporary and progressive thoughts about difficult questions of faith, justice, and truth in order that we might learn more about one another and pursue a more responsible citizenship. He is an unashamed life-long student, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, a husband to Joni, and a father to Sophia Katherine. You can follow him on twitter @damien_arthur.

Rose Aslan is a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Department of Religious Studies, where she specializes in Islamic Studies. Her academic studies focus on pilgrimage, sacred space, and sectarian identity formation in Iraq. She received her MA in Arab and Islamic Civilizations from the American University in Cairo and her BA in Religious Studies from the University of British Columbia. She has lived and studied in Egypt for over five years, part of that time as a Fulbright Scholar, as well as in Armenia and Iran. With the Muslim Peacemaker Teams based in Najaf, Iraq, she spent five weeks embedded with Iraqi families. She met with Iraqis from all walks of life throughout the country, engaged in intra-Muslim dialogue, and gave lectures about Muslim life and culture in America. An active community member in the Chapel Hill area, she strives to create connections between people of diverse faiths in the area and participates in several local interfaith dialogue and action groups. She is dedicated to spreading awareness and understanding about Islam in American society as well as bridging the faith divide and contributing towards a pluralistic understanding of American society. She is aspires to become a public scholar, combining her academic interests with her interfaith activist work.

Sarah J. Blake is an ordained minister with the Church of God, Anderson, IN and is the author of two chapters in Discipleship That Transforms: An Introduction to Christian Education from a Wesleyan Holiness Perspective (Warner Press, 2011). She provides written articles as well as teachings and seminars on topics of special interest in ministry. Her areas of focus include biblical studies, online ministry, disability issues, chronic illness, and divorce. Sarah graduated with an M.Div. from Anderson University Scool of Theology in 2009 with professional distinction in Hebrew. In addition to two years of Hebrew, she studied two years of Greek and served as a teaching assistant in an introductory greek course. Sarah’s experience with religious work includes two years as a co-moderator of the religion and ethics forum on a national dialup service prior to her introduction to the Internet. Since getting on the Internet in 1995, she has moderated several online support groups for people with disabilities. She maintains a web site with information about living with disability and Christian spirituality. Sarah’s work with the interfaith forum and her interactions with persons with disabilities have provided her exposure to worldviews that are very different from her own. In her ministry and writing, she seeks to maintain faithfulness to a Wesleyan reading of Scripture while also respecting the experience and questions of people with whom she interacts.

Patrick Brown, 22, is studying for an MA in Theology at Catholic Theological Union. He is focusing on systematic theology with a minor in Inter-religious dialogue. In the spring of 2011 he graduated from DePaul University with a BA in Digital Cinema. Raised Roman-Catholic, Patrick has always appreciated the wealth of diversity among the Christian denominations and religions at large. He has worked closely with children and people with disabilities in a variety of both religious and secular capacities. He is constantly challenged and enriched by his relationships with people from a variety of faith traditions, including his fiance. He is looking forward to enriching his understanding of his own religious identity in dialogue with others. He is especially interested in issues of Justice and peace and how they interact with the religious landscape. He is committed to promoting dialogues of life and action.

Tiffany Buchanan is a Master of Divinity student at McCormick Theological Seminary. She completed her Master of Arts degree in Sociology, specializing in Organizations and Institutions, as well as Social Psychology at Northern Illinois University. She also completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology at Northern Illinois University Magna Cum Laude. Her research at the undergraduate and graduate level has been centered in assessing social stratification at the micro and macro level, with particular emphasis on educational, race, class and gender iniquity. She spent the better part of seven years studying worldview systems as a cultural social fact, which led her on several study abroad trips to Ghana, West Africa which culminated in a theoretical work dissecting the development of the social self. She has served as a panelist for the African American Leadership conference at Northern Illinois University. She has received numerous departmental awards, including the James Massey Social Justice Award and first place research paper award for the upper division, entitled: “Production of the Ideal Conformist.” She was the guest moderator for the International Erasing Racism program hosted at Northern Illinois University. She has been a guest lecturer since 2006 presenting her research on worldview systems, some which include: “Race, Racism and Worldviews”, “Worldviews, Culture and Socialization”, “Relationships, Worldviews and Empowerment”, and “Race, Worldviews and Social Healing.” She has worked at the collegiate level as Adjunct Sociology Faculty with several universities with extensive experience in both the ground campus and online virtual classroom for over three years. She is the Founder and Executive Director of “Love Learning Empowerment” a non-profit education outreach firm, while also serving as the Executive Director of Royal Dynasty Construction, Inc. Her first book, “Love is the Divine Source of Healing: Lessons on Becoming an Authentic Radiant Woman of God” will be published and available this winter. But of all her accomplishments, she is most proud to be the mother to Renato Gene, her son, a freshman at Martin Luther King College Prep.

