Graduate Students

Graduate Students Spring 2015

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Feyza Akova

Interests: Social Theory, Religion, and Culture with a focus on Turkey

Feyza Akova is a first year graduate student in the Department of Sociology. She holds an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Houston, and bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Psychology from the University of Istanbul. Before coming to Notre Dame, she worked as a Reseach Intern at non-profit organizations in the U.S. Her research interests include social theory, religion, and  culture with a focus on Turkey.

Jade Avelis

Jade Avelis

Interests: Gender, Marriage and Family, Race and Stratification, Social Psychology, Religion, Work-Nonwork Balance

Jade is in her seventh year of studies at Notre Dame. Her primary research areas are gender, marriage and family, religion, social psychology, and work-nonwork balance. Her dissertation investigates the experiences of men who are the primary caregivers for their children, specifically how social class impacts their understanding of masculinity and being a father. Jade was the recipient of the Kaneb Center Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award in 2015. She is conducting research with Jessica Collett on graduate students' knowledge of work-life balance of professors and how feelings of impostorism are related to graduate students' career goals. Jade is also working with Nicolette Manglos-Weber on projects about life trauma, stress, and resilience and how emerging adults understand organized religion.

Katie Comeau

Katie Comeau

Interests: Non-Government Organizations, International Development, Religion, Social Theory

Katie Comeau is a second-year graduate student in Notre Dame’s Sociology department and is affiliated with the Center for the Study of Religion and Society. She recieved funding from CSRS for her master's thesis. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in sociology from Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. Katie currently works for Christian Smith on the Lilly Parenting project.  She plans to continue research that explores the role of faith in the work of non-governmental organizations in Haiti.

Shanna Corner

Shanna Corner

Interests: Social Theory, Culture, Religion, Human Rights, Gender, Law and Society, Morality, Globalization

Shanna Corner is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Notre Dame and a 2015-2016 Dissertation Year Fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. She is also affiliated with the Center for the Study of Religion and Society (CSRS). In 2015, she was the recipient of the Graduate Student Research Award from the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts at the University of Notre Dame, and the SSSR Student Research Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Her research interests include: culture, religion, human rights, law and society, globalization, and gender. While at Notre Dame, she has gained research experience through her work with Christian Smith on the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) and the Lilly Parenting Project, as well as through her work with David Sikkink as the project manager for the Cardus Education Study (CES). Before coming to Notre Dame, she completed a master’s degree in international studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and English at Grand Valley State University.

Hilary Davidson

Hilary Davidson

Interests: Transition to Adulthood, Cultural Sociology, Sociology of Morality, Generosity, Social Class and Inequality, Gender

Hilary is a sociology doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame and member of the Sociology and Religion Working Group funded by a Mellon Grant.  She was honored as an Emerging Scholar through IUPUI's Lake Institute Network of Emerging Scholars, and awarded a grant with Brandon Vaidayanthan from the Lake Institute to organize and host a two-day conference, "Religion, Generosity, and Social Generativity," in Houston, TX. She was also awarded a grant from the Nanovic Institute at the University of Notre Dame. With Christian Smith she is currently examining the links between generous practices and wellbeing with the Science of Generosity’s 40 Families study. Her dissertation project will draw on the NSYR Wave 4 to explore what young Americans most want to achieve with their lives and how social class and inequality shape visions of the good life.

Kevin Estep

Kevin Estep

Interests:  Religion, Social Movements, Community/Urban Sociology

Kevin received his B.S. in Zoology and M.Ed. in Adult and Higher Education from the University of Oklahoma. He worked in Student Affairs for five years before coming to Notre Dame. His research interests include the role that faith plays in mobilizing support for social justice movements, focusing on socially progressive movements within theologically conservative segments of Protestantism. He is especially interested in urban poverty and faith-based community development efforts directed toward urban revitalization.

Ethan Fridmanski


Ethan Fridmanski

Interests: Sociology of Religion, Sociology of Technology, Quantitative Methods

Ethan is in his second year of graduate studies at Notre Dame.  He hails from Danville Illinois, a smaller city in east central Illinois.  During his undergraduate studies at Illinois State University he studied History with minors in Sociology and Philosophy.  While he studied History he focused on intellectual history during the enlightenment, communication technology, and 19th century American religious history.  His research interests at Notre Dame are much the same.  Ethan's areas of interest are the sociology of religion and the sociology of technology with methodological interests in statistics and network analysis.

