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Student Discussion
Global Religions

Pursuing Your Own Questions: Senior Research Project

In REL 385, senior religion majors develop their own question to explore in detail using the research methods of religious study. They research, meet with their faculty mentor, engage in peer advising and support, and write about the results of their work in a 30-page paper. All our students participate in “Scholarship Day” at Moravian University, where they present their research and celebrate this accomplishment. This independent study is an exciting culmination of your work in the major; many students report that this was the most important and personally satisfying and growth-producing factor of their entire college experience. Examples of topics chosen by students are listed below:

Class of 2021

  • Timothy Brunstetter: "The Authority of Prophets: A Socio-historical and Literary Evaluation of Prophetic Authority in the Biblical Worlds and Beyond." Honors Project
  • Gabriel Lonardo: "Death and Rebirth in Buddhism"
  • Natalie Slayton: "Jewish Holocaust Theology"
  • Michael Pados: "Moral Injury: What Role Does Religion Play?" 
  • Tamar Giorgadze: "Mystery Cults: Cheating Death"

Class of 2020

  • Noah Rosenthal: "A New Interpretation of Mystical Experience"
  • Sara Cipriotti: "A Psychoanalysis of Saul, Paul, and Ezekiel"

Class of 2019

  • Casey Faurl: "Nirvana and Buddhist Conceptions of Karma"
  • Marina Neslen: "Immortality in Philosophy and Religion"

Class of 2018

  • Eric Yeakel: "The Nature of the Cross and Salvation in Twenty-First Century Christianity" 
  • Shane Hansen: "The Jewish American Immigrant Experience and the Superhero Genre" 
  • Molly Lokitis, Erika Salus: "Peace Education Film (Digital Research Project)"

Class of 2017

  • Marlon Moraga: "Using Religious Cult in a Business World"

Class of 2016

  • Kathleen McCoy: “Public Education, American Religious Pluralism and Peace”
  • Abigail Inman: “God vs. Trauma”
  • Stephanie Castlen: “Wahhabism: A Close Look on Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia” 
  • Alyssa Nelson: “God and the Green Bay Packers”
  • Patrick Donahoe: “The Diversity of Jewish and Palestinian Thought Regarding Contentious Religious Sites” 

Class of 2015

  • Artem A. Nikitin: “The Office of the Bishop”
  • Chase Zimnik: “An Ethical Examination of Hydraulic Fracturing: Religious and Secular Perspectives” 
  • Nick Roberts: “The Formation of Religious Identity for Young People in a Postmodern World”

Class of 2014

  • Steve Gaden:  “Liberation Theology and Biblical Interpretation”
  • Marcus Hardy: “The Rabbinic Interpretation of the Babylonian Exile”
  • James Kuri: “The Encounter of Civilizations:  Hellenistic Religions Transformations”
  • Micah Leonard: “Christian and Islamic Prison Ministry”
  • Brenna Maier: “Coping with Addiction: The Role Religion Plays"

Class of 2013

  • Justin Miranda: “Religious-Like Faith within Economics and Business?”
  • Cynthia DaPra: “Women Leadership Roles in the Church”
  • Eddie Flaherty: “Religion and Spirituality in Contemporary Corporate Culture”
  • Karen Duld : “Major in Religion/History; Honors Thesis 2012: “The Episcopal Controversy and the Struggle for Religious Freedom”

Class of 2012

  • Benjamin Teel: “Masada’s Lasting Impact in the Wakes of Zionism, Post-Zionism, and the Masada Myth”
  • Christine Bauer:  “Christian Ethics and Euthanasia”
  • Daniel Oberman: “Development of Christology in Early Christian History”   
  • Naiomi Gonzalez: “The Impracticality of Just War Theory”
  • Sahar Tabshi: “Orthodox and Secular Psychological Counseling Strategies”
  • Justin Miranda: “Religious-Like Faith within Economics and Business?”
  • Dynthia DaPra: “Women Leadership Roles in the Church”
  • Eddie Flaherty: “Religion and Spirituality in Contemporary Corporate Culture”
  • Karen Duld : “Major in Religion/History; Honors Thesis 2012: “The Episcopal Controversy and the Struggle for Religious Freedom”