collinsMichael VZ Collins (née Michael VanZandt), 28, serves as a community organizer and advocate for green initiatives and design-build projects in Boston’s underserved communities. Reared in the culturally Catholic mill-town, Lee, of the western Massachusetts hinterlands, Mike’s moral imagination came to formation and received the sacraments with papal approval and under the tutelage of the Sisters of St. Joseph. At Boston College, classes on human rights and normative social ethics merged service projects and political activism to create a forum of applying ethics into praxis. Exposed to the Sant’Egidio lay Catholic community in Rome while studying at the Gregorian, Mike gravitated to issues of immigration and capital punishment. However, thus far, the 150 students whom Mike taught, at what is now Cristo Rey Boston, have had the greatest impact on his personal and vocational development. The multi-cultural, multi-religious urban high school classrooms altered Mike’s sense of vocation and purpose as a student and teacher of religion and ethics. Holding a Master’s in Social Ethics, Mike is presently studying Arabic and Islam part-time while he prepares applications for Master’s programs in Islamic studies, with the aspiration of one day becoming a professor of comparative ethics. He can be reached through multimedia sources such as email (vanzandt@gmail.com) or twitter (@VZCollins).

Andy Cook has a longstanding interest in religion, spirituality, and civic engagement.  Growing up in the Conservative Jewish tradition, Andy learned from an early age the importance of asking questions, knowing why one believes what they do, and placing importance on the work of improving our world. After graduating from Colby College (2009) with a degree in political science and a minor in Jewish Studies, Andy worked for two years in communications and public affairs for the Minnesota House Republican Caucus.  This fall, he began a new position at the Regions Hospital Foundation in Saint Paul, Minnesota, supporting the hospital in its mission of delivering quality, compassionate care to all who need it.  These educational and professional experiences have helped to shape Andy’s world view, and to affirm the value of collaborating with others while maintaining both principle and an open mind.  Andy’s faith journey includes the preparation and learning for Bar Mitzvah and confirmation, studies at Colby, and teaching experience at his Synagogue’s Shabbat Morning Program and at the Minneapolis Talmud Torah. He continues exploring ideas of faith and spirituality with people of diverse religious backgrounds, and seeks to bring his tradition along as we all write our story of humanity and progress.

Nathan F. Elmore received a M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago, in 1999, back before the dawn of the 21st century. Throughout the 2000s, his pastoral ministry has included leadership experiences in a Christian & Missionary Alliance mega-church in Salem, Oregon, a mid-size interdenominational university church in Clemson, South Carolina, and a small Virginia Baptist church plant in Richmond, Virginia. Emblematic of a vocational shift toward concentrated work in Christian-Muslim relations—focused on peacemaking and reconciliation—Nathan is a practitioner-consultant with Peace Catalyst International even as he serves the Virginia Baptists as collegiate minister at Virginia Commonwealth University(VCU) in Richmond. Currently he’s working toward a M.A. in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations through Hartford Seminary. He writes at www.nathanfelmore.com; connect connect with him at www.twitter.com/elmorelian.

Myriam Francois-Cerrah was born in London of French and Irish heritage. She completed her BA in Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge University in 2003, after which she worked for a year for MEND, a Palestinian NGO in Jerusalem, where she received training in Active Non-violence and Conflict Resolution techniques. In August 2005, she travelled to Washington DC to pursue an MA in Arab Studies, specialising in Middle East politics, on a CCAS scholarship, at Georgetown University. There, she collaborated on the production of a documentary (Arabs and Terrorism, Bassam Haddad) and published current affairs articles. Former Assistant Editor at emel magazine, she continues to contribute to the magazine. In May 2010, Myriam co-organised and hosted the Rethinking Islamic Reform conference at Oxford University. As a researcher with the European Muslim Research Centre, Exeter University, she contributed a chapter on European Muslim identity to the 2010 report “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies”. She has been the media spokesperson for the Oxford University Islamic Society and the “Inspired by Muhammed” campaign aimed at fostering greater understanding of Islam. She is currently a Contributing Scholar to State of Formation, a forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. Myriam regularly contributes to public debates on a variety of issues, including on BBC Newsnight, the BBC Big Questions, The Times, the Independent, BBC Radio, The London Paper, Index on Censorship, The Cherwell, The F-word and others. She gives talks within the Muslim community on a variety of topics, as well as to mainstream institutions such as the BBC, the Scottish Interfaith forum and universities on Muslim related issues. She also provides diversity training for public and corporate institutions (The MET, Clifford Chance LLP, BBC). Myriam is currently undertaking a DPhil at Oxford University, focusing on Islamic movements in Morocco. She speaks fluent French and proficient Arabic and has travelled extensively. Her first love is horses. She blogs at: http://myriamfrancoiscerrah.wordpress.com.

