Michael J. Altman Director

Michael J. Altman


Dr. Altman’s areas of interest are American religious history, colonialism, theory and method in the study of religion, and Asian religions in American culture. Trained in the field of American religious cultures, he is interested in the ways religion is constructed through difference, conflict, and contact. He is the author of Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American Representations of India, 1721-1893 (Oxford, 2017). Today, there are more than two million Hindus in America. But before the twentieth century, Hinduism was unknown in the United States. But while Americans did not write about “Hinduism,” they speculated at length about “heathenism,” “the religion of the Hindoos,” and “Brahmanism.” In Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu, Dr. Altman argues that this is not a mere sematic distinction-a case of more politically correct terminology being accepted over time-but a way that Americans worked out their own identities. American representations of India said more about Americans than about Hindus.


Vaia Touna


Dr. Touna’s scholarly interests in religion in society range widely, from looking at specific concepts from the Classical and Hellenistic eras to methodological issues concerning the study of religion in general. Her research focuses on the sociology of identity formation with examples drawn from the ancient Greco-Roman world and modern Greece. She is author of Fabrications of the Greek Past: Religion, Tradition, and the Making of Modern Identities (Brill, 2017). In that book, taking seriously critiques of historiography produced in recent decades, she advocates for an alternative approach to the way the past is studied. From Euripides’ tragedy Hippolytus, to the notion of voluntary associations in the Greco-Roman world, to the authenticity of traditional villages in Greece, Fabrications of the Greek Past argues that meanings (and thus identities) do not transcend time and space, and neither do they hide deep in the core of material artifacts, awaiting to be discovered by the careful interpreter. Instead, this book demonstrates that meanings are always relative to their present-day context; they are historical products created by social actors through their ever-contemporary acts of identification.


Steven Ramey, Mentor

Steven Ramey


Dr. Ramey’s primary research focuses on the contests over identifications, particularly in contexts of migration and disagreements over contemporary practices related to subgroups within a larger community. He has conducted extensive research with people from the region of Sindh who assert a clear Hindu identification but whose practices, which incorporate Hindu deities and texts, the Guru Granth Sahib, and Sufi saints, lead others to question the Hindu identification of the Sindhis. He has also researched South Asian religions in the southeastern United States, especially focusing on Indo-Caribbean Hindus and Sindhi Hindus in this context. He uses the case of the Sindhi Hindus, Indo-Caribbean Hindus, and other subgroups to analyze the ways religious boundaries are constructed and contested in both academic studies and contemporary societies and the impact of those processes on minority groups.  His book, Hindu Sufi or Sikh: Contested Practices and Identifications of Sindhi Hindus in India and Beyond, was published in 2008 with Palgrave Macmillan press. Most recently, he has applied the results of his previous research to analyze the construction of differences, both in relation to those who identify as not religious and to discourses surrounding Islam in the United States. His edited volume Fabricating Difference was published in summer of 2017.