Two leading scholars of religion from very different areas of specialization will lead the seminar: Charles Mathewes, an ethicist who focuses on Christianity, comparative ethics, and the role of religion in contemporary public life, and Kurtis Schaeffer, a historian of religion who specializes in Buddhism and Tibetan religions. Schaeffer and Mathewes have worked together previously during a five-year term of editing the leading journal in the field of religious studies, The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and as co-leaders of a 2011 NEH Seminar and a 2014 NEH Institute, both hosted at the University of Virginia and both exploring similar topics of religious history and contemporary influence.  Beyond their professional work, both share an abiding concern for promoting intellectually rigorous teaching and scholarship about religion; they are on the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia where, in addition to teaching their subfields, regularly teach graduate students in the methods and theories of the study of religion.

Kurtis Schaeffer

Mathewes and Schaeffer represent two distinct traditions of scholarship—Mathewes trained as an ethicist and philosopher, Schaeffer as a philologist and historian of religion—that, in their most polarized guises, can harden into irreconcilable positions within the academic study of religion. However, both Mathewes and Schaeffer share a conviction that conversation between different scholarly perspectives is not only mutually productive, but necessary, and potentially even—dare we say—enjoyable.

Through their previous work with The Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Mathewes and Schaeffer have encountered an unprecedented range of scholarship. Mathewes also was a member of the Board of the American Academy of Religion, while Schaeffer serves as Department Chair for U.Va.’s Department of Religious Studies, and on the Directorate of the newly-formed Contemplative Sciences Center.

Both Mathewes and Schaeffer are widely published, each with numerous monographs and articles to his name: Mathewes’ work A Theology of Public Life (Cambridge University Press, 2007) argues for the cogency of a specifically Christian engagement in contemporary American political life, and thereby places himself in the traditions of moral inquiry addressed in the seminar’s second and third weeks. Schaeffer’s recent book, The Culture of the Book in Tibet (Columbia University Press, 2008), charts changing definitions of scholarship and scholarly identity in Tibetan history in a manner that resonates with historians whose work is the focus of the seminar’s first week.