2023 Spring DSR Newsletter: Honours, Awards & Appointments


Appointments and achievements across the board by DSR members. 



Professor Ken Derry

Subsequent to winning U of T’s President’s Teaching Award last year, affiliate faculty member and history of religions instructor Ken Derry has garnered another award for his teaching. He is featured in this Maclean’s magazine article announcing him as a recipient of the prestigious 3M National Teaching Fellowship Award. 

Professor Robert Gibbs

When Robert Gibbs' term as Acting DSR Chair and Graduate Chair ends on June 30, he goes on to serve as as Acting Vice-Principal of University College from July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2024, during Professor Emily Gilbert’s leave. He is a longtime member of the College and is particularly looking forward to being involved in its undergraduate programs. 

Faculty Appointments

We are pleased to welcome assistant professors Alessandro Graheli and Sara Verskin

Professor Alessandro Graheli

Professor Graheli joins us from UTM and is cross-appointed with the Department of Philosophy. His areas of interest include pre-modern South Asian philosophy in the Sanskrit language, with a focus on philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, theories of  knowledge and aesthetics, as well as the history and philosophy of Sanskrit grammar. In 2020 he joined the University of Toronto at Mississauga, and previously he worked in Vienna, Austria, where he taught and researched both at the University of Vienna and at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He has been the principal investigator of a five-year project on the critical edition and translation of the Nyāyamañjarī, financed by the FWF (Austrian Science Fund). He is the author of History and Transmission of the Nyāyamañjarī: Critical Edition of the Section on the Sphoṭa (2015) and the editor of The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Philosophy of Language (2020).

Professor Sara Verskin

Professor Verskin is cross-appointed with the Department of Near and Middle Easter Civilizations. A scholar of the medieval Arab-Islamic world, she specializes in the intersection of Islamic law, gender, and medicine. Her book, Barren Women: Religion and Medicine in the Medieval Middle East, was published in 2020. She holds degrees from the University of Chicago and Princeton University, and her dissertation was the 2018 winner of the British Association for Islamic Studies - De Gruyter Prize in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World. Sara has spent the last 10 years living in Providence, Rhode Island, where she has taught courses in religious studies, the history of medicine, and Middle Eastern history

Professor Alexander Hampton

Alexander J.B. Hampton was selected for the 2023/2024 Experiential Learning Faculty Fellows Program. He will be working to develop experiential learning opportunities for the DSR's new Spirituality, Religion and the Environment course. 

Professor Ruth Marshall

Ruth Marshall, along with colleagues in the Department of Political Science, was named a recipient of the Northrop Frye Award (Faculty Team Category) for ‘The Undergraduate Curriculum Renewal Project,’ which developed and implemented a major renovation of the undergraduate program in political science on the St. George campus. This forms part of the university’s Awards of Excellence, bestowed annually by U of T’s Alumni Association.

Marshall was also among the representatives of @censureutoronto who accepted the CAUT Milner Memorial Award for their work leading and organizing the campaign to publicize the issues that led to the censure of the University of Toronto in 2021. The award was established in honour of James Milner, a former chairperson of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, to recognize a distinguished contribution to the cause of academic freedom. >> More

Professor Nada Moumtaz

On July 1, 2023 Nada Moumtaz steps in as Acting Director of Graduate Studies, when current DGS J. Barton Scott takes up his year-long Jackman Humanities Institute Faculty Fellowship to work on his project “The Piercing Virtue: Isherwood’s Guru in Adorno’s Los Angeles."

Professor Karen Ruffle

Karen Ruffle was appointed Visiting al-Qasimi Professor of Islamic Studies in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in the UK for a six-month term in Winter 2023.

Department for the Study of Religion Awards 2022-2023 (→ More on the awards | Graduate | Undergraduate |) 

Bill and Belle Levman Graduate Award


Study of Religion logo

Established by alumnus Bryan Levman, with Rosi Levman, to support the transformative power of language study. Awarded to one or more Buddhist Studies MA or PhD students who is/are focusing on Pali or Theravada Buddhism.

Recipient: Andrew Dade

Helen Mo Memorial Scholarship


Sadaf Ahmed  Jeizelle Solitario

Helen was a PhD candidate in the DSR. Through the many communities who loved her, this scholarship was created in the spirit of Helen's warmth, integrity and unflinching intellectual boldness. Based on academic merit and registration as a full- or part-time PhD student. Preference is given to students who have achieved candidacy and are in the fieldwork and/or writing stages of their dissertation.

Recipients: Sadaf Ahmed, Jeizelle Solitario

Jane Trombley Award


Chiho Tokita

Established by Gaye Trombley in memory of her sister, Jane, who after a career in the arts and business, entered university to study religion. Awarded to a PhD student enrolled in the DSR on the basis of academic merit, with preference given to students who have studied in the DSR at either the undergraduate or graduate level.

Recipient: Chiho Tokita

Molly Spitzer Award


Martin Pinckney

Created at the bequest of Mrs. Esther Spitzer in memory of her daughter Molly Spitzer. Awarded to a graduate student enrolled in the DSR whose principal subject of study is Judaism.

Recipient: Martin Pinckney

Phool Maya Chen Scholarship in Buddhist Studies


Amber Moore  Study of Religion logo

Established by a generous gift from Christina and Peter Jose in memory of Christina’s grandmother to honour her faith and deep respect for higher education. Awarded on the basis of academic merit and PhD enrolment in the Buddhist Studies program, with preference given to the support of international students.