Class of  2011

  • Rachel Kleiner, Honors in History, minor in Religion: "Family Violence in Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Mythology"
  • Ren Wilder, Honors in Philosophy and Religion, 2011: “The Philosophy of Time Theory and its Relation to Mystical Experience”
  • David Pizzolato:  “Daoism and the Environment”
  • Andrea DeCarlo: “The God Who Sees: Hagar As a Model For Female Survivors of Sexual Violence” 
  • Nina Patton, Religion with Honors and Psychology, 2011: “Women in Scripture and the Pulpit”
  • Sarah White, Religion with Honors, 2011: “Freedom of the Sacred Feminine: Celtic Women in Myth and History”
  • Grace Babcock: “Religion and the Film Industry”
  • Michael Santos, Religion with Honors and Political Science, 2011: “Dispensationalist Eschatology and Islamophobia”
  • Rebekah Finn, Religion with Honors, 2011: “Heart Theology, Female Piety & Moravian Memoirs:  Understanding the Role of Zinzendorf’s Heart Theology for Moravian Women in Colonial Bethlehem”
  • Sean Rimmer: “Hell’s Multiple Images: Construction and Development”
Rachel Kleiner, Honors in History, minor in Religion, 2011: “Family Violence in Ancient Near Eastern and Greek Mythology”
This thesis will explore the myths of the Ancient Near East and Greece in an effort to explain common themes amongst them. The civilizations encompassed in the Ancient Near East are Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Ugarit. These civilizations have the phenomena of containing recurring themes between them. These commonalities have been explored by scholars and can be explained through a socio-political position. These socio-political ideas contain both an intergenerational dynastic succession conflict and a geopolitical one.

Ren Wilder, Honors in Philosophy and Religion, 2011: “The Philosophy of Time Theory and its Relation to Mystical Experience”
The goal of this project is to examine and define temporal reality and how the perception of time relates to the concepts of mystical experiences and the human interactions with the Divine. This project consists of brief examination of the philosophical conception of time as presented by JME McTaggart and how it relates to mystical experience in Islam as presented by his former student, Sir Muhammad Iqbal. This project is developed into four sections: First, I explore the concept of time from a philosophical perspective primarily focusing on McTaggert’s conceptualization of A and B Theory Time. Next, common theories of God's relation to time are explained and explored. Third, models and characteristics of mystical experiences as described as well as the definitions of sense perception are defined. Lastly, Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s view of both Time and Mystical experience are explored and compared to the models presented earlier in the project.

David Pizzolato, Religion, 2011: “Daoism and the Environment”
The current environmental situation is one that will require education and reforming of our way of life if we are to see any positive change in our place in the environment. Daoism can provide the necessary means to achieve a more sustainable future with resources from the Daodejing and Zhunagzi. The Daodejing uses paradoxes, hyperbole and aphorisms to achieve the desired results. Polemic aphorisms show what should be targeted against, hyperbole provides a better understanding by exaggerating situations. The result is a transformation of self, our relationships to communities, and seeing the world as an extension of the self. Daoist ideas are applicable to questions pertaining to environmental ethics because they offer new insights to the dilemmas brought about by our distance of the self from the environment.

Andrea DeCarlo, Religion, 2011: “The God Who Sees: Hagar As a Model For Female Survivors of Sexual Violence”
Bombarded with messages about honoring thy parents, submitting to husbands, selling daughters, obeying an all-powerful Father, and making sacrifices, the Bible can be treacherous terrain for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Rather than finding the Bible as a healing element of one's faith, it often is experienced as a continuation of the subjugation these women experienced in childhood, only reinforcing the same negative messages that they have already received. To make matters worse, the church too often remains quiet on issues of sexual violence, preventing it from acting as a place of healing and liberation. Contemporary readings of the Bible continue to be used to excuse sexual violence toward females, particularly when that violence is perpetrated by those in positions of power. Though often considered to be primarily a story about Sarah and Abraham, reexamining Genesis 16 and 21 with a focus on Hagar's story will allow readers, particularly sexual abuse survivors, to see how God interacts with and cares for women who share Hagar's experience of victimization.

Nina Patton, Religion with Honors and Psychology, 2011: “Women in Scripture and the Pulpit”
Throughout history women have been making strides in order to balance their equality with men on all levels. My project explores the impact religion has on gender roles, specifically women in church leadership roles. Focusing on Mary Magdalene as an example, I will explore how women are represented in the Bible and the impact of these representations for women in contemporary church leadership roles. I will investigate methods used in feminist interpretations of scripture, specifically regarding the same cycle of stories about Mary, in order to examine alternative interpretations of scripture. By investigating feminist interpretations of scripture, I will determine the positive and negative ways in which women can be represented. Though historically, Mary Magdalene has been portrayed as a “sinner” and “temptress,” feminist scholars of the Bible reinterpret her story: she also may be portrayed as Jesus’ first disciple and as an extraordinary preacher of God’s word. Thus, investigation of the multiple interpretations of her story exhibits the way religion colors assumptions regarding women’s character and social roles; moreover, these implications endure up to the present day.

