2019-2020 RPLI Fellows Announced

This year’s Religions and Public Life Graduate Student Working Group focuses on the theme of “Church and State.” Ten master’s and doctoral students were selected out of a competitive application pool, representing nine different departments and degree programs, three schools, and two universities (Duke and UNC). Graduate Fellows will develop their research interests and discuss recent scholarship during monthly meetings. Throughout the year, they will also practice writing for a public audience and take part in an end-of-year symposium. Several scholars are also supported by generous collaborations with the Center for Jewish Studies, the Duke University Middle East Studies Center, and the Program for American Values and Institutions.

Religions and Public Life at the Kenan Institute for Ethics explores the role of religions in historical and cultural context as they influence the lives of their adherents, interact with each other across time and geography, and contribute to the formation of institutions that make up the public sphere. A joint endeavor with the Duke Divinity School, it is an interdisciplinary platform that puts scholars, students, and practitioners in conversation with one another through collaborative research, innovative teaching, and community engagement. Funding for the graduate scholars also comes from generous support from the Duke Center for Jewish Studies (CJS), the Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) and Duke University Middle East Studies Center (DUMESC), and the Program in American Values and Institutions (AVI).



2019-2020 Fellows:

Matthew Elmore






Matthew is a Doctor of Theology student at Duke Divinity School. His work is focused on consent theory, especially as it pertains to medieval theology, modern political philosophy and medicine.


Isak Tranvik




Isak is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Duke University specializing in Political Theory with a secondary specialization in Law and Politics. His dissertation, situated at the intersection of political philosophy, religious studies, and comparative political theory, intervenes in ongoing debates about civil disobedience and social and political pluralism. More broadly, his research and teaching interests include modern and contemporary political theory, religion(s) and politics, post-colonial political theory, and civic education. His work has appeared or is forthcoming inPerspectives on Politics and Comparative Political Studies. He also co-authored a chapter in an edited volume on popular education, Awakening Democracy Through Public Work: Pedagogies of Empowerment.


Luke Olsen




Luke is a masters student at Duke Divinity School. A Theology, Medicine, and Culture Fellow (’17-’18), Luke is interested in theological anthropology, especially as it relates to urgent moral, political, and aesthetic issues at the intersection of technology, medicine, and ecological crises. This Kenan Fellowship supports Luke’s current research on transhumanism as a political and religious movement in the United States.


Devran Koray Ocal




Devran is a political geographer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His dissertation research engages with identity formation, citizenship and belonging ties of the Turkish-Muslim diaspora in Germany. His area of interest covers migration, geographies of state, feminist geopolitics and diaspora studies.  


Hannah Ridge




Hannah is a PhD candidate studying the effect of popular understandings of democracy on support for democratization.  Her research focuses on Middle Eastern politics, public opinion on democracy, and religion and secularism politics.  She has a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago.


Shreya Parikh




Shreya is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. In her dissertation project, she explores the intersections of race and religion in the immigrant-origin communities in France. Her work has appeared in Maydan and ThePrint.


Elsa Costa


Elsa is an intellectual historian concentrating on Spain and its possessions in the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Her dissertation, a study of the Spanish Empire during the Enlightenment, explores how political economy emerged from moral philosophy during the transition from Habsburg to Bourbon rule. Originally from Chicago, Elsa has a BA in Latin American studies from Bennington College and an MA in Ibero-American history from Duke. Her other interests include twentieth-century French, German and Brazilian philosophy, medieval theories of pedagogy, and women’s writing in contemporary Latin America. She has published or presented papers on all these topics. Her dissertation research took her to Madrid and to Mexico City, where she read the political theories of monks, priests, scientists, lawyers, royal advisors, dilettante scholars, aristocratic women, and others on a Fulbright-Hays grant. Far from the medieval notion it is sometimes assumed to be, the divine right of kings belongs to the Renaissance and early Enlightenment. Elsa has watched it emerge chronologically through these texts. Elsa is also a Humane Studies fellow and is at present involved in the founding of a new literary review. In her spare time, she enjoys watching the new TV series she discovered in Spain, like Élite, The Mysteries of Laura, Madrid is Burning and Just Before Christ


Mao Wei




Mao is an artist currently based in Durham, USA and Shanghai, China. Her artwork creates realms that explore mediation and representation in the real world and critique the functions of various media production approaches through photography, sculpture, installation and mixed media. These artificially include her reflections on the virtual reality, dream and uncertainty. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke.


Anna Holleman




Anna is a second year graduate student in the sociology PhD program at Duke. She is interested in the sociology of religion, specifically the ways that religious organizations function in relation to the larger culture


Armani Porter




Armani is currently a second year master’s student studying Bioethics and Science Policy (concentration: philosophy) at Duke University. He is also a graduate of the University of Notre Dame where he double majored in theology and neuroscience. Armani is currently involved in a collaborative study between Duke and Northwestern University which aims to address the legal and ethical implications of the use of DNA in missing migrant identification. He generally interested in issues at the intersection of immigration policy, international relations, and religion and after finishing his master’s degree, Armani will pursue a JD/PhD as he wishes to pursue a career as a legal academic.