Recipients: Amber Moore, Ian Turner

DSR Graduate Student Service Award


Ankita Choudhary  Edward Escalon, Jr  Ridhima Sharma

These awards acknowledge the incredible work that students do to support the life of our department.

Recipients: Ankita Choudhary, Edward Escalon, Jr. and Ridhima Sharma

DSR Undergraduate Equity & Justice Awards


Study of Religion logo  Maria Vidal Valdespino

The DSR awards up to two DSR Equity & Justice Awards annually to undergraduate students who have contributed to the promotion of diversity, equity-oriented awareness, and social justice in relation to the DSR or the University more generally. One award relates to activities, and the other to production of work relating to themes of equity and diversity.

Recipient of the Equity & Justice Award (Community Activity): Swamini Sagar. Swamini completed her second year of undergraduate studies in 2023 and is double majoring in Religion and Philosophy, with a minor in Writing & Rhetoric. She was nominated by Postdoctoral Fellow Michael Ium for her regular contributions to the Anti-Racism, Decolonization and Equity committee, which included co-organizing a book club with the Religion Undergraduate Student Association on Tibetan-Canadian author Tsering Yangzom Lama's We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies.

Recipient of the Equity & Justice Award (Scholarship): Maria Vidal Valdespino. A 2023 graduating student, Maria completed a major in Critical Studies in Equity & Solidarity, and double-minored in Women & Gender Studies and Sociology. She was nominated by PhD candidate Allison Murphy for coursework submitted in RLG313H1F Love, Sex, Family in Fall 2022, which was a two-part exploration of gender and sexual dynamics in Mexican families.

Other Awards & Appointments: Postdocs • Graduate and Undergraduate Students  • Staff

Sadaf Ahmed

PhD candidate Sadaf Ahmed is a 2023-24 Chancellor Jackman Graduate Fellow, under the auspices of which she will work on “From Dislocation to Disinheritance: Generational Parenting in Muslim Canada.” Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, life-history interviews, and archival research, Sadaf explores how second-generation Muslim parents raised by their hyper-visible “immigrant parents” now raise a third generation of Muslim children who know no other geographical home than Canada.

Study of Religion logo

In May, we were very pleased to welcome a new member to the DSR administrative team, Harjit Bains, who joined us as Finance Officer. With over 20 years' experience at U of T, her knowledge of the ins and outs of the institution's financial policies and processes will be invaluable as we navigate increased departmental research and teaching activities.

Carolyn Beard

PhD student Carolyn Beard’s hard work with the Centre for Jewish Studies paid off with a very successful Farbindungen Yiddish Studies Conference, which took place virtually on February 19 and 20, 2023. “Yiddish Futures” had some one hundred people from around the world attend its keynote address and the graduate papers presented averaged between 60 and 70 attendees – outstanding numbers for a student-run conference.  

Study of Religion logo

DSR undergraduate Arist Bravo was successfully nominated by Christoph Emmrich for a U of T Excellence Award. Over the summer of 2023, Arist will be working on the project "Towards a Handwritten Text Recognition Tool for Burmese Pali Palm Leaf Manuscripts," with Robarts' Myanmar Manuscript Digital Library and in collaboration with the Buddhist Digital Resource Centre.  

Michael Ium  Tony Scott

In June 2023, postdoctoral fellow Michael Ium and 2023 PhD alumnus Tony Scott were appointed co-editors of the Canadian Journal of Buddhist Studies.

Seyfeddin Kara

Postdoctoral fellow Seyfeddin Kara takes up the position of Assistant Professor of Islamic Origins at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, in August 2023. This follows a very productive period for him at the DSR, with several publications, teaching on all three of U of T’s campuses, numerous lectures delivered and being involved in the organization of three conferences.

Maxwell Kennel

As Maxwell Kennel’s postdoctoral fellowship at the DSR comes to an end, he will be turning his attention to working at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine University as a Senior Research Associate. He notes in his update that supervisor Pamela Klassen’s work on health and religion has been vital for directing him toward his new area of study. → More   

Ho Centre logo

In February we were very pleased to welcome Sam Keravica as Coordinator, Administration and Events at the Robert H.N. Ho Centre for Buddhist Studies – where he was also a research assistant during his undergraduate studies. Sam graduated from U of T in Cognitive Science and Philosophy in 2021 and he comes to us from the Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health Program at New College. Central to his Ho Centre role will be the shaping of its event and program calendar, and he is the first point of contact for all inquiries. Sam tells us he is excited to continue to learn from this wonderful community, and we are delighted to welcome him on board!

Connor Kokot

PhD student Connor Kokot won the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies’ graduate student essay prize in Hebrew Bible, the Founders Prize, and presented the paper at the 2023 Humanities Congress that took place May 27-June 2 at York University. 

Liwen Liu

As part of its Circle of Fellows Spotlight Series, the Jackman Humanities Institute published a profile of PhD candidate Liwen Liu, who is the 2022-23 Amilcare Iannucci Graduate Fellow. Liwen’s research interests include Hindu rituals, Sanskrit intellectual history, and Tantric studies.

Rachelle Saruyar

PhD 2023 alumna Rachelle Saruya received an Early Career Research Fellowship from the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhist Studies for her postdoctoral project, “Wishing at the Banyan Tree: Wishing-for-children Rituals in the Buddhist Scriptures and in Contemporary Myanmar Buddhist Women's Practices.” 

Ari Schriber

Postdoctoral Fellow Ari Schriber was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. In September 2023 he will begin a two-year project, “Quantifying Islamic Law in the Modern State: Shari'a in Moroccan Courts, 1912-2012.” 


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