Sarah White, Religion with Honors, 2011:“Freedom of the Sacred Feminine: Celtic Women in Myth and History”
It is not coincidence that the Irish word for sacred, beannaithe, bears such a resemblance to the Irish word for woman: bean. In no other society did women hold such high positions of power and reverence than in that of the Celts. From nature goddesses to warriors, as well as early leaders in the unique spirituality of Celtic Christianity, women were revered in ways that afforded them esteemed positions and ensured their place in the memory of myth and history. Whether as nurturers, war leaders, or abbesses, as historical figures or the key component of legends, the sacred feminine in Celtic traditions is an inspirational and empowering source of hope and strength for women both past and present.

Grace Babcock, Religion, 2011: “Religion and the Film Industry”
My paper analyzes the relationship between religion and the film industry. I focus on how even during the earliest times of the film industry religious organizations have had an influence. Over the decades this has generated both negative and positive impacts on the film industry, and in turn the field of religion has come to embrace media, as seen today in the twenty-first century. Through a system of critical research I have discovered various ways in which film criticism has reacted to the film industry and vice versa—more recently this field has developed a strong voice in both academic and mainstream society. My research also examines the film Dead Man, written and directed by independent American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who while having remained largely anonymous in the film world, has seen his work enact a lasting impact. In tandem with my earlier research I have found that the impact religion has had on film is varied and long lasting. Ultimately my paper takes a deeper look at the ways in which film, religion and Jarmusch’s work are interrelated.

Michael Santos, Religion with Honors and Political Science, 2011: “Dispensationalist Eschatology and Islamophobia”
In the United States, the Christian right has a great deal of influence over discourse. The Christian right is defined by the beliefs and practices of the Evangelical Christian movement. Amongst the Evangelical community, there is a demographic of hardliners known as dispensationalists. Dispensational religious thought is centered on Biblical prophecy and eschatology, including elements of dispensationalist eschatology which encourage prejudice. In a post-9/11 world that prejudice is fixated on Muslims. Belief in the Rapture – or Christ’s returning to earth to bring the true believers in him up to heaven before the tribulations of the apocalypse – is the center of dispensational eschatology. There are pieces of Biblical prophecy which must be fulfilled before the Rapture can take place, therefore, dispensationalist rhetoric and action catalyzes the fulfillment of those promises. However, in a current geopolitical context, the fulfillment of those promises often entails human rights violations. I will explore the history and development of dispensationalist eschatology and the way it leads to practices of islamaphobia in America, especially with regard to the areas of Scripture and popular culture which dispensationalist eschatology has enveloped. Ultimately, I will reveal the subtle dangers of this type of end-times thought and why Americans are so eager to believe in it.

Rebekah Finn, Religion with Honors, 2011
“Heart Theology, Female Piety & Moravian Memoirs: Understanding the Role of Zinzendorf’s Heart Theology for Moravian Women in Colonial Bethlehem” During the eighteenth century, religious principles and Piety of the Bethlehem Moravians were heavily shaped by a fascinating theology centered on a sense of emotion and feeling. This Theology of the Heart, by Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, designated the heart (in its metaphorical sense) as the principle device for obtaining and developing a relationship with the Savior. By looking at the memoirs of Moravian women from this time period, we are able to see exactly how this theology affected the lives of these women individually, as well as their roles within the community.

Sean Rimmer, Religion, 2011, Religion: “Hell’s Multiple Images: Construction and Development”
For my research project I am focusing on the evolution of the concepts and images of Hell. Beginning with the Hebrew texts and the image of the after life that is presented in the Old Testament. Following through the texts of the bible I will examine the New Testament and the changes that occur in what Hell is thought to be. The third section of my topic consists of probing the non-canonical texts such as the books like, “The Apocalypse of Peter” as well as the Divine Comedy by Dante, focusing mainly on just the Inferno section. The purpose of these extra passages is to show the development of descriptions of Hell. Also, these descriptions show how non-biblical literary genres are influenced by the religions of the time. I will not be discussing whether or not I think Hell exists, but to stay focused on how and why Hell had began as a place not of torment but as place for life after death, and then shifted to a place where sinners were sent and eternal punishment was justified. I will ask, What was it that took place to initiate this drastic change in the construction of a place with “lakes of fire” for the damned?