Religion & Philosophy Department

Lebanon Valley College

2014 Commencement


It was a bittersweet graduation season for the Department of Religion and Philosophy. Not only did we graduate one of our largest classes in recent memory (Marquis Bey, Ashley Ferrari, Daniel Kimmel, Dylan Matusek, and Colleen Smith), but also the most honored. Three of the five graduates from the department graduated Summa Cum Laude; one with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Both Daniel Kimmel and Ashley Ferrari were singled out by the college in profile stories that showcased them as model, even inspirational, students. Click here to read the full story on Daniel: Click here to read the full story on Ashley:’14

Also, at the Commencement ceremony, the department swept the college awards: Marquis Bey was named the recipient of the H. Anthony Neidig Award as the most outstanding student of his graduating class. Rabbi Paul Reimers was given the Nevelyn J. Knisley Award for Inspirational Teaching. This is the annual teaching award that is given to the most outstanding adjunct instructor at the college. And last but not least, Dr. Matt Sayers was given the Thomas Rhys Vickroy Distinguished Teaching Award, which is the college’s most prestigious annual teaching award. Dr. Sayers was awarded the Vickroy on the basis of his excellence in the classroom and the various co-curricular initiatives he has led. In the ceremony announcing his award, he was proclaimed “an educational innovator—a gifted, dedicated, and impactful teacher with a firm grasp of course design and effective teaching pedagogies, and a commitment to the continuous reevaluation and improvement of his teaching to enhance student learning.” You can read more about the commencement ceremony and the various awards from the LVC homepage at

Academic Honors

inquiry 2014

On Thursday, April 10th, Lebanon Valley College enjoyed a day-long celebration of student learning. The day’s events were a culmination of INQUIRY 2014, and included the distribution of academic awards and scholarships.

The department’s first award was given to Alyssa Nissley. Alyssa was the recipient of the G.A. Richie Memorial Ministerial Scholarship Award. This award is given annually to a major in the Department of Religion and Philosophy on the basis of academic achievement and financial need, in memory of Dr. G.A. Richie, former professor of Bible and Greek at Lebanon Valley College.

The second award was given to Daniel Kimmel. Daniel was given the The Martha U. Peiffer and Dr. Harold S. Peiffer ’42 Award in Religion as the Outstanding Senior in Religion.

The third award was given to Marquis Bey. Marquis was given the Donald E Byrne, Jr. Award for Undergraduate Research. This award is named in honor of Professor Don Byrne for his decades of exemplary teaching, which combined inspiration interdisciplinarity, and rigor with the highest of expectations. To be given to the Religion or Philosophy student who has distinguished him/herself the most through undergraduate research.

The fourth award was given to Ashley Ferrari. Ashley was given th Award of Excellence in Philosophy as the most outstanding Philosophy major at LVC.

The final award was given to Anna Quinn. Anna was the recipient of the David E. Long/ Abram M. Long Memorial Ministerial Scholarship Award. This award was established in 1965 by the Reverend Abram M. Long, Class of 1917, in memory of his father, the Reverend David E. Long, Class of 1900. The award is based on merit, and is given annually by the Department of Religion and Philosophy to a student preparing for the ministry and/or a life of service.

2014 Theta Alpha Kappa Inductions


On Tuesday, April 8th, five students from the Department of Religion and Philosophy at LVC were inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa, the national honor society for Religious Studies and Theology.

In addition, graduating senior Daniel Kimmel was given a monetary prize from the national office of Theta Alpha Kappa in recognition of his scholarship and dedication to excellence in religious studies and theology. Daniel is graduating this year with a double major in English and Religion, and a minor in Classics. He has a perfect 4.0 GPA. For the past two years he has presented his research at the North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy. He was inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa last year as a part of our inaugural class. He is also a member of the English national honors society and Phi Alpha Epsilon. Next year, he will be attending Lehigh University as a Teaching Fellow to begin work on his Master’s Degree in English.

Theta Alpha Kappa is an affiliated society of the American Academy of Religion and is a member of the Association of College Honor Societies.

A brief profile of each of the inductees is listed below. Congratulations to them all.

