University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Gabfest 2014

GABfest banner

On October 31, 2014, the Graduate Advisory Board of the IHGC will be coordinating a collaborative conference entitled GABFest Religion and the University. This event will be structured as a series of roundtable discussions, bringing together U.Va. faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students across the humanities. At a time of fierce debates about the role of religion in public life, we will reflect on its place within the university as a public institution. Are religion and education complementary or are they necessarily at odds? How do we study religion in a secular institution? How do we insure religious tolerance? How has religious studies as a discipline been influenced by conversations in politics, law, social and natural sciences? Should religious expression have a place in campus graffiti? How have higher education initiatives in other parts of the world accommodated/eschewed religion? Each panel session will be framed briefly by a few invited discussion leaders before opening the conversation to everyone involved for the majority of the panel session.

If you have any questions or would like to help with the event, contact Swati Chawla: sc2wt [at]


Location: OpenGrounds Studio Map >, located on the Corner next to the Women's Center, behind the bus stop and near the train trestle.

Breakfast & Coffee and Breakfast (8:30-9)

The Religious/Secular Foundations of Public Education (9-10:30)

What choices about the place of religion did the founders of public universities across the world make? What contexts led to those choices? What was Jefferson’s vision for UVa? When and how were universities opened to religious minorities? What safeguards were put in place to guard against religious intolerance?

Confirmed panelists: Richard Barnett, Professor in History; Scott Harrop, Professor in Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages; Chad Wellmon, Professor in Germanic Languages

Discussant: Kimberly Hursh, Ph.D student in History

Break for coffee (10:30-11)

Public University and Religious Expression (11-12:30)

What is the space for religious expression in a secular institution? What is permissible under “freedom of expression”? What must be censored? Is there space to tolerate intolerance? What about religious expression that has an activist character? Is it “proper” for students and teachers to declare their religious affiliation in a politically charged atmosphere?

Confirmed panelists: Douglas Laycock, Professor in the School of Law; Matthew S. Hedstrom, Professor in Religious Studies; Philip Lorish, Ph.D. student in Religious Studies; Brian Owensby, Professor in History

Discussant: Swati Chawla, Ph.D. student in History

Break for Lunch, provided to all attendees (12:30-2)

The Study of Religion in the Academy (2-3:30)

How has the study of religion evolved in academic institutions in the past few decades? How are departments of religious studies different from divinity schools? How has religious studies as a discipline changed in the recent past? What is the history of religious studies programs at UVa?

Confirmed panelists: Ahmed al-Rahim, Professor in Religious Studies; Kathleen Flake, Professor in Religious Studies; Karen Lang, Professor in Religious Studies; Charles Matthewes, Professor in Religious Studies

Discussant: Nauman Faizi, Ph.D. student in Religious Studies

Break for coffee and light refreshments (3:30-4)

Lessons from Other Spaces(4-5:30)

How have universities in other parts of the world accommodated religious expression? How have movements against colonial rule and/ or religious majoritarianism influenced the character of these universities? How do religious and social debates influence university life? How is the study of religion institutionalized in spaces outside the academy? How is it influenced by interactions with digital humanities, neuroscience, politics, and other disciplines?

Confirmed panelists: Scott Bailey, Developer at Scholars' Lab and Ph.D. student in Religious Studies; Purdom Lindblad, Head of Graduate Programs, Scholars' Lab; Xiaoyuan Liu, Professor in History; Geeta Patel, Professor in Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures

Discussant: Emily Matson, Ph.D. student in History