Matt Helms is currently working as a pastoral resident at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago.  He was a Religious Studies major at University of Wisconsin-Madison (’07), a graduate of McCormick Seminary (’10), and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) early in 2011.  As he wrestles with what his career, church, denomination, and faith mean in a society that is simultaneously interested in spirituality but skeptical of religiosity, he is excited to write with a community that shares the tension of holding individual beliefs in a pluralistic setting.  While his background/present was/is predominantly Presbyterian, his experiences with other faiths, denominations, and people who couldn’t care less about religion in general have been an important lens through which he understands his own faith.  He brings a great deal of honesty to the conversation as well as a willingness to explore any perspective. Matt lives with his wife and rescue pit bull in Oak Park, writing asinine stories and cheering on his beloved Bears football team when he’s not at church.  Unlike most people on this site, he’s never lived abroad or even outside the Midwest, so he brings nothing to the table there except for a love for Chicago and the Chicago-land area.

Chris Hughes is currently a second year MDiv student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and works as a youth minister at a Baptist church. He holds the BA from the University of Kentucky (’09) in Political Science and History. He was honored as a Congregational Fellow from the Fund for Theological Education and as a CBF Leadership Scholar since beginning his theological education. He has contributed articles to the Associated Baptist Press and Ethics Daily on issues of the Christian witness in the political realm, and the full inclusion of all people into the life of the Baptist church. Chris was also published in a book of sermons entitled Waking to the Holy for his sermon, “Forgetting Egypt and Remembering Sabbath”. He is a member of the Academy of Preachers and Eco-Theo, a student group at WFUSD that discusses issues of sustainability and religion. His interests and sense of vocation derive from: the witness of the church in the public sphere, social justice work and advocacy, the art of preaching, sustainable practices, writing, and having good conversations with people. Chris will pursue ordination after graduation, while considering further studies before becoming a minister in a local church. He keeps a blog and tweets @chrishughes34.

Mark Randall James is a PhD student in religious studies at the University of Virginia, in the Scripture, Interpretation, and Practice program.   His studies focus on Jewish and Christian interpretation of scripture and the distinctive rationalities of scriptural religious traditions.  Many of his intellectual interests and existential questions arise from his experience growing up within evangelicalism and working as a youth pastor at an evangelical church in Baku, Azerbaijan from 2003-06.  As part of his journey towards a more historic and liturgical expression of Christianity, he was confirmed in the Church of England in 2008.  He currently co-ordinates the UVA Scriptural Reasoning group, which practices Abrahamic interfaith dialogue through the interpretation of scriptural texts.  He also sits on the board of the Scripture, Interpretation, and Practice program.  He received a BA in Philosophy from Stanford University in 2003 and a BA in Theology from Ridley Hall and Cambridge University in 2008.

Jessica Joslin is a doctoral student in the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.  Her research interests include the changing role of religion in higher education and gender dynamics on university campuses.  She has a B.S. in Social Policy and History from Northwestern University and a Masters of Divinity from Harvard University.  Jess is also in the ordination process in the United Church of Christ.  Prior to coming to Michigan, Jess spent four years living and working in a freshman residence hall at Harvard College, and two years as the student minister at Pilgrim Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Southborough, MA. After graduation, Jess plans to pursue a career as a University Chaplain.