Alyssa Carter:
Alyssa Carter graduated from LVC with a double major in Philosophy and Psychology. While still a student, she worked as an assistant in LVC’s Counseling Services for three years. The current director of Counseling Services, Stevie Falk, credits Alyssa with being absolutely “instrumental” to her success by providing a bridge between the office’s past activities and its present work. Alyssa assumed the responsibility for regularly publishing the Counseling Services Newsletter “Stepping Stones”. She also organized many of the outreach and educational events. And in addition, she was President of the LVC chapter of Active Minds, a leading national organization that empowers students to speak openly about mental health issues. Alyssa currently works as a Psychiatric Assistant at Philhaven, the Counseling and Mental Health Hospital located in Lebanon, PA.

Miranda Milillo:
Miranda is currently completing her sophomore year at LVC. She is a Religion major and is actively involved in LVC’s service fraternity APO. She was recruited to the Religion department by Professor Sayers after taking his First Year Seminar class in Dystopia and after spending a short study abroad experience in London where she and several of her classmates spent the week investigating the religious diversity of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. She is a gifted reader and a natural leader. She participated in this year’s Habitat for Humanity’s national alternative spring break program in Pendletin, W.V. where she along with 21 other LVC students and staff helped families obtain simple, affordable housing.

Alyssa Nissley:
Alyssa is completing her junior year at LVC. She is an active and engaged student leader on campus who excels in the classroom and who has also been recognized for her off-campus community service. She has been awarded an Arnold Grant for Experiential Education for a Collaborative Research Project with Dr. Matt Sayers on “Developing a Theory of Religious Change”. She spent last spring semester studying abroad in Argentina. She is currently enrolled in the yearlong Race and Religion Undergraduate Research Symposium in which she has conducted independent research by doing a womanist theological analysis of Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple, which she has presented at the North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy and at the national undergraduate conference on “Democracy Realized” at Allegheny College. She works a plethora of jobs at LVC, including her work as the student assistant in the Religion and Philosophy office suite where she provides invaluable assistance to Becky Corum.

Rebecca Sausser:
Becky is completed her sophomore year at LVC. She is a double major in History and Religion. She is also active in the LVC service fraternity APO. She is famous for her assortment of hats. And for her constant good humor. She is a trained clown and loves to do balloon animals for friends and children. She has a twin brother, who looks nothing like her. She plays the ukulele. As testament to her outstanding qualities as a student, she was one of the brave few to tackle Sanskrit as a freshman. She was also one of the brave few not just to take the Religion and Race symposium this fall, but to allow some of these difficult texts to work like mirrors on her own experience.

Elizabeth Zeiner:
Liz is completing her junior year as a double major in Religion and Sociology. She has studied abroad at the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy. Like Miranda, she also participated in this year’s Habitat for Humanity’s national alternative spring break program in Pendletin, W.V. She loves the color green. She is a remarkable student who has willed herself to success, a true testament to earnest, hard-work. After graduating, she is interested in pursuing either a job with the FBI or to continue her studies at the graduate level.

A photo album from the induction ceremony are available at the departmental Facebook page at

Undergraduate Research

2014 Undergraduate Research Symposium on Race and Religion

2014 Undergraduate Research Symposium on Race and Religion

IMG_5466 Respondent Professor J. Kameron Carter (Duke University)


NAUCRP Awards for Most Outstanding Papers of the Conference

March was an extremely full month for Religion and Philosophy students at LVC. It began with 8 students presenting at the 7th Annual North American Undergraduate Conference on Religion and Philosophy. The conference was hosted by LVC, with Monica Coleman as the guest speaker. The conference included undergraduate participants from 18 different colleges and universities from 14 different states. Two LVC students–Dylan Matusek and Megan English–won prizes for most outstanding paper of the conference. You may find out more information about the conference at

The following weekend, six students from the Symposium course on Religion and Race traveled together with Professors Vahanian and Sayers to Allegheny College for an undergraduate conference on the theme of “Democracy Realized.”

Fresh on the heels of that trip, Professor J. Kameron Carter from the Divinity School at Duke University visited campus for the culminating public events of the Religion and Race Symposium. On Monday evening, Carter gave a public lecture on “Postracial Blues” in which he provided an analysis of the contemporary films Avatar and District 9 from the perspective of critical race theory and theology. On Tuesday, Carter acted as the official respondent to the original research papers delivered by LVC students. Photos of this event are available at

George Yancy to Visit LVC

George Yancy

We are pleased to be hosting the philosopher George Yancy on Tuesday, February 25th. In addition to his public lecture at 4pm on “Exploring Race in Predominantly White Classrooms, ” he will be visiting with students from the Religion and Race Symposium course for a private conversation about his books “Christology and Whiteness” and “Look, A White!”

