Undergraduate Research in Religious Studies

At Pomona College, students from all disciplines are encouraged to undertake research. Some apply for funded focused summer research through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Below are recent projects completed by students in the Religious Studies Department.


Negotiating Religious Identity and Violence: Nazism, Zionism, and the Struggle for Palestinian Rights

Rachel Marandett ’20; Advisor: Zayn Kassam

Despite the traditional US educational model that seeks to explain genocide solely through the events of the Holocaust, the field of Genocide Studies, which emerged in the direct aftermath of WWII, can in fact be reframed to form a nuanced deconstruction of Holocaust discourse that helps to establish a new understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I used my SURP grant, provided through my partnership with the Pomona College Humanities Studio, to jumpstart my senior thesis research by constructing a method to apply the extensive Holocaust discourse accessible today to the multiplicity of perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I did this by conducting extensive archival research in Washington DC with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and other organizations, gathering interview and other hands-on data from sources in Palestine, Israel, and Germany, synthesizing research sources I acquired in my time studying in both the Czech Republic and Morocco, and working with the NGO Genocide Watch to explore their model of historical and contemporary genocidal processes. This work has led me to conclude that unlike any other historical event, the Holocaust can uniquely be used not only to provide invaluable insight into the Israeli and Jewish diaspora identity and perspective on the conflict, but also to establish a framework for understanding genocide that sheds light on the Palestinian narrative and crimes being perpetrated against them.


The Question of Utopia for (Post-)Marxists

Saul Nadis ’19; Advisor: Oona Eisenstadt

The academic left today divides roughly into two camps: those who endorse identity politics and those who endorse class politics. Adherents of identity politics support a multitude of struggles—race, class, gender, sexuality, bodily morphology, etc. These struggles are usually deemed equal, but also intertwined, based on an awareness that what gets considered an identity itself is the result of struggle. Adherents of class politics, however, insist that all identity struggles are dependent on or have their origin in economic relations. However, this does not imply that identity struggles cannot gain some autonomy from such economic relations.  Perhaps one of the strongest advocates of class politics today is philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who labels class struggle an example of an “oppositional determination.” Zizek asserts that although “class” is just another identity within contemporary hegemonic struggles, the very possibility of the proliferation of a multitude of identities is itself overdetermined by “post-industrial” capitalism. I explore this claim’s value in juxtaposition with innovative concepts in contemporary identity politics — such as Lee Edelman’s “simthomosexual” anti-futurism and Jared Sexton’s qualified “afro-pessimism” — that provide an alternative ethics to the class-based optimism latent in neo-Marxism. Thereby, this paper connects differences in philosophical ontologies with some of the political differences that are hindering the left today.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Raised in the Pews: The Second-Generation Chinese American Christian Experience in the South

Nathan Hahn ’19; Advisor: Darryl Smith

“Raised in the Pews: The Second-Generation Chinese American Christian Experience in the South” was a study on Chinese American Christians who have grown up in the Southern United States. The goal was to find how cultural differences with older generations and their peers influence the religious experience and perspectives of Chinese Americans from the South with both older generations and their peers. The study was done using quota sampling of Chinese Americans from two Chinese churches in the South who had grown up there. Participants were each interviewed to give insight on how they feel their ethnic background influences the role that Christianity plays in their life and their identity. The study showed that second-generation Chinese American Christians who are brought up in the South see common ethnic background contributing to how they can build communities in church. Many described the desire to share a common ethnic background with those who they go to church with and the impact that it has. Individuals also expressed that a common faith acted as a bridge with peers of different ethnicities, often even emphasizing shared faith above ethnic difference.  Some also expressed the influence of differences between themselves and older generations within church. The study begins to provide a perspective on the religious experience of second-generation Chinese American Christians raised in the South and the impacts of cultural and generational difference.
Funding Provided By: Aubrey H & Eileen J Seed Student Research Fund