Jacob Kohlhaas, a native of Algona, Iowa, received his BA with majors in Religion, Art and Communication Design from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, his MA with a major in Systematic Theology and a minor in History from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois, and is currently working towards a PhD in Systematic Theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jake spent a semester of undergrad in Morogoro, Tanzania studying Kiswahili and teaching an extracurricular art class at a secondary school. And has also taken travel courses on liberation theology in Honduras and Christian history in Turkey. Jake’s MA Thesis was a comparative study of the past forty years of official statements made by the ELCA and the Roman Catholic Church addressing the topic of Homosexuality. His research interests include Theological Anthropology (particularly regarding human sexuality), Ecumenism and Ecclesiology (particularly among Catholic, Eastern and mainline Protestant Churches), Natural Law (especially how it conceives of “the natural” in relation to ongoing scientific research), History of Christianity, and Theology of Creation and Wilderness Ethics (especially concerning humanity’s role in both protecting and shaping “the natural”). Jake is married with one daughter (and another due in February) and one Chihuahua. When not reading or studying for language exams, he spends most of his time pretending to be a handyman while renovating his family’s home.

Sai Kolluru is a senior at Case Western Reserve University majoring in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He co-founded an Hindu organization on campus that focuses on preserving and practicing Hindu, Sanatana Dharmic values and principles with a final goal of Seva, selfless service. On campus, Sai and his team of second-generation Hindu Americans lead regular meditation workshops, have their annual speaker on campus event which brings in experts on Ayurveda, Vedanta, Pantajali Yoga and other aspects of Vedic traditions. In addition, the Hindu organization has started the first-ever Guru Vandhana on campus which means “Reverence to Teacher” through which they honor a professor chosen by the students of the University as their Guru. At events such as these, faith-based student organizations and communities of all faiths and traditions are present. Furthermore, Sai and his Hindu organization visit Bhutanese Refugees in Cleveland every sunday and many celebrations for the Bhutanese community on campus from festivals to meditation and yoga sessions. During their weekly visits, Sai leads a team of interfaith students in projects focused on education, women empowerment, job employment, driving lessons, computer literacy, ESL classes and many others to help the Bhutanese Refugees assimilate towards the American society. Recognized by the Office of Inclusion and Diversity of Case Western Reserve University as well as the White House, the Bhutanese Refugees project has been taken up by many faith communities and student organizations across the country. During the spring break of 2010, Sai went on a 2,000 mile trip around the Midwest visiting 10 universities, several cities, and 5 states connecting local communities with Bhutanese refugees and providing tools to implement various Bhutanese settlement projects. Recently, Sai complete his internship at the White House and hopes to pursue a career in Law and Government in the near future. He also hopes to bring the voices of Hindu-Americans to a national and an international stage and represent the world’s largest ancient tradition through the eyes of Swami Vivekananda in the 21st century.

Rebecca Levi is an M.A student in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, focusing on ethical issues of gender, sexuality, and ecology in Judaism. Her thesis examines uses of empirical evidence in the Conservative movement’s 2006 decision allowing for the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors. She loves Rabbinic argumentation, is cautiously attracted to process theology, has a love-hate relationship with Kant, is allergic to essentialisms, and despises the “appeal to nature” fallacy with a burning passion. Rebecca is a progressive Jew from an eclectic religious background. Her mother is a secular Protestant; her father was a Jew who dabbled in East Asian and Native American spirituality. Growing up, she observed her family’s Christianities and Judaisms in both liberal and traditionalist manifestations, spent her teens as an intermittently practicing neo-pagan, and through a combination of intellectual frustration and a deep cultural pull stepped carefully back into Judaism in her late teens and twenties. She has been gleefully problematizing her tradition ever since, and is working towards her Bat Mitzvah this spring.

Ela Merom received rabbinic ordination and a Master degree from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and a B.A. in religious thought from the Hebrew University. In addition, long periods of travel in India and meditation retreats with Buddhist masters have deeply fed her spiritual path. For as long as she remembers she has been interested in exploring ways of knowing existence more intimately and lovingly, and cultivating a penetrating direct experience of the world. Ela is Jewish religiously and culturally, but a student of all religions in their essence as they represent languages for seeking the divine; in their richness they manifest the holiness through the creativity of the human spirit. All this she prays is for one end and one end only: to open her heart more and more to hold beauty and brokenness in herself and the world with growing tenderness, compassion, and love. Torah study, mindfulness, movement, drumming and music are her primary tools in this endeavor of reaching the heart of herself and others through prayer, justice and reconciliation work, spiritual direction, and encounters with sacred text. Ela lives and works in Tel Aviv and is mother to precious Shahar and Adi Lia.

