Mehdi is a PhD candidate in the Department of Religion at University of Southern California, where he is completing his dissertation under the supervision of Dr. Sherman Jackson. Mehdi graduated from Stanford University with a J.D. in Law, M.A. in Sociology, and BA in International Relations. His training in Islamic studies has included advanced instruction in theology, law, jurisprudence, mysticism, poetry, and history. Mehdi also studied pre-modern Islamic thought at University of Oxford under the supervision of Dr. Afifi al-Akiti, and he has completed coursework at UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Arizona State University, Qasid Institute (Jordan), and Chulalongkorn University (Thailand).Mehdi’s research focuses on Islamic legal and exegetical discourses using primary source materials in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu. Mehdi is a former Fulbright Scholar (University of Jordan), FLAS Fellow (Persian), Chappell Lougee Scholar (India), and has received research funding from Stanford’s Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies (Pakistan) and Stanford’s Center for South Asia Studies (India). Prior to enrolling at USC, Mehdi co-authored the first major human rights investigation of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and worked for the Honorable John T. Noonan Jr. at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In addition to his academic work, Mehdi is also an avid book collector and traveler writer. He has published several travelogues on his book-buying adventures in countries around the world, including Iraq, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Bosnia.
Jarred Batchelor Hamilton
Jarred is a PhD student in the Christian Studies track studying medieval religious practice & thought. A native of North Carolina, Jarred earned their B.A. in English & Art History from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 2016 and a M.Div from Harvard Divinity School in 2020. Their research interests include phenomenology, Christian mysticism, monastic chronicles, and religious architecture. Their work looks at philosophical conceptions of space and place to explore how medieval mystics and monastic writers narrate mental pathways of visionary engagement. When not reading or translating Latin, Jarred enjoys going to museums, reading high fantasy, visiting new places, and being near the ocean.
April Chabries Makgoeng
April began her career as a professor of documentary film in the Theatre & Media Arts Department at Brigham Young University. During this time she produced and directed several award-winning films exploring religious themes. In 2006 April left academia to pursue production full-time with National Geographic Television in Washington DC. Over a period of seven years, she produced hundreds of hours of television for National Geographic Television. A desire to study religion and media led April to USC where she is currently a doctoral student in Comparative Christianities. Her research interests within religion include media studies, cultural studies, and race, ethnicity and gender studies.
Brian graduated in 2019 from the University of California, San Diego with BAs in history and classical studies. His research focuses on Christian history in the first three centuries. He is interested in how the early Christians developed their identities with reference to each other, to outsiders, and to empire, particularly through apocalypses like the Shepherd of Hermas. He further seeks to understand how and to what degree it is possible to reconstruct a social history of these ancient Christians. Brian’s other interests include modern new religious movements and Christian subcultures, as well as the religious history of Los Angeles and California.
Jon is a Ph.D. student in the Christian Studies track. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from Biola University, and an M.A. in New Testament as well as a Th.M. in Systematic Theology from Talbot School of Theology. Jon’s main area of interest is focused on minority experiences in Evangelical and Fundamentalist spaces. He is specifically researching the relationship between Fundamentalism and the Latina/o culture in various Protestant denominations in the first half of the 20th century. Outside of academia, Jon enjoys a variety of hobbies including storytelling, rafting, and dancing.
Naseeha Hussain grew up in Southern California. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Arabic. She went on to gain a M.A. degree in Religious Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. She also spent the 2016-2017 school year in Amman, Jordan with the CASA program at the Qasid Arabic Institute. At the University of Illinois her focus was on women in Muslim societies.
Lisa earned her MA at Kyushu University, and is currently a PhD candidate (ABD) in the School of Religion. She specializes in Japanese premodern religions, with a special interest in Buddhist ritual and mortuary culture. Her dissertation traces the development of the Zen segaki 施餓鬼 ghost-feeding ritual in the late medieval period using a variety of sources including Buddhist texts, illustrated hand scrolls, aristocratic and monastic diaries, war chronicles, and Zen rules of purity.
Yusuf was born and raised in Vermont and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature and Philosophy from the University of Vermont followed by a Master’s degree in Comparative Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He studied Islamic theology, jurisprudence, and legal theory with scholars in Damascus, Tarim, the Hijaz, Abu Dhabi, and Mauritania before completing a Master of Theological Studies at Harvard University. His research interests include law, political theory, philosophy, and history in the Islamic religious tradition. Most recently, his academic work examines how, historically, notions of a just society have been advanced through the framework of legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh) as well as through concepts of human nature derived from theological principles about the origin of ethics and moral thought.
Elinor grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She graduated with a B.A. in Japanese and History from the Ohio State University in 2019 and graduated with a M.A. in International and Regional Studies with a focus in Japanese studies from the University of Michigan in 2021. Her research interests are in premodern Japanese religions and women’s studies; she is particularly interested in how women and their communities influenced the religious landscape both within and outside of established institutions. When she is not studying, Elinor enjoys reading novels and baking.
