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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Board of Advisors

boisi center for religion and american public life



nancy ammerman

Nancy T. Ammerman

Nancy T. Ammerman is professor emerita at Boston University School of Theology, where she served as professor of sociology of religion (2003-2019), after having previously taught at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (1984-95), and at Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research (1995-2003).  At Boston University, she also served the College of Arts and Sciences as associate dean of the faculty for the social sciences (2015-18), as chair of the department of sociology (2007-13), and director of the graduate division of religious studies (2014-15). 

Ammerman’s earliest work explored grassroots Fundamentalists and analyzed the organizational architecture of the 1980s conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Her most recent research has focused on everyday lived religion across a wide religious and geographic spectrum, including working with Grace Davie (University of Exeter) to coordinate an international team of scholars to assess “Religions and Social Progress” for the International Panel on Social Progress.

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Randall Balmer

Randall Balmer is the John Phillips Professor in Religion, the oldest endowed chair at Dartmouth College. Before coming to Dartmouth in 2012, he was a professor of American religious history at Columbia University for twenty-seven years. In addition, Balmer has been a visiting professor at Princeton, Yale, Emory, and Northwestern universities and in the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He was an adjunct professor of church history at Union Theological Seminary and, from 2004 to 2008, a visiting professor at Yale Divinity School.

An award-winning historian, Balmer is the author of more than a dozen books, including Grant Us Courage: Travels along the Mainline of American Protestantism and Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter. His second book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, now in its fifth edition, was made into a three-part documentary for PBS. Balmer was nominated for an Emmy for writing and hosting that series. He has published several reviews in Washington Post Book World and the New York Times Book Review, and his commentaries on religion in America have appeared in newspapers across the country, including the Los Angeles Times, Washington PostDes Moines RegisterMinneapolis Star Tribune, and the New York Times.

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Ben Birnbaum

A Brooklyn, New York, native, Ben Birnbaum holds a B.S. in Talmudic Law from Ner Israel Rabbinical College; a B.A. in psychology from Queens College of the City of New York; and an M.Ed. in counseling from the University of Vermont.

From 1978 to 2018, he was variously employed by Boston College as a writer, editor, executive director of marketing communications, and special assistant to the president. He was the editor of Boston College Magazine from 1985 to 2018, and served for a decade as a member of the advisory board to the Center for the Church in the 21st Century. He is presently a freelance writer and editor. His work has appeared over the years in publications that include Penthouse, Tri-Quarterly Review, Boston Globe, the Atlantic, Harvard Divinity Review, Image, Moment, the Jewish Review of Books, Salon and Tablet Magazine. He is the writer or editor of four books of Boston College history, and is also editor of a collection of essays titled Take Heart: Catholic Writers on Hope in Our Time (Crossroad, 2007). His writing has been anthologized in Best American Essays, Best Spiritual Writing, and Best Catholic Writing.

A father and grandfather, Birnbaum lives with his wife in Brookline Massachusetts. A former chair of the board of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, he currently serves on the organization’s advisory committee. He was for 10 years an elected member of Brookline Town Meeting as well as an appointed member of the town’s Economic Development Advisory Board. He currently serves as an appointed member of the Town Advisory [Finance] Committee.

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Rev. J. Bryan Hehir

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir is the Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. A Catholic diocesan priest, he is also the Secretary for Health Care and Social Services in the Archdiocese of Boston, and a close advisor to Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Fr. Hehir’s research and writing focus on ethics and foreign policy, and the role of religion in world politics and in American society. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on just war theory, and has a long history of engagement with policymakers in the U.S. government. Previously he served on the staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where he was a lead author of the influential 1983 pastoral letter on war and peace entitled The Challenge of Peace. He has also served as President of Catholic Charities USA, and on the faculties of Georgetown University and Harvard Divinity School, the latter of which he led for three years as chair of the executive committee. Hehir holds A.B. and M.Div. degrees from St. John’s Seminary, and a Th.D. from Harvard Divinity School. He is the 2016 recipient of the Martin E. Marty Public Understanding Religion Award. 

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Susannah Heschel

Susannah Heschel is the Eli Black Professor and chair of the Jewish Studies Program at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus and The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany as well as numerous edited volumes, including Insider/Outsider: American Jews and Multiculturalism and Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust, and over 100 articles. She has been a visiting professor at several universities, including the University of Cape Town, Frankfurt, Edinburgh, and Princeton University, and has held research grants from the Carnegie Foundation, the Ford Foundation, a Rockefeller fellowship at the National Humanities Center, and a yearlong fellowship at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and has been studying the history of European Jewish scholarship on Islam, and her first of two books on that topic will appear next month under the title, Jüdischer Islam: Islam und jüdisch-deutsche Selbstbestimmung, and she also has a forthcoming article on that topic, in English, in the Journal of Qur’anic Studies

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M. Cathleen Kaveny

Cathleen Kaveny joined the Boston College faculty in January 2014 as the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor, the first role of its kind at Boston College, which has appointments in the theology department and Law School.