Timothy Miner OUnI is an ordained minister and cum laude graduate of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. candidate at New York Theological Seminary.  He is a co-founder of the Order of Universal Interfaith (OUnI) which is a new ecclesiastic body with members around the world that seeks to serve people of all faiths through professional ministry and chaplaincy.  He holds chaplain credentials for the United States government, local police and hospice organizations. He serves as founding executive director for the Council of Interfaith Communities of the United States (CIC-USA). He is also co-founder of the World Interfaith Harmony Week Breakfast program which was the first official activity sanctioned by the United Nation’s program.  He blogs on “inclusive theology, spirituality and consciousness.”

Jonathan Oskins is a Graduate student currently pursuing an M.A. in Interreligious Studies in the first incoming class at Claremont Lincoln University, the world’s first interreligious theological graduate university, in its member school, Claremont School of Theology. He is the Communications Intern for the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), a non-profit association of Interfaith organizations and agencies in Canada, Mexico & the U.S. He has been a Board Member of the Academy of Judaic, Islamic and Christian Studies since 2008, along with fellow Board members, including Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Dr. George Grose, Dr. Reinhard Krauss, and Dr. S. Scott Bartchy. He received his BA in Study of Religion from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), completing his Senior Thesis/Honors Research for Departmental Honors supervised by the then Director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Dr. S. Scott Bartchy. He was an editor of Epoché, the UCLA Undergraduate Journal for the Study of Religion in 2010, and President of the “Bolle Study of Religion Student Organization at UCLA” his senior year. He was also the recipient of a City of Los Angeles Certificate of Appreciation for participation in and planning of Big Sunday: Mayor’s Citywide Day of Service. He attended the Los Angeles Pre-World Parliament of the World’s Religions Event in Santa Monica, California in 2009, and was the student representative for Los Angeles Valley College to the Valley Interfaith Council event to celebrate and honor those who promote “Harmony in Diversity” in 2006.

Trey Palmisano holds a B.S. in English with a concentration in Writing from Towson University and an M.A. in Theology with a concentration in Systematic Theology from the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, MD. He is a 2012 Dean’s Award recipient for Outstanding Achievement in Theological Studies. His M.A. thesis work defended a methodological approach in the ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer with particular attention to the concepts of peace and violence. He is a member of the International Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society, Society of Biblical Literature, and Evangelical Theological Society. A writer by trade, his work has appeared in such diverse publications as the Anglican Theological Review, Sojourners, The Baltimore Sun, and he served for a period of time as a faith columnist for the Baltimore Examiner. His past experience as an educator includes Carver Center for the Arts & Technology, a secondary education magnet school in Towson, MD, where he taught poetics and world literature, and Towson University, where he worked as an adjunct professor of English. He has worked as a curriculum developer creating original lessons and testing material to major educational publishers. He currently works as a process and procedures analyst for a major defense contractor in the Baltimore-Washington area. He was a 2012 participant in the State of Formation National Seminar on Narrative & Interreligious Cooperation.


Tasi Perkins is a Ph.D. candidate in Theological and Religious Studies at Georgetown University and an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. His research interest is narrative paradigms of nonviolence in the liturgies, texts, and rituals of Islam and Christianity. Tasi earned a Bachelor of Science in Biometry and Statistics at Cornell University and a Master of Divinity from Duke University, and recently finished a year of graduate coursework at Boston University. He has promoted peacebuilding through ministerial involvement in hospitals, prisons, and social services, as a Chaplain Candidate in the U.S. Navy, and as the pastor of three congregations in Virginia. Tasi’s wife, Kristen, is a doctoral student in neuroscience through Brown University.

Tom Peteet is a medical student at UMass Medical School, and is pursuing residency in Family Practice and Primary Care. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2004 as a double major in physics and philosophy. Afterwards, he taught math and reading in inner city St. Louis through Teach for America. He is a certified Vinyasa yoga teacher, and graduate of UMass Mind-body stress reduction program (MBSR). He has travelled to Haiti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Uganda to do clinical work, and writes about global health, medical education, ethics, palliative care, and humanism in medicine. He is currently taking an extra year of medical study to do rotations at Concord penitentary, the New England Journal of Medicine, and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

