Get to Know the 2013-14 WSRP Research Associates

Five visiting scholars to join the HDS Women's Studies in Religion Program in the fall


The Women's Studies in Religion Program (WSRP) at Harvard Divinity School is pleased to introduce a brand-new crop of Research Associates for the 2013-14 academic year. Below, read about their backgrounds, academic interests, and research while at HDS.

Sarah BrackeSarah Bracke
Visiting Assistant Professor of Women's Studies and Sociology of Religion and WSRP Research Associate

Sarah Bracke is Assistant Professor of Sociology of Religion and Culture at the KU Leuven, Belgium. Her work is situated at the intersection of questions of gender, sexuality, religion, and culture, and draws on critical theory, notably feminist and postcolonial theory. She holds a PhD in Women's Studies from Utrecht University and her doctoral work investigated the question of female religious agency in the context of Christian and Islamic movements in Europe. Her postdoctoral project, which was granted a Marie Curie Fellowship (at Utrecht University and the University of California, Santa Cruz), explored questions of the (post)secular and secular governmentality. In 2011, she was a Visiting Fellow at the Critical Theory Program at the University of California at Berkeley, where she embarked on a new project entitled "Secular Nostalgia," and she is currently affiliated with two projects at the Center for the Study of Social Difference at Columbia University.

During her time as a Research Associate with the Women's Studies in Religion Program, she will prepare a book manuscript entitled "Doing and Undoing Sexual Difference: Female Piety in Contemporary Catholic Renewal and the Notion of Agency." This book project is concerned with questions of subjectivity at the intersection of religion and gender. The project engages with the recent "turn to agency" within social scientific research on women and religion, and more specifically with the seminal contribution by Saba Mahmood (2005) in this respect. This research explores how a relationship to the divine becomes incarnated in ethical and corporeal practices (processes of self-fashioning) and shapes the capacity to act (agency), and does so in relation to questions of gender and sexual difference. Bracke is the recipient of a Fulbright Award (Fulbright Belgium Research Scholar 2013-14) for this project.

In fall 2013, she will teach the course "Women, Religion and the 'Turn to Agency'."

Hsiao-wen ChengHsiao-wen Cheng
Visiting Lecturer on Women's Studies and Chinese Religion and WSRP Research Associate

Hsiao-wen Cheng is a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica. She received her BA and MA degrees in Chinese literature from National Taiwan University, and PhD in history from the University of Washington in 2012. In Taiwan she was trained extensively in Chinese classics, paleography, historical phonetics, philosophy, and literature. Now she is most interested in gender and sexuality and their relation to the development of popular religion in middle period China, especially the Song dynasty (960-1279), a time period when print technology, urbanization, and popular culture began to sprout. She is enthusiastic about exploring the usefulness (and necessity) of queer methodology to studying Chinese history, and vice versa.

This year in the Women's Studies in Religion Program, she will be working on a book project based on her dissertation, "Traveling Stories and Untold Desires: Female Sexuality in Song China," examining the historical formation of norms concerning female sexuality during this critical period in Chinese history, the nuances of queerness and transgressiveness in the source materials, and the ways in which Song dynasty culture (especially popular religious culture) and women's behaviors and practices mutually defined each other.

In fall 2013, she will teach the course "Religious Women in Pre-Modern China."

Amanda IzzoAmanda Izzo
Visiting Lecturer on Women's Studies and American Religious History and WSRP Research Associate 

Amanda Izzo comes to the Women's Studies in Religion Program from a position as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Women's and Gender Studies Department of the College of New Jersey. She received her PhD from Yale University's American Studies Program, following an undergraduate education at Smith College. While at Yale, Amanda was the recipient of an Andrew Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities along with a Women, Religion, and Globalization Initiative research fellowship. She has maintained an ongoing involvement with the world of women's history archives, serving as a manuscripts processor at Smith College's Sophia Smith Collection. There her work arranging and cataloging archival materials can be seen in a range of collections, including the papers of Gloria Steinem, Helen Gurley Brown, the YWCA of the U.S.A., the Women's Africa Committee, and the Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women's Association. Her research interests encompass U.S. women's history, twentieth-century religious life, cultural studies, and transnational social movements. In-progress writings examine queer dimensions of U.S. women's religious history and inquire into the incorporation of the feminist movement into popular culture.