Kaveny has published over a hundred articles and essays in journals and books specializing in law, ethics, and medical ethics. She serves on the masthead of Commonweal as a regular columnist. Her book, Law’s Virtues: Fostering Autonomy and Solidarity in American Society, was published by Georgetown University Press in 2012. It won a first place award in the category of “Faithful Citizenship” from the Catholic Press Association. Her most recent book is titled Prophecy Without Contempt: Religious Discourse in the Public Square (Harvard University Press, 2016).

Kaveny has served on a number of editorial boards including The American Journal of Jurisprudence, The Journal of Religious Ethics, the Journal of Law and Religion, and The Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics. She has been a visiting professor at Princeton University, Yale University and Georgetown University, and a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago’s Martin Marty Center. From 1995 until 2013 she taught law and theology at the University of Notre Dame, where she was a John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law.

She is also the president of the Society of Christian Ethics, the major professional society for scholars of Christian ethics and moral theology in North America. It meets annually in conjunction with the Society of Jewish Ethics and the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics.

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Ann McClenahan

Dr. Ann B. McClenahan is the executive director of the Boston Theological Interreligious Consortium, an association of nine graduate schools of theology in the Boston area and (most recently) in Hartford. The BTI Consortium was founded 50 years ago and serves to advance excellence in theological education and build interreligious community among the faculty, students, staff, and administrations of its member schools. The Consortium includes members from three universities (Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard University) and a diverse range of independent seminaries (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Hartford Seminary, Hebrew College, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and Saint John’s Seminary).

Dr. McClenahan holds an A.B. degree from Brown University in American history and religious studies along with an M. Div. and Th.D. in religion and society from Harvard Divinity School. She returned to the study of religion and theology after a 20-year career in marketing and advertising, working with companies such as PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and The Washington Post.

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Melissa Rogers

Melissa Rogers is a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies. She recently served as special assistant to the president and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, during the Obama administration. Rogers previously served as chair of the Inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Prior to that she was director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She has also served as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Her area of expertise includes the First Amendment's religion clauses, religion in American public life, and the interplay of religion, policy, and politics. Rogers co-authored a case book on religion and law for Baylor University Press, Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court (2008). She holds a J.D. from University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. from Baylor University.

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Vincent Rougeau

Vincent Rougeau became dean of Boston College Law School in July of 2011. He previously served as a professor of law and associate dean for academic affairs at Notre Dame. A vocal advocate for change in legal education, Rougeau has led a reorganization in leadership structure at the law school that supports a more holistic approach to student services, expands the school’s national and international recruitment of a diverse student body through the new associate dean for external relations, diversity and inclusion, and enhances the school’s commitment to experiential learning and global engagement. BC Law’s new Center for Experiential Learning brings all the school’s hands-on training programs under one roof, while the new Global Practice Program will build on the school’s longstanding presence in London and launch new opportunities for students in Germany, Chile, France, and other locations around the globe.

An expert in Catholic social thought, Rougeau’s current research and writing consider the relationship between religious identity and citizenship and membership in highly mobile and increasingly multicultural democratic societies. He serves as senior fellow at the Centre for Theology and Community in London, where he researches broad-based community organizing, migration and citizenship in the United Kingdom as part of the Just Communities Project.

Rougeau’s teaching interests are in contract and real estate law, as well as in law and religion. Before entering the academy, he practiced law at the Washington, DC office of Morrison & Foerster from 1988-1991.  

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Sam Sawyer, S.J.

Sam Sawyer, S.J., is an executive editor and the director of digital strategy at America Media. He previously served as an associate pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, DC, after being ordained a priest in 2014. During his theology studies, he helped to found The Jesuit Post and served as one of its first editors. During his Jesuit formation, Fr. Sawyer studied philosophy at Loyola University Chicago and theology at Boston College; he also taught philosophy for two years at Loyola University Maryland. Before entering the Society of Jesus, he worked as a software engineer after graduating from Boston College and spending a year as a volunteer middle school teacher. He also assists on Sundays at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan. 

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Nancy S. Taylor 

Nancy S. Taylor has served since 2005 as the 20th senior minister and chief executive officer of Old South Church. The dual nature of this role reflects Old South’s dual identity as both a thriving urban church, and an historic leadership institution in Boston (and, as such, steward of storied events and personages, of a National Historic Landmark Building, as well as collections of rare books and silver). She holds graduate degrees from Yale Divinity School and Chicago Theological Seminary and serves as a trustee of Pax World Funds and on the Dean’s Advisory Council at Yale Divinity School.