About

rys_web1As a historian of modern America, my work focuses on pluralism in American society by examining how politics, law, and religion interact in institutions. My first book, Enlisting Faith: How the Military Chaplaincy Shaped Religion and State in Modern America (Harvard University Press, 2017), traces the uneven processes through which the military struggled with, encouraged, and regulated religious pluralism over the twentieth century. Just as the state relied on religion to sanction war and sanctify death, so too did religious groups seek recognition and legitimacy as American faiths. The chaplaincy incorporated new religious groups slowly, especially because blurred religious and racial categories confounded a military invested in racial segregation. Indeed, opening the chaplaincy to more faiths was neither accidental nor fully envisioned; rather, it emerged over decades of war through a combination of incremental decisions made by government officials and agitation from civilians. Hence war and military service placed chaplains at the center of debates that defined modern American life: questions about religious pluralism and sectarianism to be sure, but also racial justice and gender equality, imperial ambitions and global obligations, state-perpetrated violence and death, sexuality and family life, legal rights and educational opportunities.

My current research turns to health care and explores the rise of institutional and corporate rights of conscience. Contemporary debates over conscience rights often focus on religious refusal by for-profit businesses, yet the first federal health care conscience clause emerged from advocacy by leaders of some non-profit religious hospitals. At the same time, prior to the emergence of conscience rights, religious hospitals often framed themselves as secular, rather than religious, institutions. This book therefore traces how, when, and why hospitals pivoted between secular and religious identities to rethink the corporate origins of conscience rights and thus the relationship between federal funding and religious freedom over the twentieth century.

I am an assistant professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, where I am also an affiliate of the religious diversity cluster of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society (HIFIS) and the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion (BCSR). Previously, I was a fellow in the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis from 2014-16. I received my Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan in 2014.

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