Brent Nongbri, Sami Al Daghistani and Mary Jane Cuyler

New Faculty Members

This semester we have welcomed three new international scholars to our faculty: Brent Nongbri, Sami Al Daghistani and Mary Jane Cuyler.

Brent Nongbri - Professor of History of Religions

– I’m a historian of ancient religion and early Christianity. I oversee MF’s History of Religions program (MA), and I’m a part of The Lying Pen of Scribes project, focusing on the intersection of the academy and the antiquities market.

My interests in early Christianity and the study of religion more generally are broad. My first book, Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (Yale University Press, 2013), provided a genealogy of the concept of religion. Drawing together an array of scholarship that has questioned the universality of the concept of religion, the book provides a narrative of the formation of the concept and explores the ways in which the academic study of so-called “ancient religions” tends to naturalize the concept of religion to make it appear universal and necessary.

While this earlier work focused on methodological problems in the study of ancient religion, my research covers a number of themes related to the ancient Mediterranean world and the modern study of it.  I have explored some of these interests in publications on topics ranging from Jewish identity in the Maccabean era to New Testament textual criticism to the archaeological excavations at the ancient synagogue at Ostia. Ostia the port city of ancient Rome, where I worked on-site for over a decade.

My interest in Jewish and Christian archaeology and material culture stands behind my current research efforts, which center on early Christian books. Over the last several years, I have conducted a systematic study of the major collections of early Greek New Testament manuscripts (the Chester Beatty biblical papyri, the Bodmer papyri, and the Christian material from Oxyrhynchus).  Autopsy examination of manuscripts and the related archival materials at various holding institutions has yielded a number of insights, including the discovery of new manuscripts, neglected details about the construction and dating of several important early Christian codices, and insights into the illicit antiquities market that brought most of these artifacts to light in the twentieth century. A number of my recent journal articles have relayed the results of this work, and my monograph on the topic, God’s Library: The Archaeology of the Earliest Christian Manuscripts (Yale University Press) was published in 2018.

Sami Al Daghistani - researcher

– I am an intellectual historian of Islam, working on the intersection of economics, environment, law, and ethics in Islamic tradition. In my thesis (PhD in 2017, Islamic Studies, Leiden University, co-supervision at Columbia University), I critique contemporary Islamic economics, by analyzing classical Muslim scholars and their exposition on theological, legal, philosophical, and mystical trends on economic thought, advocating for a polyvalent economic tradition rooted in Sharī‘a’s moral law. Part of my research focuses also on modernity and Islam, specifically on the deconstruction of modern knowledge and associated epistemological ruptures.

Currently, I am a Research Scholar at the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, an Associate Faculty Member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, New York, and a Researcher at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society.

I will be part of the INTERSECT project, working on the conceptual history of Islamophobia and religious politics in the Middle East, looking in particular how the term evolved in the region and what are its religious, ideological, and political aspects.

Mary Jane Cuyler - Postdoctoral research fellow

– I am a classical archaeologist and Latinist. My PhD is in Classics and Ancient History (University of Sydney); M.A. in Classics and Archaeology from The University of Texas at Austin and B.A. in Classical Philology from Western Washington University (Bellingham).

I am the director of field operations for excavations at the ancient Roman synagogue of Ostia, which was Rome's harbor city in antiquity. In addition to my work on the synagogue, I publish on a variety of topics related to ancient Ostia, with a particular interest in the temples belonging to the earliest phases of the city.

I'm a postdoctoral research fellow for the DEChriM Research Project, starting in January. I will also be working as an academic advisor for master's students. In the coming semester I will also be lecturing in some of the history courses, where I will share my knowledge of cult and ritual in the archaeological record.