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Faculty

Suzanne Bessenger

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Associate Professor of Religious Studies
B.A., Mills College; M.A., Ph.D. University of Virginia
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Professor Bessenger earned her masters and doctorate degrees from the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.

As an undergraduate she designed a major in Anthropology and Asian studies to complete her degree at Mills College in Oakland, California, during which time she also participated in the School for International Training's Tibetan Studies study abroad program. Her doctoral training is in the History of Religions, with areas of expertise in Buddhist Studies, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Hinduism and Chinese religions.

Dr. Bessenger lived for a year at Tibet University in Lhasa, Tibet, and received a Fulbright-Hayes to conduct research among Tibetan exile communities in India and Nepal. Her current research is on the Tibetan saint Sonam Peldren; this research is culminating in a book, tentatively titled Echoes of Enlightenment: The Lives of Sonam Peldren, under contract with Oxford University Press.

At Randolph College Dr. Bessenger teaches courses in the history and the auto/biographical culture of Buddhism, gender and Buddhism, the history and visual culture of Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhist culture, and Chinese religions. She enjoys exposing Randolph students to Asian religious thought, and is fascinated by the many ways human beings publicly and privately think about and negotiate this thing called "religion."

Gordon Steffey

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Barbara Boyle Lemon '57 and William J. Lemon Professor of Religion and Philosophy, Chair of Religious Studies Department
B.A., St. Olaf College; M.Div., Yale University; M.A., Ph.D., University of Virginia
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My passion for the study of religion was born in the old city of Jerusalem and reared in an ecumenical monastery in the Saône-et-Loire department of the Bourgogne region of France. I have shared hot chocolate with the late Frère Roger of Taizé and blood cake with a Miao shaman in Guizhou province, China. I have rubbed the elephant’s back at Wannian Temple on Mount Emei Shan in Sichuan province and surveyed the Dead Sea from amid the ruins atop Mount Masada.

Travel, international and domestic, with all the thrill and trouble it implies, is the gate to self-knowledge and to the knowledge of religions. The 11th century Muslim polymath al-Ghazali writes, “I have ever bravely embarked on this open sea, throwing aside all craven caution; I have poked into every dark recess, I have made an assault on every problem, I have plunged into every abyss, I have scrutinized every creed of every sect, I have tried to lay bare the inmost doctrines of every community.”

Religious Studies is a discipline for travelers, for those resolved to fathom every abyss in pursuit of insight, and for those who welcome dislocation and the crumbling of old securities. I encourage my students to take to the road and equip them to travel well.

My teaching interests are sweeping and include the study of religious autobiography, Abrahamic apocalypticism, spiritual exercises, text criticism and historical Jesus research, religion in film, women and gender in late antiquity, classical and Continental philosophy, and modern religious thought. With an article on evangelicals forthcoming in Critical Muslim, I am now returning to my work on classical theory and constructions of the sage.

When at rest, I may be found solving dilemmas terrestrial and otherwise in the company of friends, cultivating cosmic consciousness, plotting the founding of the philosophical commune Platonopolis, and cheering on Chelsea FC.

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