I am Associate Professor of Sociology in the Sociology Program, Department of Public Affairs and Policy Studies in the School of Economic, Political, and Policy Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas. I received my Ph.D. from Columbia University in Religious Studies in 1985; I was awarded a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology by Union Theological Seminary in New York in the same year. I was awarded a Master of Philosophy in Religious Studies by Columbia in 1981, and a Master of Divinity in Systematic Theology by Union Seminary in 1976. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Religion, and in English Literature from Baylor University in 1973. I joined the UTD faculty in 1993.
I am a sociologist of religion. Much of my research and many of my publications deal with religion and social change. A special focus of my work has been ways in which minority social groups—specifically blacks, women, and immigrants—have engaged theology/ideology, religious doctrine, and religious ritual as agents of change. My other work relates to minorities and social change, if it does not directly relate to religion. I use participant-observation and interview methods and a “critical ethnography” approach focused on issues of power, inequality, and inequity. I am a member of the American Academy of Religion.
My first book examines African-American religious ritual as an agent of social change within the wider social context of racial discrimination and inequality, and quasi-religious ritual found in experimental theater as a change agent within conventional western society. My second book investigates ritual aspects of television religion and efforts to harness different aspects of ritual both to attempt social change and to resist it. Both books—both monographs—were published by the American Academy of Religion and are in the catalogue of Oxford University Press. The first book was supported by a grant from Southern Methodist University. The second book received grant support from the American Academy of Religion (Southwest Commission on Religious Studies) and Southern Methodist University. I am one of two primary authors of a third book (published by The Edwin Mellen Press), of which I was co-editor. Like the grant project funded by the U.S. Department of Education out of which the book emerged, the book analyzes and addresses barriers Hispanic students encounter transferring from community college to the university. (I was Project Director of the Department of Education grant.) The book is an expanded version of a paper my co-authors and I presented at a symposium on college educational opportunities for Hispanic students organized by The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University with support from the Pew Hispanic Center.
My single-author articles have appeared in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, Journal of Ritual Studies, Semeia: Journal for Biblical Interpretation, and Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture. A co-authored article, for which I was the lead author, appeared in the Journal for Hispanic Higher Education. I have served as a peer reviewer for professional journals in social-scientific study of religion, Ritual Studies, anthropology, public policy, and Disability Studies. I have published book chapters—all as the single author—in edited books by Sage Publications, Inc., Greenwood Press, and Parthian Books—all on theories of ritual, including ritual in social change. My entry on ritual and religious ritual in social change is being published by Brill in a book on concepts in the study of religion coming out in November 2014. I authored articles in two editions of The Encyclopedia of Religion (on ritual ceremony) and entries in Encyclopedia of Protestantism (television religion) and Encyclopaedia Britannica (rite of passage).
I am currently working on single-authored journal articles and a book monograph on the contribution of Pentecostal theology, church doctrine, and church organization to the development of Mexican immigrant women’s leadership of their congregations and their families, to their pursuit of a better education and higher-paid work, and often their participation in local community and political organizations. My research traces how these efforts, which involve change in gender role, encourage these women’s assimilation into U.S. social institutions (education, the workforce, and the political process), and, through their participation in and leadership of these institutions, the assimilation of their families. This research has been funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and CrossCurrents: The Association for Religion and Intellectual Life. I also am working on articles on Hispanic residential migration, political asylum, and performance art examining its ritual aspects and their quasi-religious features.
I teach courses in religion in society, religion in international development, immigrants and immigration in U.S. society, immigration policy, and qualitative research methods. I am developing a new course on religions in global societies and am revising a course on field research methods to be offered in Spring 2015. I am a two-time recipient of the Student Choice Teaching Award presented by students in the School of Social Sciences at UTD, and have received the Outstanding EPPS Faculty Comet Teaching Award, and a Distinguished Teacher in Diversity and Multicultural Education Award, which is presented by UTD’s Office of Diversity and Community Engagement.
I currently serve on the University Institutional Review Board (IRB) and am long-time Faculty Advisor to the UTD Baha’i Club. I am a member of Friends of Yale Institute of Sacred Music (Yale ISM) at Yale University, an advisory body appointed by the Director of the Institute to advise the director and faculty.