Melissa M. Wilcox Named Holstein Chair

Religious Studies scholar will focus endowed professorship activities around social justice, religion, and the community

Melissa Wilcox

Melissa M. Wilcox

RIVERSIDE, California – Religious Studies scholar Melissa M. Wilcox has been named the Holstein Family and Community Endowed Chair in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside.

The endowed professorship was established in 1991 by Riverside residents Robert and Loretta Holstein out of an abiding interest in religion and social justice. It has been augmented by donations from family members, friends, and members of the Riverside community. The endowment provides funding for research and activities that invite community participation.

“UCR has gained a tremendous colleague in the hire of Melissa Wilcox,” said Milagros Peña, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. “Not only does she bring fresh thinking to the study of religion with intersections in gender and community engagement, her scholarly work is well-recognized as truly interdisciplinary. I have followed Melissa’s career, given both of our interests in the study of religion, gender, and social movements. She is truly exceptional as a scholar whose work reaches beyond the academy.”

Pashaura Singh, chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair of Sikh and Punjabi Studies, said that the first Holstein Chair, Ivan Strenski, held this position for two decades from 1995 to 2015.

“He established very high academic standards in the field of theory and methodology in Religious Studies,” Singh said. “Unsurprisingly, his work was acclaimed at the international level. It was a challenge for us to find his replacement after his retirement. Fortunately, we were able to recruit Dr. Melissa M. Wilcox to fill this position. Dr. Wilcox is a pioneering and visionary scholar of the qualitative sociology of religion and LGBTIQ communities whose work has had impacts in both her sub-field and in the diversification of the professional organization of Religious Studies in this country. I welcome Melissa to our department.”

Wilcox, who joined UC Riverside this fall as a professor in the Department of Religious Studies, said that Holstein Chair events will bring the campus and the broader community together to consider various aspects of the intersections between religion and social justice from a variety of academic, activist, and artistic perspectives.

“An emphasis on social justice honors the Holsteins’ gift. I’m envisioning conversations of the campus and community, activities that involve academics, activists, and artists and that challenge the boundaries between faculty, staff, students, and the community,” she said.

Exhibitions of the visual and performing arts and a poetry slam around social justice issues are among the possibilities. Wilcox said she hopes to create an advisory council to suggest and envision events that promote “conversations that are in service to the community.”

The scholar of gender and sexuality studies in religion began her academic career as a biology major at Stanford University with her sights set on veterinary school. But a course in the history of Christianity altered her plans.

“It absolutely riveted me,” she said, recalling her fascination with the early Christian church and Jewish feminists intent on reclaiming their place in the Torah. That fascination led her to explorations of gender studies and queer studies in religion, both in the United States and in Europe.

Religious Studies is an interdisciplinary major whose graduates go on to careers in medicine, law, politics, business, and nonprofit work, Wilcox said. “We have the ability to teach people to see the world through other people’s eyes,” she said.

Wilcox earned a B.S. in biology at Stanford University, an M.A. in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate School, and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara.

She taught previously at Whitman College, where was chair of the Religion Department and director of Gender Studies.

Wilcox is the author of “Serious Parody: Religion, Queer Activism, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence” (New York University Press, forthcoming in 2017); “Religion in Today’s World: Global Issues, Sociological Perspectives” (Routledge, 2013); “Queer Women and Religious Individualism” (Indiana University Press, 2009), which won the  2010 Book Award from the American Sociological Association Sociology of Religon Section; and “Coming Out in Christianity: Religion, Identity, and Community” (Indiana University Press, 2003).

She also wrote a performance piece on intimate partner violence, “Anonymous/Invisible,” which premiered at Whitman College in 2014, and directed a 2006 documentary, “Each of Us,” on religion in the lives of lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender people in Los Angeles.

Wilcox will join the American Academy of Religion’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession on Jan. 1, 2017. She is an external advisory board member of INCISE (Intersectional Centre for Inclusion and Social Justice), and is an editorial board member of the journals Religion and Gender, Contexts, Nova Religio, and  Qualitative Sociology. She was the founding chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Queer Studies in Religion Group and Committee on the Status of LGBTIQ Persons in the Profession.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Melissa M. Wilcox
E-mail: Melissa Wilcox

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