His Master's Thesis (titled: Online Communities: A case study of the nonreligious in the age of the Internet) looks at variation in online political activity among the nonreligious and religious populations of America.  After this project he hopes to continue studying communication technology and religion.  His dissertation will look at how developments in communication technologies during the 19th and 20th century have affected the American religious population.  This project will focus on three main technological developments: the telegraph/telephone, television, and the Internet.

Stefanie Isreal

Stefanie Israel

Interests: Global Sociology, Political Sociology, Culture, Social Networks, Urban Sociology, Social Movements, Religion

Stefanie is a PhD student in Sociology and a PhD Fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. She received her M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Palmer Theological Seminary in 2011, as well as her B.A. from Linfield College in 2006, graduating magna cum laude with majors in sociology and religious studies and minors in Latin American studies and Spanish. Her current research is focused on Rio de Janeiro's favela pacification program, which represents an attempt by the state to establish control in slums dominated by drug traffickers for decades. She has spent the past three summers conducting fieldwork in several of these "pacified" communities and plans to write her dissertation on the transformations taking--and not taking--place, considering the implications for the consolidation of democracy in brown areas.



Sarah Johnson

Interests: Nonreligion, Religion, Ritual, Culture, Qualitative Methods 

Sarah is a second-year doctoral student in Liturgical Studies in the Department of Theology who is also affiliated with the Center for the Study of Religion and Society. The focus of her research is the relationship between nonreligion and Christian ritual in North America. Sarah is a Louisville Institute Doctoral Fellow and holds a Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She received an M.A.R. in Liturgical Studies from Yale Divinity School (2010), and an M.T.S. from the University of Waterloo (2008), where she also completed a B.A. in Religious Studies (2007).

Linda Kawentel

Linda Kawentel

Interests: Religion, Gender, Family, Statistics and Methods

Linda is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology and is affiliated with the Center for the Study of Religion and Society (CSRS). She holds an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame (2012), an M.A. in Religious Studies from John Carroll University (2009), and a B.A. in Religious Studies and Political Science also from John Carroll University (2007).  Linda has research experience working with Kraig Beyerlein studying activist churches on the Arizona/Mexico border and Brian Starks studying religious giving among different faith traditions. Her dissertation examines the interplay of religion and family life among American Catholics using survey data.

Hyunjin Deborah Kwak

Hyunjin Deborah Kwak

Interests: Culture, Theory, Religion, Conflict, Small Groups

Hyunjin Deborah Kwak is a PhD student in Sociology and Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She earned her MA in International Peace and Conflict Studies from Notre Dame in 2009 and a BA in political science and French from Calvin College in 2006. Her dissertation, "Building Bridges through Talk: Contention and Solidarity among Civil Society Groups in Mindanao," examines whether and how civil society groups in a post-conflict society interact in publics, and how they go about or fail to ‘reconcile’ their identity differences. The study will also investigate whether and how groups interact in deliberative processes and position themselves to contribute to the post-conflict peace process.



McKenna LeClear

Interests:  Global Religion, Gender, Development, Transnational Organizations

McKenna is a second year graduate student in the Sociology department and a PhD Fellow with the Kellogg Institue for International Studies.  She received her B.A. in Sociology from the University of Tulsa in 2014.  Her interests include religion, social movements, globalization, and Tibet, with specific interest in the impact of globalizaion and international organizations on institutional religious policy. She is currently part of the Lilly Parenting Project.




Brianna McCaslin

Interests:  Gender, Religion, Sex, Identity, Emotions

Brianna received her B.A. in sociology and English from Marian University and her M.A. in sociology from IUPUI. She joined the sociology department at Notre Dame in 2015. Her research interests include gender, religion, sex and culture, with specific interests in the role these institutional messages play in individual identity and intimate relationships. Her master's thesis examines the religious identity negotiation of married Catholic women who use contraception. She is currently working on Mary Ellen Konieczny's book project Service before Self: Organization, Cultural Conflict and Religion at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Michalka Headshot 2016


Karen Hooge Michalka

Interests: Religion, Gender, Culture, Embodiment, Latino Ethnicity, Immigration

Karen received her MA from the University of Notre Dame and her BA from Wheaton College. She studies embodied culture in religious settings. Karen is a fellow with the Latino Protestant Congregations Study. Her dissertation looks at embodied culture during times of transition at two Latino Protestant congregations. She is the winner of the William D'Antonio Award for Graduate Student Excellence in the Sociology of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Karen is currently working on the Lilly Parenting Project with Christian Smith.


Christopher Quiroz

Interests:  Social Theory, Religion, Culture, Gender

Christopher graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a B.A. in sociology and a minor in Latin American Literature.  He joined the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame in 2014.  His research interests include social theory, culture, and religion with a specific interest in how secular and religious ideologies interact at the group and individual levels.



