Dr. Hillel Gray teaches for the Department of Comparative Religion, Miami University. He has conducted interviews with dozens of members of Westboro Baptist Church since 2010, and with Neturei Karta since 2018.
The Summer 2022 projects team includes: Margaret Hamm (Miami University ’19), Cheryl Leow, Kayla Reeder (Miami University ’22), Samantha (Sam) Breit (Miami University ’22), Emily Ennis, and Annalise Chapdelaine
Alumni members include: Nellie Given (Miami University ’20), Alexa Lawhorn (Miami University ’22), Lily Bandola, Emma Lovejoy, Abbi Phillis, Sofia Vlahakos (Miami University ’20), Alex D’Errico-Bronston (Miami University ’20), and students in the REL 402 Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” course.
We are grateful to students who volunteered for field work at oppositional religious groups:
August 2019: Five Miami undergraduates serve as research assistants in Topeka: Matt Cheek, Mary Beth DeRuntz, Alexa Lawhorn, Abbi Phillis, Sofia Vlahakos.
June 2019: Nellie Given, an Undergraduate Summer Scholar, participates in three days of interviews with ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist Jews, including Neturei Karta activists.
Summer 2018: Eight Miami students serve as research assistants in Topeka:
Summer 2017: Five Miami students accompany Dr. Gray to visit WBC in Topeka.
Current team members:
(Summer 2022) Margaret Hamm (she/her) is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School (2021) and Miami University (2019). While at Miami, she double majored in Political Science and Comparative Religion and minored in Classical Languages. Margaret joined the project in 2017 and has traveled to the Westboro Baptist Church three times, in 2017, 2018, and 2020. In her current role as the Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” project’s research associate, she works with other team members to formulate and execute an agenda for research and public outreach for the Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” project. Having been involved with the project since its beginnings, Margaret is excited to help communicate the project’s goals and scholarship to a wider audience.
(Summer 2022) Cheryl Leow (she/her) is a research coordinator for the Preaching Goes Viral and Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” projects with a strong background in international relations and Abrahamic religions. She has long-standing interest in examining the self-expression of religious communities through language and participatory events (worship services, outreach, etc.). Cheryl is widely interested in how a given religious community speaks about themselves, and how they interact with the world around them to begin to grasp the motivations behind speech and action. She has a B.A. in Religious studies and Foreign Affairs (University of Virginia) and earned a Masters in Religious studies (University of Virginia) in 2018. She examined the relationship between an African Ethnic Church and immigrant settlement in the Central Virginia area, through an ethnographic style project.
Cheryl is an avid knitter and lover of cats.
Reid Nelson (he/him) is a Miami graduate (2019) with a Psychology major, Global and Intercultural Studies co-major and Management and Leadership Minor. Reid traveled to Westboro Baptist Church in the summer of 2018 to conduct research and subsequently served as the project manager. In addition to his involvement with the research team Reid conducted Black World studies research on pedagogy and epistemology trying to develop ways of creating self-conceptions of dignity in the classroom. Additionally, he was the service chair for Oxfam, a service organization that supports a school in Uganda and for Chi Psi fraternity. He was also a part of the Miami University Club Waterski team which won the D2 national championship twice during Reid’s time at Miami. Reid was given the Miami University rising leader in the community award in 2018.
Reid now runs a consulting firm, Erudio Consulting. He works with small businesses, non-profits and researchers to help them refine their strategies and practices.
(Summer 2022) Kayla Reeder (she/her) is a senior at Miami University, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Special Education. She has been previously involved in the Preaching Goes Viral project through an Undergraduate Assistant position with Dr. Gray. Through this experience as well as her time as a student in Intro to Religion, Kayla found an interest in not just the study of religion but also the Preaching Goes Viral project. She is excited to continue working with the project and have the opportunity to collaborate with others who share these interests.
Kayla resides in Cincinnati, Ohio and loves cooking, reality TV shows, and spending time with friends and family.
(Summer 2022) Samantha (Sam) Breit (she/they) is a senior, triple-majoring in Microbiology, Medical Laboratory Sciences, and Biology with a minor in Molecular Biology. They are excited to work with Preaching Goes Viral, researching religious responses to the COVID-19 vaccines. Within this role, they hope to bring religious responses and their different insights to the laboratory fields, and establish communication, respect, and understanding between religious groups and clinical fields.
They are excited to continue their work from a previous religion course, and to collaborate with other interns. They reside in Downers Grove, IL and enjoy dance, procrastinating on TikTok, and coffee.
(Summer 2022) Emily Ennis (she/her) is a freshman Biology/Pre-med major at Miami University. After taking Intro to Religion last fall, she became very interested in the Preaching Goes Viral and Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” projects. She is looking forward to continuing her work from class, and is excited to explore topics so different from her science major. She greatly values learning about other cultures and religions, and is hoping to gain new perspectives through her work.
In her free time, Emily enjoys rowing for the Miami club team, cooking, and painting.
Hannah Newell (she/her) is an undergraduate researcher for the Preaching Goes Viral project. She is a junior Chemistry/Pre-medical Studies Co-major with minors in Global Health Studies and Molecular Biology. Hannah aspires to become a physician and is interested in investigating the metaphors used in religious sermons focusing on vaccination and public health campaigns. She works as a Resident Assistant for Miami University and as a Nurse Aide at Kettering Health Hospital in Hamilton. Hannah loves to bake and play pickleball in her free time.
(Summer 2022) Annalise Chapdelaine (she/her) is a junior at Miami University, triple majoring in Diplomacy and Global Politics, Comparative Religion, and German. Her first course with Dr. Gray focused on research with the Preaching Goes Viral project, and she is excited to further her research skills with the Empathy and the Religious “Enemy” project. She is fascinated by the intersection of religion, culture, and politics and hopes to increase her understanding of the ways in which those fields impact individual lived experiences. When she’s not doing schoolwork or working at Oxford’s local coffee shop, Annalise can be found running, journaling, or baking.
Alumni team members:
Alexa Lawhorn is a senior at Miami University pursuing degrees in History and Comparative Religion. Alexa has previously traveled to Westboro in August 2019. During her involvement with the project, Alexa hoped to learn more about empathy and nonjudgmental listening through her work on the project and to get others interested in this project. In addition to her work on this project, she is also a part of the Honors Student Advisory Board.
Sofia Vlahakos is a 2020 Miami graduate who double majored in Psychology and Comparative Religion. Sofia participated in three visits to the Westboro Baptist Church. While working on this project, she hoped to continue refining her skills of non judgmental, empathic listening and strengthen her understanding and application of empathy. In addition to her research on the WBC, Sofia served as the Vice President of Miami University’s Rotaract Club and was an active member of the Alpha Chapter of Delta Zeta.
Sarah Moore is a 2020 Miami graduate who majored in Psychology, Sociology, and Comparative Religion with a double minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and German Language. Alongside her work with the WBC, Sarah was also a member of the University Honors Program, a Law and Public Policy Scholar, and Co-Scholarship Chair of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity. Furthermore, Sarah was a founding member of the Prosecution Project at Miami.
Alex D’Errico-Bronston is a 2019 Miami graduate with a degree in Psychology and minor in Social Science. Alex eagerly returned to the church and assisted in the research process. In addition to his involvement with the project, Alex worked in the Action, Cognition, and Emotion (ACE) Lab, was a member of the University Honors Program, and the Uniform Coordinator for the Miami University Men’s Glee Club. Lastly, he was the Layout Editor of COMPASS, the Compilation of Miami Publications Advancing the Social Sciences, a journal led by both students and faculty on campus.
Bobbie Hall is a 2021 Miami graduate who majored in Psychology and a co-major in Pre-Medical Studies. In addition to this research, she participated in research for the city of Oxford and the Age-Friendly Oxford Initiative, which was part of the First-Year Research Experience Program in the Gerontology Department. She was a member of the University Honors Program, The Society for Women in Medicine, The Society for Psychological Inquiry, Stage Left, and was a state officer for The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls. In her free time, she wrote for The Odyssey, a national online student-written publication.
Sarah Kutler is a 2019 Miami graduate with degrees in both Psychology and Sociology and minor in Crime, Law, and Social Justice. Alongside joining the Going the Critical Distance team, Sarah served as the Conference Chair of Delta Epsilon Mu pre-health fraternity. Further, Sarah worked as a victim’s advocate with Women Helping Women, as well as working in the Trauma and Emotion Regulation Laboratory.
Emma Lovejoy is a 2020 Miami graduate with a degree in Social Justice Studies, with a focus on community resource development. Emma also interned as an editorial assistant for the Peace Chronicle, and served as treasurer for Miami’s chapter of the Alpha Kappa Delta sociology honor society. After graduation, she planned to pursue a career in community organizing with an eye toward regional self-sufficiency.
Nellie Given is a 2020 Miami graduate with degrees in English Literature and Comparative Religion. Nellie began working on this project in January 2019 and focused her work on Neturei Karta. Nellie hoped to improve her interviewing skills and expand her understanding of empathy. Nellie was also part of the Comparative Religion Student Association, Oxfam America at MU, and University Academic Scholars.
Athena Williams is a 2021 Miami graduate with a degree in International Studies and Comparative Religion with a focus on the Middle East. Athena began working on this project in September 2019, and focused her work on how former members of Neturei Karta conceptualize compassion in relation to outsiders. Athena hoped to cultivate skills in building relationships across ideological borders and gaining an empathic understanding of Westboro Baptist Church members’ lived experiences. Athena was also a part of the Black Student Action Association, the Comparative Religion Student Association and the META Collective.
Ella Varel is a junior at Miami University double majoring in Geography and Sustainable Development. This will be her first year working on this project. She is interested in getting to know the members of the Westboro Baptist Church and how they perceive the modern world as well as their experiences with those outside the church. Ella took REL 101 and this is her first year on the project. Ella is also involved in the Geography and Planning Society student organization.
Sami Hausserman is a 2020 Miami graduate with a degree in social justice studies and comparative religion. During her time with the project, Sami focused her work on conceptualizations of empathy vs. practical application of empathy. Sami was interested in increasing her critical understanding of the Westboro Baptist Church, as well as understanding conceptualizations of empathy better. Sami was also the president of the META (Multifaith Engagement for Transformative Action) Collective student organization.
David Hale (he/him) is a senior at Miami University, with double majors in Social Justice Studies and Political Science. He has interned at Freestore Foodbank, a local non-profit in Cincinnati, and researched groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church and Neturei Karta under Dr. Gray in the past. David was previously involved in the Preaching Goes Viral project through an Undergraduate Assistant position with Dr. Gray. Through previous experience with this project, he gained interest in how different religious communities interpret certain events, religious scripture, and other phenomena.