Ann Taves- Faculty Advisor

Professor of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara (on research leave, Jan 2014-Dec 2014) 

I am interested in the processes whereby people – individually and collectively – come to perceive some things as extra-ordinary (or not); adjudicate such claims within and between groups, traditions, and cultures; and mobilize them in the construction of alternate realities via texts, networks, movements, and organizations. With the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship, I am currently working on a book entitled Revelatory Events: Extra-Ordinary Experiences and New Visionary Movements, which looks at the role that unusual experiences play in the earliest stages of four well-documented movements (Mormonism, Alcoholics Anonymous, A Course in Miracles study groups, and New Age channeling).

For publications and other information, see my faculty webpage at:


Tamsin German

Associate Professor, Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara


Raymond F. Paloutzian

Professor Emeritus, Psychology, Westmont College

Editor, The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion

Areas: Experimental Social Psychology, Psychology of Religion.  My work has been centrally concerned with meaning making processes especially as they link findings from different levels from the macro to the micro.  This interest has been developed through articles and chapters on the psychology of religious conversion and spiritual transformation and in collaboration with my handbook co-editor Crystal Park.  It is also a major structuring motif in the Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. I am currently at work on the 3rd edition of my undergraduate text, Invitation to the Psychology of Religion.


Egil Asprem
Associate Professor, Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway. (Until December 1, 2013)
Post-Doctoral Researcher, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
(After December 1, 2013)

My work mainly revolves around the category "esotericism". I've published on subjects such as Western ritual magic, occultist kabbalah, the history of parapsychology, the relation between esotericism and science, and contemporary esotericism. In my current research project with the REMLab I am interested in rethinking the critical category of "esotericism" and some of its cognates (e.g. "occult", "gnosis") by bringing it into the purview of recent cognitive science of religion.


Hillary Lenfesty

Post-Doctoral Researcher, Biology, Westmont College
I completed my Ph.D. in Anthropology at the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen's University Belfast in 2011. My doctoral research was an empirical examination of the role and function of disgust reactions and contagion concepts outside of the biological domain; specifically, adults' implicit reasoning about "moral contagion." I have also conducted surveys on moral reasoning and disgust sensitivity among "guajeros"- people who scavenge for their livelihood in the municipal garbage dump- in Guatemala City.  My current research, with Prof. Jeffrey Schloss, is concerned with evolution of religion, religious experience, and hard-to-fake signals of commitment.

Michael Barlev

Ph.D. Student, Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara
Research interests: theory of mind and social cognition (in children and adults); cognitive science; evolutionary psychology


Philip Deslippe

Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, University of California Santa Barbara

My main interests are in Asian and metaphysical traditions in modern America, particularly early American yoga, New Thought, esotericism and new religious movements, with an eye towards their interaction with phenomena such as stage magic, folk magic, and popular culture. I have an interdisciplinary background (including degrees in English and American Studies), but I primarily approach my subjects as a historian. I see scientific approaches such as GIS, cognitive science, and experimental research as a way to expand the often limited archive available for these subjects and to approach a greater understanding of the experiences of their actors.



Nathan Fredrickson

Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, University of California Santa Barbara

After earning my Honors B.A. in classics from Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, I earned an M.A. in classical philology and an M.S. in library and information science at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. My M.A. thesis in religious studies at UCSB was entitled “The Gospel of Judas, the Subversion of Royal Ideology, and the Generation of a Sovereign Self.” Broadly I am interested both in the way religions function as embodied systems of representations – with the attendant issues associated with encoding, transmitting, and translating information across boundaries – and in the way they organize and modulate social power. I have worked with a variety of western texts and traditions and am now focusing on the interplay between them in an examination of artificial and parody religions in the context of American religious history, particularly with regard to questions related to capacities for play, humor, and imagination, the conceptual gradations between authentic and fake, and on the ground theories of religion.


Jennifer Lois Hahn

Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

I am interested in cognitive mechanisms of religious healing specifically as related to Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction treatment programs. More broadly, I study metaphysical religion in the United States from a historical and ethnographic perspective, with particular attention to the intersection of religious and scientific discourses. 


Michael Kinsella

Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Kinsella’s major research interests include extraordinary experiences, the psychology of spirituality, and consciousness studies.  In collaboration with others and sponsored by UC, Riverside’s Immortality Project and the John Templeton Foundation, he is currently working on a quasi-experimental field study of the near-death experience movement.  


Vikas Malhotra

Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, University of California Santa Barbara

My main interest is in South Asian Hindu and Buddhist Tantric traditions, both doctrinal and popular. My specific area of research is in the domain of oracular/deity possession in the tantric textual traditions as well as contemporary on-the-ground practices. One of the facets of my research will be to explore how the cognitive science of religion can shed some light on spirit possession in general and whether this methodology could be used to study the phenomenon of oracular possession across cultures.


Chris Morales

Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Research interests: Philosophy of religion and continental philosophy, especially existentialism, phenomenology and psychoanalysis. History of Christian thought and ritual.


John C. Thibdeau

Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Areas of research interest: Contemporary Middle Eastern Social and Religious Movements; Religious Community, Practice, and Experience; Embodied and Enactive Cognitive Science; Body, Gesture, Affect, Perception, Memory, and Plasticity; Music, Dance, and Culture; History of Ideas (Nietzsche, Benjamin, Foucault); Critical Social Theory; Technologies and Care of the Self. 

Master's Thesis, Religious Studies, University of Colorado - Boulder (2012): "Enactive Cognitive Science and the Study of Religious Traditions"

Current Project: "Listening, Gesturing, Dancing: Sufi Sema and Dhikr"