Tiffany Puett is a PhD candidate in the Laurier-Waterloo Joint PhD Program in Religious Diversity in North America. She’s currently working on her dissertation, entitled “The Political Discourse of Religious Pluralism: World Religions Textbooks, Liberalism, and Civic Identities.” More broadly, she’s interested in exploring the ongoing construction of ‘religion’ in a liberal democratic society and the politics embedded in these processes. She’s especially interested in the intersections of religion with education, citizenship, and religious freedom.  She approaches the study of religion from a relational perspective, with an eye for hybridity, encounter, nuance, and ambivalence. She aims to contribute to public conversations about religion that emphasize nuance and complexity while remaining accessible and transparent. Prior to her doctoral studies, she directed educational programs at the Temple of Understanding, a historic interfaith organization in New York, and taught in the Religious Studies Department at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. She holds an MTS in Ethics from Boston University School of Theology and a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from Oklahoma City University. She lives in Austin, TX with her husband and two children. Follow her on Twitter: @tiffanypuett.

Michael Ramberg will graduate from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College this June(!).  Much to his surprise, as the son of intermarried (but mainly secular) parents active in the Civil Rights movement, Michael found in the rabbinate his own way to carry on his parents’ important legacy.  For him the most compelling venue in which to pursue this work of repairing the world is through interfaith coalitions, not only because Jews need partners in order to bring about real changes, but also because interfaith relationships are so nourishing for him.  Michael’s focus is standing up for the rights of immigrants, which he does primarily as a volunteer with the New Sanctuary Movement and his synagogue, Mishkan Shalom, in Philadelphia, PA.  In addition to his rabbinic role as community organizer and activist, Michael relishes his responsibilities working with people to sanctify life transitions.  In his Jewish practice Michael is invigorated both by reconstructing the Jewish tradition to fit the evolving needs of people today and by immersing himself in prayer and the study of sacred texts.   Michael’s partner just completed her PhD in Education and they have committed to equally sharing the care of their one-and-a-half year old daughter.  Michael sometimes thinks that the profound love his daughter has inspired in him gives him at least a glimmer of understanding of the love the divine has for humanity.

Josh Ratner is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.  Josh is originally from San Diego, California, and spent time working as an attorney for five years prior to commencing rabbinical school.  Josh presently lives in Fairfield, CT, with his wife (Elena) and three children (Dimitri, Elijah, and Gabriella).  Josh intends to work in the field of interfaith progressive advocacy upon completing his studies.  Please feel free to contact Josh at jdratner613[at]gmail.com.

10408825_852738842404_6961888997337680584_n-2Rev. Kathryn Ray is an ordained Baptist minister, currently serving as Minister with Children and Youth at a multiethnic church in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. She is also Program Coordinator for Clergy for a New Drug Policy. She holds a dual degree from the University of Chicago in Divinity and Social Service Administration. Her academic passions include the intersection between liberation theology and performance theory.


Yaira Robinson profile picYaira Robinson is the Associate Director of the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy and its environmental program, Texas Interfaith Power & Light. She holds a Master’s in Theological Studies from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and has studied religiously based environmental and food justice with GreenFaith, Creation Justice Ministries, Hazon, and the Siach network. Right now, she is a student in the ALEPH rabbinic ordination program.

Yaira has earned several DeRose-Hinkhouse awards from the Religion Communicators Council for materials she’s written for the Interfaith Center. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Texas at Arlington with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, and worked some in the textbook publishing industry and some as a stay-at-home-mom before serving two Unitarian Universalist churches as Director of Religious Education from 2004-2009.

Granddaughter to a Christian minister and daughter to Sufi teachers, Yaira is joyfully Jewish. Her two boys are now taller than she is(!), but still add laughter to her life. In her “spare” time, she likes to make art.


Arielle Rosenberg is a second year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, MA. Originally from Portland, Oregon, Arielle spent the last decade working as an organizer with migrant and indigenous  communities in Honduras, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. Most recently, Arielle helped found and organize with the Worker Defense Committee, a committee of migrant workers and community allies that worked to fight wage theft and other workers’ rights abuses, in Seattle, Washington. In Boston, Arielle facilitates an interfaith group on prison justice and, as an intern with the Jewish Farm School, built a curriculum on Food Justice issues. Arielle is passionate about the nexus of migration, prisons, and workers rights.  She derives inspiration from a chevre of people, including Emma Goldman, Martin Buber, Edurado Galeano, the Pelican Bay prison hunger strikers, and Grace Paley, among many, many others.  She is grateful to have the chance to drink deep at the well of Jewish text tradition, inviting voices from generations past to speak sweetly and urgently; to be part of the mending of rent strands of learning and legacy.

Jared Hillary Ruark is a first-year Master of Divinity candidate at Vanderbilt University.  In the spring of 2011, he earned his A.B. from Kenyon College where he was awarded Highest Honors in Religious Studies and completed a second major in Economics.  His undergraduate thesis explored the relationship between the theological liberalism of thinkers like H. Richard Niebuhr and the social activism of mainline Protestant ministers.  Jared’s current academic interests include historical Jesus studies, mysticism, 20th century theology, and the Protestant left.  He is also interested in the relationship between religious ideology and economic sensibilities, as well as American political economy.  In the future, Jared hopes to be ordained in The United Church of Christ.  He is interested in a number of vocations, including congregational ministry, non-profit work in the realm of economic development, inter-faith dialogue, and further academic study.

Ikhlas Saleem is a Master of Theological Studies student at Harvard Divinity School concentrating in women, gender sexuality and religion, specializing in Islamic Studies and holds a BA from Wellesley College in Religious Studies. She is currently working as a Graduate Research Assistant with Hauwa Ibrahim, a Visiting Scholar and Researcher in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard. Ikhlas is most interested in the intersections of women, culture and development and the role of religion and policy in determining the lives of women. Ikhlas enjoys traveling to warm climates, long dinners with friends and riding her bike through Cambridge and Boston.

Ben Schewel is a Bahá’í and a doctoral student in philosophy at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in Belgium. He received his BA and MA from the University of Virginia in philosophical theology. He was the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship and Belgian American Education Foundation grant for the ’10-’11 year. Ben specializes in the field of process philosophy, broadly considered, as he includes alongside the likes of Alfred North Whitehead certain Neoplatonists, idealists, dialecticians, pragmatists, phenomenologists, and hermeneuticists within this category. Ben is working on developing Whitehead’s philosophy of history according to insights gleaned from the above-mentioned figures, in an attempt to reconstruct science and religion as harmonious forces contributing to civilization’s advance. Ben is very active within the Bahá’í community’s projects of social and economic development (http://www.ruhi.org), the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program in particular. He embraces the Bahá’í community’s approach to capacity building, combining spiritual reflection, scientific knowledge, community action, and systematic learning towards the empowerment of individuals and communities. He hopes that people everywhere will get involved.

Casey Thornburgh Sigmon is a first year Ph.D. student in Homiletics and Liturgics, and is a fellow in the Program in Theology and Practice at Vanderbilt University.  She graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary (MDiv ’10) where she met and married her husband Phillip Sigmon, a chaplain for Caris Hospice in Tennessee.  Casey is a native of Kansas where she studied Film and worked as an on-air disc jockey at the University of Kansas (BA ’06).  Out of the intersection of theology and popular culture, her passion for a particular field of study emerged: lifting up the connections between the “sacred” and “secular” ritual worlds of art, music, and theology.  Casey is a proud ecumenical mutt.  She was raised and baptized Roman Catholic, born-again in Young Life, served as college intern in multiple nondenominational church plants, went to a Presbyterian seminary, and is now an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Casey lives in Nashville with her husband, two cats, and twenty-some-odd Disciples of Christ students in the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt.

Becky Silverstein is a third year rabbinical student at Hebrew College, a transdenominational rabbinical school in Newton, MA. Becky holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science from Smith College, where she graduated in 2004. During her undergraduate career, she learned that the definition of engineering was “the application of math and science for the betterment of humanity.” She applies her love for text study, theology, and religious community towards the betterment of humanity by being a role model, educator, and organizer. As an out, genderqueer rabbinical student, Becky is developing a religious community and personal theology that allows people to bring their full selves to their work and worship. During the 2010-2011 academic year, as a fellow at the Center for Interreligious and Communal Leadership Education, Becky co-founded “Queer Interfaith Community (QIC),” a community of queer-identified seminary students who met bimonthly to discuss and reflect on the role of their queer identity in their religious lives. The ultimate goal of QIC is to support queer seminarians and their allies in finding their voices in faith communities through interfaith programming and communal conversation. You can find Becky’s writing, as well as the reflections of other queer seminarians, on queerinterfaithcommunity.org. Becky is an avid Mets fan and loves New England in the fall. Becky is spending the year studying in Jerusalem, Israel.

Bhikshuni Lozang Trinlae, B.Sc., Ed.M., (भिक्षुणी लोजाङ् त्रिन्ले) is presently a doctoral student in practical theology at Claremont School of Theology at Claremont Lincoln University, where she is conducting research in formal vajrayana  Buddhist meditation practice. She was ordained a novice Buddhist nun in Mysore in 1991; took full-ordination Bhikshuni precepts in 1998 in Bodhgaya, India; and is also a priest in the Buddhist vajrayana tradition (Drukpa Kagyu and Gelug lineages primarily). A summa-cum-laude graduate in physics, she earned her master’s degree in education from Harvard University, where she also studied Tibetan language in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. She taught science and English in India and in Tibet while undertaking contemplative training in vajrayana Buddhism. After teaching Buddhism in Taiwan in the mid-1990’s, she founded Mahaprajapati Hermitage in Sagarmartha Mt. Everest National Park in Nepal, where she completed ten years of cloistered, intensive, vajrayana retreat, including two great approaching retreats (शतलक्ष मन्त्र इष्टदेव पुरश्चरण/བསྙེན་ཆེན།). Bhikshuni Lozang is also a trained chaplain and certified instructor in relationship education. More details of her present research, and hermitage, including her texts and photo album, can be found here and here.

Lauren Tuchman completed a master of arts in Judaic Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2011 and did her undergraduate work in religion and Judaic studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Her interests include the intersections between religion and gender, as well as between religion and disability. Her website is http://judaism.bellaonline.com


After a 25 year career in healthcare finance and administration, Deacon Martin Watt left the executive ranks to attend St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Christian Seminary in the prayerful hope of becoming a priest in the Orthodox Christian Church.  He is most interested in better understanding how to engage in interfaith dialogue and interfaith tolerance without giving up the integrity of strongly held beliefs.  Deacon Marty grew up in Jackson, Tennessee, and attended Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where he earned a BBA in Accounting, and later earned the CPA certificate from the State of Tennessee.  He was born into the United Methodist Church, spent his teens and 20’s in the Southern Baptist Church, and converted to the Eastern Orthodox Faith in 1995.  He was ordained a Deacon in the Orthodox Church in America in 2008.  Deacon Marty is married and has two children, ages 21 and 11.

Funlayo E. Wood is a doctoral student in African Studies and Religion at Harvard University where she is a Junior Fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions. A native New Yorker, Funlayo holds degrees from the City University of New York Degree for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies and the City College of New York where she was a graduate fellow at the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies. An initiated priestess of Obatala and Iyanifa in the Ifá-Òrìsà spiritual tradition, Funlayo seeks to substantively contribute her voice as a scholar-practitioner of African Indigenous Religion(s).  Her research, which centers on theology, philosophy and phenomenology of the Ifá-Òrìsà tradition, has afforded her the opportunity travel extensively (a passion of hers) and to study with many gifted priests and scholars in the US, Africa and the Caribbean. Complementing her academic study, Funlayo is in spiritual training and receives consistent guidance from her master teacher, Chief Babalawo Oluwole Ifakunle Adetutu Alagbede of the Ile Omo Ope Shrine in Harlem. Funlayo’s greatest joy comes from connecting with others and sharing her infectious energy. To this end, she serves on the boards of the Orisa Community Development Corporation and Creating a Culture of Peace, non-profit organizations dedicated to community building. She is also is involved in many other joyful activities, including hosting guided meditation groups, motivational speaking and blogging at her website Ase Ire. Contact Funlayo at Funlayo[at]AseIre.com.

Christina Yost is a first year M.Div. student at Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a concentration in Interreligious Contexts. She entered seminary straight from undergrad, where she completed a B.A. in Pre-Theology and Psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University with departmental honors in Religion. She engaged in her first interfaith experience by attending the IFYC’s 2009 conference and was hooked ever since. Following that experience, she co-lead a team of OWU students to Chicago, IL to explore the interreligious relations and dialogue in the city, with a particular focus on Christian and Muslim dialogue.  These early encounters, fueled by her own passion for understanding, led her to be engaged in other budding interfaith activities on OWU’s campus and in her own interests and studies. Some of her other recent interests include, but are certainly not limited to, the journey and struggles of ordained women and the nature of community and relationships within and beyond the church. In her spare time, Christian enjoys reading and photography. Currently, she works part-time as a student associate pastor. Christina aspires to be ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church, where she is currently a certified candidate in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.

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