Born and raised in Southern California, Nathan earned a B.A. in Literature and Writing Studies, with a special focus in creative writing, from Cal State San Marcos. On track to becoming a Catholic priest, Nathan studied philosophy in residence at the University of San Diego, then theology at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon where he earned an M.A. in systematic theology and an M.Div. His research focused on the religious philosophy of John Hick. Having stepped away from the priesthood on good terms, Nathan studies American Religious History, with a special focus on religion and environmental thought from the mid 19th century to the present day. In his free time, Nathan enjoys fly fishing and writing works of literary non-fiction.
Monica was born and grew up in Egypt where she acquired a B.A. in English Literature from Ain Shams University and a B.Sc. in Management Technology from the German University in Cairo in 2008 and then went on to receive a M.Sc. in Strategic Management from the German University in Cairo in 2011.
Coming to Southern California, Monica received a M.A. from Claremont School of Theology in 2020, writing her thesis on the Syriac Christian theologian poet Jacob of Serugh’s anthropology. Her research interests include premodern Middle Eastern Christianity, especially its theological and lived communal aspects, its complex historical narratives, visible links to the present, and interaction with its Islamic context. Outside the classroom, Monica enjoys long walks in nature, nerdy conversations, reading novels, and drinking tea.
Abdurrahman studies the intellectual history of Islam, focusing on examining classical Islamic texts in the context of the complex thought systems within which they exist. His primary research interest is in the convergence of legal, pietistic, and theological traditions in the formative period of Islamic law. His interests more broadly include orality and literacy, institutions of learning, and judicial systems in the Muslim world. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Abdurrahman holds a BA in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and an MA in Divinity from the University of Chicago.
Originally from Massachusetts, Meagan graduated with a B.A. in History and Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College in 2018 and an M.A. in Divinity from the University of Chicago in 2021. She is currently a PhD student in the Christian Studies track studying early Christianity and saints’ lives. She is researching how the ideas and customs around sainthood and gender and sexuality developed and contributed to the broader formation of Christianity. Meagan is also interested in the parallel questions of how that development has continued, both in the worship of saints to the present and the lingering effects of ancient thought on current ideologies about gender and queerness. When not working, Meagan enjoys reading, playing TTRPGs, and spending time with her cat, Winston.
Victoria Perez Rivera
Victoria was born in Orange County, California and graduated with a Bachelor degree in Psychology from Vanguard University and a Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Duke University Divinity School. She has traveled throughout Latin America teaching courses on Paul and gender. Her areas of academic interest include Pauline literature, ancient Greco-Roman culture, race, ethnicity and gender, as well as exploring reception history of Pauline literature.
Omar was born in Orange County, California and graduated from UC Irvine with a B.A. in Economics. He travelled to Damascus, Syria where he obtained a diploma in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the Abu Nour Institute (2007-11). Thereafter, he graduated from al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt with a B.A. in Islamic Law (2011-16). His research interests include a comparison of the Ḥanafī legal schools of Iraq and Central Asia in the 10th and 11th century, the development of Sunni legal theory in the formative period, Islamic legal philosophy, the Māturīdī theological school, and the intellectual history of the Arabic-Islamic world.
Saqib Tanvir Qureshi
Saqib is a PhD student in the Global Islam track. His research interests include how Islamic disciplines of language, law, theology, and mysticism inform, shape, and define the hermeneutics of Qur’anic scripture; the Qur’an in its Late Antique Arabian context; the intellectual and social history of Qur’anic interpretation (tafsīr); as well as how Islamic disciplines construct technologies of the self, social imaginaries, and visions of polity. He holds an MTS in Islamic Thought, History & Culture from Harvard University, a diploma in Arabic & Islamic Studies from Madina Institute, and a diploma in advanced Classical Arabic Studies from Qasid Institute in Jordan. He has conducted research at the intersection of digital humanities and Islamic law at the Sharia Source project at Harvard Law School, as well as created educational resources in furthering religious literacy for the general public at the Pluralism Project. Saqib grew up in Northern Virginia and has also lived in Atlanta, Boston, and Amman.
Emily Stölken was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2019. Beginning at USC in the fall of 2020, Emily is currently a doctoral student in Religion. Her areas of academic interest lie in Christian Studies and include religion and law in contemporary North America, political philosophy, and media ethics.
Anthony Swieringa was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received his bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Grand Valley State University, in Allendale, Michigan. His area of focus is modern Christian Studies, and he is specifically interested in non-scriptural works of popular religious literature. When not studying, Anthony enjoys spending time outdoors or watching movies with his wife.
Meg grew up in Corryton, Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville where she attended the University of Tennessee. After graduating from UTK in 2009 with a Bachelor’s in English literature, she joined the work force for a few years before deciding to return to the University of Tennessee to pursue both American Studies and Religious Studies. Her scholarly interests primarily include contemporary evangelical women and how their experiences as part of a lived religion impact body image and fashion culture, and the divide between the secular and religious in modern America. Outside of school, Meg is an avid runner and cook.
USC School of Religion
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