2024 Religion Newsletter

Columbian College Department of Religion. A group of four students talking

Message from the Chair
Department Spotlights
Department Kudos
Alumni Class Notes 

Message from the Chair

Irene Oh

Greetings to all of our alumni from the George Washington University Department of Religion! I write to you from our new location, 2147 F Street. We moved from our former building at 2106 G Street over the summer, and we are thrilled to be in this beautiful, historical townhouse. If you are ever in Foggy Bottom, please visit us!

I would like to thank our generous donors who have enabled the department to host events such as public lectures. This year, the David and Sherry Berz Endowed Lecture featured William Waldron, professor of Buddhism at Middlebury College, who spoke about Yogacara Buddhism. The Abbie Ziffren Annual Endowed Lecture brought to campus Munjed Murad, program director for Eco-Justice at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, who presented insights on ecology from an Islamic perspective.

Thank you so much for your support and involvement. Please stay in touch. 


Dr. Irene Oh
Department Chair

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Department Spotlights 

From left, Former GW President Wrighton with Trachtenberg Prize winners Paul Duff, Kim Roddis, David DeGrazia and Ekundayo Shittu; and Provost Bracey.

Paul B. Duff Awarded Trachtenberg Prize for Service

Paul B. Duff was awarded the Oscar and Shoshana Trachtenberg Prize for Service. This award recognizes exceptional service to GW and is presented annually to a tenured member of the faculty. Professor Duff retired in May 2024 after more than 30 years of service as a professor in the Religion Department. Among the positions he held during his time at GW include chair of the Religion Department and associate dean for undergraduate studies for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. He is enjoying life as professor emeritus, maintaining a busy research agenda, tending to his garden, and baking sourdough breads. The award ceremony was covered by GW Today

Sylvia Cassidy smiling and holding up a certificate next to a man in a suit with a Department of Education seal in background
Junior religion and political science major Sylvia Cassidy with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

Wait, Wait: Religion Major Sylvia Cassidy Featured on NPR

Junior Sylvia Cassidy correctly answered all three news trivia questions on the November 18, 2023, airing of NPR’s popular news quiz, Wait, Wait (Don’t Tell Me)! Host Peter Sagal quipped, “If you’re going to be in politics, you’re going to need God,” when he learned that Cassidy was a double major in both religion and political science. For her correct responses, Cassidy won a voicemail recording from her choice of NPR celebrity hosts.

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Department Kudos

  • Robert Eisen published Jews, Judaism, and Success (University of Toronto Press), which examines the religious roots of modern day Jewish success. Publishers Weekly described his book as “thought-provoking” and urged anyone interested in modern Jewish history “to take a look.”
  • Xiaofei Kang, recently promoted to full professor, published Enchanted Revolution: Ghosts, Shamans, and Gender Politics in Chinese Communist Propaganda 1942-1953 (Oxford University Press). In her highly acclaimed book, Professor Kang explains how the Chinese Communist Party ironically borrowed from religious tropes in order to carry out its political campaigns. Professor Kang also delivered the keynote speech, “Power on the Margins: Gender and Ethnicity in the Study of Chinese Religions,” at Arizona State University at a conference on “Re-staging the Periphery as the Center: Women Communities in East Asian Religion.” 
  • Irene Oh based her recently published book What is Religious Ethics? An Introduction (Routledge) upon nearly two decades of teaching undergraduate courses on religion and ethics. The book uses a case-based approach to explain how religious ethicists think through dilemmas facing members of their faith communities.
  • Sayed Hassan Akhlaq presented a talk titled “The Rule of Law and the Modernization of Afghanistan” at the South Asia Center, Moynihan Institute, Syracuse University. The discussion centered around the dynamics of Sharia law and its challenges amidst modernity in present-day Afghanistan. 
  • Kelly Pemberton continues to work on a book-length global study of Islam and gender activism while exploring a new area of research: digital Islam. She gave a lecture at the Elliot School for GARNET (Global Affairs and Religion Network) titled “Digital Da’wa: Agency, Authority and Activism in Cyber Islamic Environments.” She also delivered a lecture on “Women in Islam and the Muslim World” at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute. Aside from her academic work, she has continued to provide expert reports and testimony in asylum cases for nationals of Pakistan and India

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Alumni Class Notes

  • Nakisa Azizi, MA ’17, is a project manager at Mesh Connect, a Fintech company based in California. She is married to Timothy Schum, another MA graduate, and they welcomed a baby boy in 2022.
  • Zachary Candy, MA ’14, has been in Munich, Germany, writing his dissertation on developments in Islamic metaphysics from Avicenna to Nasir al-Din Tusi, while working as a research assistant for projects in Islamic philosophy and mentoring students in the master’s program in philosophy, theology, and religions at the University of Lucerne (Switzerland).
  • Kelly El-Yacoubi, MA ’19, serves as editor for over a dozen publications relating to Islamic spirituality, including Imam Ghazali Institute’s al-Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya, Qandusi Publication’s commentary on Hydration of the Soul (forthcoming) and a hallmark publication on Sayyida Fatima from Mecca Books (forthcoming).
  • Rachel Gallivan, BA ’20, after completing Teach for America corps time with DC Prep in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington D.C., is working towards a master’s in counseling education.
  • Reza Hemyari, MA ’14, pursued traditional seminary studies first in Najaf, IQ, in 2013-2014 and then in Chicago, Ill., at the Ahl al-Bayt Islamic Seminary. In 2019, they entered the PhD program in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department.
  • Seyda Karaoglu, MA ’18, after five years in Ankara, was appointed to the Turkish Embassy in Brussels. Her newfound profession involves chasing after a small tornado of mischief and mayhem, otherwise known as her 1-year-old daughter.
  • Matt Kelly, BA ’23, is at the University of Chicago Divinity School finishing up his first year in his MA program.
  • Shifa Mohiuddin, BA ’04, recently returned from performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Shifa was fortunate to have had prayers/support from their fellow GW classmates during this spiritual endeavor. 
  • Timothy Schum, MA ’16, joined Emory’s PhD program in Islamic Civilizations Studies. His research project is on developing a critical methodology for the study of aesthetics in pre-modern Islamicate societies. He lives in San Diego, Calif., where he is completing his PhD dissertation while working as the copy editor for The Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies, published biannually through Indiana University Press.
  • Seher A. Shah, MA ’16, is a lecturer in Islamic art and culture and foreign language coordinator at the School of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, Pakistan, where she teaches courses on Medieval Muslim Culture, Islamic Art and Calligraphy.
  • Kate Twomey, BA ’22, is a graduate student at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
  • Jacob Wolf, BA ’11, is a veterinary intensivist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Florida. His research focuses on novel education techniques in veterinary medicine, including the integration of the arts and humanities with medicine.

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