Yancy is a Professor of Philosophy at Duquesne University and a has been a guest columnist for the Opinion Page of the New York Times.

The Rebellious No

Vahanian Book Cover
We are pleased to announce the publication of Professor Noelle Vahanian’s new book, “The Rebellious No: Variations on a Secular Theology of Language.” The book is published in the prestigious “Perspectives in Continental Philosophy” series with Fordham University Press.

One reviewer of the book has written, “The Rebellious No is an important and original contribution to contemporary theological thinking. Vahanian’s secular theology of language is intense, meditative and brilliant, and culminates in a profound vision of how rebellion and love are inseparable from each other.” And the philosopher Catherine Malabou has compared Vahanian’s work to that of Heidegger and Levinas, two of the most important and influential philosophers of the twentieth century.

The department will be having a book release party for Professor Vahanian on Wednesday, March 12th.

In the meantime, you can order a copy of your own at

SKYPE Interview with Professor J. Kameron Carter


The students in this year’s Symposium on Race and Religion had the occasion to speak with scholar J. Kameron Carter (Duke University, Divinity School) about his book “Race: A Theological Account” and their various research projects. The full SKYPE session is available on YouTube at

Here is a lineup of students with a draft of their questions:

1) Marquis Bey: Because he is planning his research paper on the viability of a “Br’er Jesus”, he asked the question of how African American folklore works with African American religion? How does the folklore inform the theology? How might folklore work as a theological strategy (of resistance)?

2) Daniel Kimmel: Because he is currently at work on his senior seminar thesis that is examining the nature of religious language as a truly self-reflexive language, he asks Carter about his specific claim in the opening of his book about the way by which Christ “liberates language.” Specifically, he asked about what it was within the structure of ordinary language that lent itself towards domination, and how Christ’s recapitulation of language might “liberate” language?

3) Cristabelle Braden: Her question was interested at getting at whether an authentic biblical Christianity could be an antidote to modern racism–specifically, whether holding to the teachings of the disciples of the 1st century could be an answer to the race problem in Christian theology?

4) Megan English: Beginning with her reading of Martin Luther King, Jr., she has been troubled by the idea of redemptive suffering. She posed the possibility of distinguishing between “redemptive suffering” and “redeeming suffering.”

5) Miranda Milillo: Picking up on W. E. B. Du Bois’ notion of “double-consciousness,” she asked with that notion was still operative for African Americans today.

6) Becky Sausser: Invoking King’s famous quip that Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour in American public life, she asked whether this separation between the traditionally white and black churches in the United States is a productive separation.

7) Ashley Ferrari: She is pursuing a research project on Hispanic Liberation Theology. With the specificity of American Hispanics and African Americans in mind, she asked whether, or how, Christianity, or religion in general, could serve as a unifying force for a diversity of people.

8) Anna Quin: She asked about the use and misuse of the Bible in discussions of equality and justice.

9) Susanna Chehata: Drawing on James Cone’s book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” she asked whether it was possible to truly understand Christianity without a real experience of social suffering.

10) Alyssa Nissley: She is interested in writing a paper on Black women in Christianity. Specifically, she was interested in the Black Womanist theologian Delores Williams’ critique of Cone, and the argument regarding the specific nature of suffering experienced by both men and women.

In the News…

The Department of Religion and Philosophy has been the subject of several profiles and web stories over the past several months. They include the following:

“Ryan Derfler ’04 Finds Fulfillment Through Faith and Nonprofit Work”
What is most significant for us about this profile of one of our recent graduates is how Ryan spoke about the way his study of philosophy and the way he learned to ask “the big questions” prepared him not simply for his first job, but for an entire series of career opportunities. As a department, we regard him as a model for what can be done by a creative combination of majors.