Bridget Ritz

Interests:  Religion, Culture, Social Theory, and Life Course

Bridget is a first year graduate student in the Sociology department and a Graduate Fellow with Notre Dame's Center for Ethics and Culture.    Bridget received her M.A. in the Social Sciences from the University of Chicago (2015) and her B.A. in Politics from Ave Maria University (2013).


Megan Rogers

Interests: Religion, China, culture, social theory, qualitative methods

Megan began studying Chinese language and culture the summer before her freshman year in the University of Mississippi’s Chinese Flagship Program, studies that she continued in the Ohio State University’s Chinese Flagship master’s degree program after graduating from Ole Miss with degrees in international studies and Chinese. Her interest in the growth of religion in post-Mao China began early on in her studies, and both her undergraduate and OSU master’s theses focused on the topic, as does her master’s thesis here at the University of Notre Dame, which involves an examination of the applicability of sociological definitions of religion to the contemporary Chinese context. Now a 7th-year PhD candidate, her interests have expanded to include religion and culture more broadly. She is working on her dissertation on religious practice among white collar professionals in China, and received the Kellogg Institute's Dissertation Year Fellowship as well as the SSSR Student Travel Award.

Michael Rotolo

Michael Rotolo

Interests: Religion, Culture, Morality, Social Theory

Michael Rotolo is a first year graduate student and University Presidential Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Notre Dame. He received is B.A. in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2013) and his M.Div at Princeton Theological Seminary (2016). He is currently working on the Lilly Parenting Project and Global Religion Research Initiative with Christian Smith.

peter ryan

Peter Ryan

Interests: Religion, Social Movements, Theory, Culture

Peter graduated from the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands in 2002 with an emphasis in Literature and Creative Writing. He has spent the interim decade working in the nonprofit world, helping to set up volunteer programs in Syria and the Palestinian Territories. His research interests include new religious movements, Christian-Muslim-Jewish relations, religious minorities, social movements, human rights and social conflict.

brandon sepulvado

Brandon Sepulvado

Interests: Social Networks, Religion, Culture, Social Theory, and Social Psychology

Brandon is a first year graduate student and an affiliate of both the Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications. He recently graduated from Centenary College of Louisiana (magna cum laude, 2012) with a B.A. in philosophy and sociology, and his interests lie primarily in social networks, belief systems, social psychology, cognitive sociology, and social theory.  Broadly conceived, Brandon wants to know why and how certain belief systems evolve and how to assess the fitness of different systems. As a result, Brandon is currently interested in how beliefs structure adherents' networks and in the role identity plays system evolution. Feel free to visit his website or contact him for more detailed information.

Lisa Weaver Swartz

Lisa Weaver Swartz

Interests: Religion, Gender, Visual Methods, Material Culture

Lisa is a Ph.D. candidate in Notre Dame’s department of sociology and is affiliated with the Center for the Study of Religion and Society (CSRS). She holds an M.A. in sociology from the University of Notre Dame (2008) and a B.A. in sociology with a minor in music from Bethel College (2005).  Lisa has research experience working with Christian Smith on the topic of religious giving and with David Sikkink on the Notre Dame Congregational Survey and the Cardus Education Study.  Her past work includes an M.A. thesis examining evangelical responses to the issue of global climate change, a project exploring how science is portrayed in conservative Protestant textbooks, and an exploration of Mennonite footwashing practices (with Bob Brenneman and David Swartz).  Lisa’s dissertation explores the cultural processes through which evangelical Protestant seminaries socialize students into gender ideologies. The project is a product of research at two high-profile American seminaries: Asbury Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It argues that these communities are most successful at educating students into gender ideologies when these ideologies are tightly coupled with the discursive and embodied elements of community life.

justin vanness

Justin Van Ness

Interests: Culture, Qualitative Methods, Social Movements and Collective Behavior, Microsociology, Sociological Theory, and Religion

Justin graduated from the University of California, Riverside with a B.S. in Sociology and B.A. in Psychology. He joined the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame in 2012. He is an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Social Movements and the Center for the Study of Religion and Society. 

More information, including his CV and publications, can be found at

Michael Wood

Michael Wood

Interests: Religion, Theory and Culture, and Religious and Secular Divides

Michael is a first year graduate student in the Department of Sociology. He graduated from Brigham Young University in 2013 with a B.S. in Sociology and a minor in Portuguese, and in 2014 with an M.S. in Sociology.  He is currently part of the Lilly Parenting Project.