Over her time as a WSRP Research Associate, Amanda will complete her current book project, titled "The Commandment of Love: Liberal Christianity and Global Activism in the Young Women's Christian Association and the Maryknoll Sisters, 1907-80."  Through extensive archival research and oral histories, the project follows global campaigns for social action launched by two influential women's organizations: the Protestant YWCA and the Catholic Maryknoll Sisters. Tracing connections between the turn-of-the-century foreign mission enthusiasm and left-wing liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, "The Commandment of Love" highlights the manner in which several generations of women crafted an evolving body of Christian ethics and institutional structures in the pursuit of fellowship across divisions of nation, race, and social class. Such religious and organizational endeavors left an imprint on a wide range of efforts for social change, from the U.S. labor and civil rights movements to Cold War anticommunism and Latin American solidarity struggles. With its internationalist framework and attention to the gendered nature of these groups' outreach campaigns, "The Commandment of Love" seeks to establish new conversations among scholars working in transnational history, feminist theology, and U.S. religious studies.

In fall 2013, she will teach the course "Religion and Women's Social Movements in United States History."

Lihi Ben ShitritLihi Ben Shitrit
Visiting Assistant Professor of Women's Studies and Religion and Society and WSRP Research Associate

Lihi Ben Shitrit is an assistant professor at the School of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia, Athens. She holds a PhD, MPhil, and MA in political science from Yale University, and a BA in Middle Eastern studies from Princeton University. Her research interests center on the intersections of gender, religion, and politics in the Middle East. She is currently working on a book manuscript, titled "Frames of Exception: Women's Activism in Jewish and Muslim Religious-Political Movements." The project sets out to explain the variation in forms of women's political engagement in socially conservative religious movements in the Middle East through a comparative ethnographic study of four movements: the Jewish Settlers in the West Bank, the ultra-Orthodox Shas, the Islamic Movement in Israel, and the Palestinian Hamas. It builds on over two years of fieldwork supported by fellowships from the Social Science Research Council and the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.

Additional research projects in progress include a study of the impact of legislated women's quotas on the gender politics of religious parties in the Middle East, and a study of the religious politics of Palestinian Bedouin women in the Negev Desert. Among her forthcoming publications are: "Women, Freedom and Agency: Reflections from Women Activists in Shas and the Islamic Movement in Israel" (Journal of Middle East Women's Studies); "Religion, Society and Politics in the Middle East" (with Robert Lee in The Middle East, CQ Press); "Activism and Civil War in Libya" (with Intissar K. Rajabany in Taking to the Streets: Activism, Arab Uprisings, and Democratization, Johns Hopkins University Press).

Ben Shitrit has taught courses on Middle East politics, women and politics, and religion and politics at DePaul University. She has also worked extensively with Israeli and Palestinian NGOs on projects pertaining to women's rights and human rights, democracy, conflict resolution, and peace-building. Before completing her PhD she also worked with the U.S. State Department and USAID on Israeli-Palestinian conflict mitigation programs.

In fall 2013, she will teach the course "Women, Religion and Political Activism in the Contemporary Middle East."

Jacquelyn WilliamsonJacquelyn Williamson
Visiting Lecturer on Women's Studies and Near Eastern Studies and WSRP Research Associate

Jacquelyn Williamson is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. She earned her PhD and MA from Johns Hopkins University in Egyptology and Near Eastern studies, and her BA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her research interests include history, philology, art, and archaeology. Her research and teaching interests also include ancient trade, technology, language, and art. She specializes in the Amarna Period, approximately 1353-1336 BCE, ruled over by the noted iconoclasts and so-called "heretics" Akhenaten and Nefertiti. As a member of the expedition to Tell el-Amarna since 2005, Williamson's work concentrates on reconstructing and analyzing an Amarna period temple found at the site called Kom el-Nana at Tell el-Amarna. She has published several articles contending that the site is both the "lost" sun temple of Nefertiti as well as another, much less known site.

Williamson is currently working on a book that will focus on reconstructions of the decoration and hieroglyphic inscriptions of the site of Kom el-Nana/the sun temple of Nefertiti. The book will also discuss Nefertiti's role in the heresy of the Amarna Period. Placing Nefertiti in context of the larger Mediterranean world will emphasize the power of the religious status of queenship in the ancient world. In particular, the analysis will center on the cultural creation of gender.

In spring 2014, she will teach the course "Sex, Gender, and Religion in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Syria-Palestine."