“College to Host Sustained Interfaith Dialogue on Wealth Distribution and Economic Privilege”
This story alerts the community to the department’s partnership with the LVC Office of Spiritual Life to provide an ongoing interfaith forum to explore current events and controversial issues. These sustained interfaith dialogues are an integral part of our recently launched “Interfaith Certification Program” (see

“Cristabelle Braden ’15 Became Prolific Songwriter After Serious Brain Injury”
This story profiles a current student. Her story is an inspiring one. She is already an exceptional student with enormous promise.

“When Faculty Study Abroad”
This story describes recent travels by yours truly–specifically the way that my own research and network of professional contacts informs and enhances classroom education. All of the faculty in our department share this teacher-scholar ideal.

North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion & Philosophy

naucrp (1)

The Department of Religion and Philosophy at Lebanon Valley College is pleased to be hosting the 7th Annual North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion & Philosophy this spring.

Activist, scholar and minister Monica Coleman from Claremont School of Theology will be the keynote speaker. Find information about her at

The conference is being jointly planned by a LVC faculty member and student, Dr. Matt Sayers and Daniel Kimmel.

Details for the conference can be found at

2013 Fall Report


We have had an active couple of months in the Department of Religion and Philosophy at LVC. The semester kicked off with our first BRAINSTORMS meeting (see photos here: in which we celebrated the publication of the book of essays from our undergraduates on the work of Catherine Malabou (check it out at The essays were the product of last year’s team-taught undergraduate research symposium. The symposium course and the book publication were such a success that we have plans to make them both annual events. In other words, we want LVC to be the destination for high achieving students who want to take on the challenge of conducting undergraduate research and whose quality of work will be ready for the scrutiny of public presentations and publication.

It is with that in mind that we have commenced our second annual team-taught undergraduate research symposium course. The topic for this year is “Race and Religion.” Students will be working in a collaborative learning environment with three LVC professors from the department as well as with Professor J. Kameron Carter from Duke Theological School, who is serving as the symposium course’s external scholar. Students are enrolled in the class by the permission of an instructor and commit to an entire year of study and conversation. During the spring semester, students will present their research in two public forums. The first will be at the North American Undergraduate Conference on Religion and Philosophy in which LVC students will be competing with students from across the country for awards in outstanding scholarship and presentation. The second will be at the public symposium where Professor Carter will be serving as the official respondent, providing commentary and critique on each student’s work. Based on the feedback the students will be receiving from these various events, as well as the writing conferences held with individual professors over the course of the spring semester, students will revise and finalize their papers to be ready for publication in a collected book of essays in summer 2014.

In addition to this intensive learning experience, we also have four students completing the senior seminar course this semester. This course as designed as the capstone course for the Religion and Philosophy major. It requires students (1) to compile a portfolio of their best representative work over their time as an undergraduate, (2) to write an intellectual autobiography, and (3) to complete a senior research thesis on a topic of each student’s own choosing. This is the class where students synthesize and bring coherence to their various courses and demonstrate their capacities at critical thinking and in oral and written communication. It provides interested students with a writing sample that can be included as a part of their graduate school applications. And it is a means by which students can convey to potential employers their capacities for completing tasks independently, problem solving, intellectual discernment, effective communication, and self-confidence. The course is required of all majors. It gives students the opportunity to work one-on-one with an individual faculty member. And it is yet something else that helps to distinguish our department’s philosophy of teaching and learning in a liberal arts environment from many of the other good programs in Religion and Philosophy from our region.

Finally, we are pleased to report on the outstanding work done by one of our graduating seniors. Ashley Ferrari is not only a student leader on campus who is involved in many different extracurricular activities, but she is also a successful triple major in Philosophy, International Studies, and Spanish. She has studied abroad in Spain, and has engaged in a collaborative research project with an LVC faculty member in Mexico. She has just recently completed her application for the Fulbright Scholar Program. As stated on the CIES website, “The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to ‘increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.'” Students are chosen for the Fulbright based on their academic merit and leadership potential. If chosen, the Fulbright Scholar is given a full year’s of funding for the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research on a shared international concern. Ashley’s proposed research project builds on her work from last year’s undergraduate research symposium on Catherine Malabou. She was assisted in preparing the application by faculty in the Religion and Philosophy department and her advisor in International Studies. She is proposing to spend a year at the University of Barcelona under the direction of the philosopher Santiago Zabala. We are extremely hopeful for Ashley’s prospects and proud of the seriousness of purpose she has already shown in readying her application materials.