ASU professor honored for contributions to religion and conflict scholarship

May 2, 2017

From cultural influence and global insight to interdisciplinary learning, the study of religion has an extraordinary impact on some of society’s most complex and challenging problems.

Although religion is deeply rooted in a reservoir of values, the collusion of diverse traditions is a powerful source of conflict and violence. That’s why Linell Cady, a professor at Arizona State University, has made it her mission to study the contested role of religion in public life. Linell Cady, founding director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict Linell Cady, professor of religious studies and founding director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, has been selected to receive the 2017 Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award. Download Full Image

In 2003, Cady founded the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. The center promotes interdisciplinary research and education with a goal of advancing knowledge, informing policy and seeking solutions to religious conflict.

“This has been my passion and primary focus for a really long time,” she said. “When it started, it was just an idea. In fact, it was President Crow who recognized religion is clearly a dimension of public affairs and conflict — it was right after 9/11. He noticed there were significant resources in the study of religion at ASU, but nothing had been done institutionally to leverage the resources that were here.”

Cady has won the 2017 Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award for starting a local, national and global dialogue about religion and conflict with expertise from diverse fields. She is also nationally recognized for her contribution to scholarship on religion.

“Linell has worked strategically to help craft some of ASU’s most intelligent responses to one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century,” wrote Anne Feldhaus, a Foundation Professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. “She has worked tirelessly and creatively to bring together faculty members from the social sciences, humanities and beyond. She has fostered high-level discussions of religion and conflict that go beyond region-specific cases and into truly transnational and transdisciplinary frames.”

Cady said the diversity of the center’s researchers and affiliates is absolutely necessary to address the complex problems of religion and conflict. 

“It’s very much a team effort,” she said. “There’s so many faculty who have been involved in our initiatives. We envisioned it as an entrepreneurial startup from the very beginning … [and] it very much is a collaborative activity.”

A wide range of experts are involved with the center, from religious studies scholars all the way to seemingly distant fields, such as computer science. Cady said this approach enables the center to fulfill its mission of promoting interdisciplinary research with the aim to advance knowledge, seek solutions and inform public policy. By putting all that knowledge together, experts from diverse fields can approach problems from a plethora of different angles, which Cady said manifests in better scholarship and more practical solutions.

That philosophy extends to undergraduate students, who can participate in a semester-long fellowship through the center. The fellowship places them with a faculty member who’s conducting research into a specific area of religion and conflict, a unique opportunity for undergraduates to explore the complexities of religious conflict around the world.

“One of the things that I have been really proud of is our undergraduate fellows program, which we’ve been doing since the center started,” she said. “We select roughly 10 to 12 students each year, and we award them a scholarship. They are placed with a faculty member who is working on a project in the broad area of religion, conflict and peace-building.”

The fellowship seminar has hosted world famous scholars such as public intellectual Reza Aslan, who hosts the religion-oriented travel show “Believer” on CNN. Students gain the opportunity to discuss experts’ work with them directly, closing the distance between interested undergraduates and influential contributors to the field. 

“It’s been remarkable: the students we’ve attracted to this program,” she said. “We have students from all over the university. It has been a wonderful experience for these students to gain an understanding of these issues and interact with each other from all sorts of different fields.”

The fellowship’s success and the accomplishments of the center have made Cady especially proud. But for Cady, the Krahenbuhl Award has an even greater significance because of the role Gary Krahenbuhl played in her life.

“It is very meaningful to me personally,” she said. “Gary Krahenbuhl — I knew him very well. He was a mentor and someone I worked closely with, so knowing him just makes it more special. I admired him very much.”

Cady said she’d like people to know that this kind of work is not just the result of a single difference-maker. She said the success of the center is largely the result of passionate faculty: “In a university setting, it really is bringing a lot of people who have a certain kind of passion and working together to make something happen.” 

The Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award was established through generous contributions from faculty, staff and friends of ASU to honor a faculty member who personifies the spirit of difference-making as demonstrated by Krahenbuhl, a former dean of the college.

Parker Shea

Student Writer and Reporter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Graduating student merges music, medicine to achieve dream goals

Nicole Blumenstein found her way back to medicine through studying music at ASU

May 2, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

As a child, Nicole Blumenstein dreamed of being a scientist, maybe a doctor. She always assumed she would major in chemistry. But then she discovered the power of singing. ASU School of Music Student Nicole Blumenstein Nicole Blumenstein. Photo by: TAQ Photography Download Full Image

“I loved how molecules could fit together like puzzles and make up everything around us, but then I discovered in choir how powerful it is when people sing together,” she said. “This feeling consumed my thoughts in high school, and I joined every music ensemble I could to explore it further. I felt happiest when I was singing, and I felt compelled to learn more about music, which is why I decided to audition for college programs.”

Blumenstein landed a spot as a voice performance student in the ASU School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Now, she’s graduating from the School of Music as the Alumni Association’s 2017 Spring Outstanding Graduate for the Herberger Institute.

Blumenstein’s time at ASU and studying music led her back to medicine.

“It wasn’t until I got to ASU that I found out what music, and being a musician, is all about,” she said. “I felt drawn to choir because music has a way of breaking down barriers and connecting people no matter how different they are.”

Performing for and interacting with local seniors as part a student organization she started called “Jury’s Out: Music Students for the Community,” helped her see that the group was transporting ideas through time and making emotional connections with their audiences when they performed classical repertoire.  

“These experiences made me realize that I love music because I am passionate about being part of a larger community, and this led to my decision to pursue a career as a physician so I can work as a community leader and maybe even find a place in the field of medicine for my skills as a musician,” she said.

While taking her music courses, Blumenstein also made sure to take the majority of classes she need to prepare for medical school and completed the MCATs. After graduation, she will be attending the University of Illinois College of Medicine to pursue her MD.

“Hopefully I will still find time for community performances.”

Blumenstein answered some questions about her experience at ASU.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I was unsure of my career path goals out of high school. I had two seemingly distinct passions: music and science. When I had a practice lesson with Carole FitzPatrick, who has now been my voice teacher for the past four years, I knew that I had found a music community where I could thrive. ASU also has enormous resources to support student research, so I didn’t need to give up my passion for science either, and I have been working in a neuroimaging laboratory for the past four years studying the neural correlates of music perception under Carianne Rogalsky. Now I understand how my passion for science and music fit together. Both are about collaboration and creativity, and I know that my experiences as a musician will help me when I’m interacting with patients and the community as a physician.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My advice is to pursue your passion, whatever it is, whole heartedly, while keeping an open mind to possibilities. I loved science and music, but I never thought I could do music research or use music as a community-building-tool, and this turned out to be the perfect field for me.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I love taking a break to sit in the sun on Hayden lawn in the middle of the day. Everyone is bustling about, but I like to find a quiet moment among all the commotion before I join back in the throng. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I think that there are many pressing causes I would like to address such as access to clean water and healthy food. However, I’ve noticed throughout my career as a community musician that it is difficult to find support for community choirs and ensembles, and I think that these groups are the key to helping us get to know one another and become stronger as a whole. Therefore, I would set up community choirs, and I would also employ a team of researchers to study the community members so we can gather reliable data on how choir helps us in other areas of our life, whether it’s our physical or emotional well-being.

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts