Holstein Dissertation Fellows 2019-2020

Sahin Acikgoz
Sahin Acikgoz is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. They are also enrolled in the certificate program in LGBTQ Studies. They are the co-founder of the Transnational Gender and Sexuality Studies Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop at the University of Michigan. They are the recipient of the 2019 Sarah Pettit Doctoral Fellowship in LGBT Studies at Yale University and are currently the Mary Fair Croushore Graduate Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities. Their research areas are Transgender Studies, Trans of Color Critique, Post-Secular Feminism, Global South, Feminist Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, Queer Theory, Postcolonial Studies, and Translation Studies.


Mentor: Catherine Sameh, UC Irvine

Dani Dempsey
Dani Dempsey specializes in institutional genealogies, employing a queer and trans studies lens to critically analyze and uncover the multi-layered dimensions of power that historically bind the colonial project and the rise of the nation-state to the Roman Catholic Church. Dani’s dissertation research contextualizes the charismatic new Pope amongst his predecessors and the institutional adoption of colonial ideologies in the past and its current support for identity politics within national arenas. Dani linguistically excavates official and unofficial Church doctrines alongside Pope Francis’ public statements to reveal the evolution and stagnation of Catholic Sexual Ethics. This linguistically driven genealogy unearths the intended direction the Catholic Church is taking in relation to people of nondominant sexes, genders, and sexualities. Dani holds a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies and Spanish Language, a master’s degree in Theology focused on Moral Theology and Sexual Ethics within Roman Catholicism and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Religious Studies Department at the University of California, Riverside.


Mentor: Wesley Y. Leonard, UC Riverside

Katie Phillips
Katie Phillips is a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. She earned her BA from the University of California, Riverside in history with a focus on ancient and medieval Europe. Her research focuses on gender and sexuality in ancient Christianity, with an emphasis on hagiographical figures. Her dissertation is on female-bodied saints that presented themselves as men through a transgender studies approach. Katie hopes to disrupt cisnormative historical narratives through a performative approach to these gender-variant saints.


Mentor: Kristi Upson-Saia, Occidental College

Shira Schwartz
Shira Schwartz is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature and a graduate certificate student in Judaic studies at the University of Michigan. She is a scholar of ancient rabbinic and contemporary Orthodox/ex-Orthodox (OTD) Judaism, sex/gender studies, educational institutions, and the anthropology of religion. Her dissertation is a textual ethnography that weaves together ancient rabbinic learning spaces and contemporary American Orthodox women’s yeshivas to explore the relationship between Jewish education, its learning spaces, and the gendered, sexed and reproductive Jewish body. Her work traces the yeshiva from its rabbinic male antecedents to its contemporary re-gendering as a women’s institution, highlighting the impact that this historically male form of study has on the bodies of women’s yeshiva students today. The study highlights the biomaterial bodies of students and rethinks the sex/gender divide, by following hormonal and secondary sex trait changes that occur when students enter the roles and relations that for thousands of years have created Jewish men. She is developing this into a larger “hormone ethnography”. Her second project, “Comparative Exes,” scopes out the relationship between exness, transness, and conversion across gender and religion, demonstrating the contingency and mutability of both in relation to norms and the way these categories come together and break apart as bodies move between different social spaces. Her essay, “In Terms of OTD,” is forthcoming in Off the Derech: Post-Orthodox Writing, from SUNY University Press in 2019. She is the recipient of the Network for Research in Jewish Education’s Emerging Scholar Award, the New York Working Group in Jewish Orthodoxies research fellowship in Jewish Studies at Fordham University, and is currently the
Richard & Lillian Ives Graduate Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities.


Mentor: Rachel N. Levin, Pomona College

George Severs
George Severs is a Ph.D. candidate in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge, UK where he is writing a thesis examining the history of HIV/AIDS activism in England c. 1982-1997. During his Master’s program at Cambridge, George became interested in the ways that religious institutions, organizations, and individuals responded to the AIDS epidemic, writing a dissertation on the responses of the Church of England to the virus. This is an interest he has carried into his doctoral work, which includes a chapter on religious HIV/AIDS activism but which also aims to thread attention to actors of faith throughout the analysis. Away from his Ph.D. work, George co-convenes the Cambridge Gender and Sexuality History Workshop, which provides a supportive and encouraging platform for postgraduates and early-career researchers to present their work. He is also the Secretary of the UK Oral History
Society’s LGBTQ Special Interest Group, which aims to promote and support the work of oral historians using interviews to access, preserve and highlight the queer past. As part of this group, George is co-editing a special issue of the journal Oral History on LGBTQ oral history, the first of its kind in the journal’s 50-year history.


Mentor: Molly McGarry, UC Riverside

Lars Stoltzfus-Brown
Lars Stoltzfus-Brown’s interests are in two primary areas: the feminist political economy of media, particularly comic books and their film, television, and video game adaptations; and the role media play in identity formation among minoritized populations. They are interested in questions of power, institutions, and multifaceted systems of oppression. Lars’ current research project is a deep dive into how media, culture, and community shape identity for LGBT2QIA+ former Amish individuals; this work is based on their insider-outsider position as a transgender queer child of a former Old Order Amish parent. They have written about transgender-exclusionary discourse on Twitter; gendered violence in Batman; and the intersection of whiteness and Amish identities.


Mentor: Iván Eusebio Aguirre Darancou, UC Riverside

Jared Vázquez
Jared Vázquez is a Ph.D. candidate in Theology, Philosophy, and Cultural Theory at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver. His scholarly interests lie in bodies, sexuality, identity, culture, language, and religious experience. His primary fields of study include continental philosophy, cultural and queer theory, Latino/a studies, and Pentecostal studies. He has been a fellow at the Human Rights Campaign Summer Institute of the Religion and Faith Program and the Hispanic Theological Initiative at Princeton. Jared also has over 10 years of experience in leading, facilitating, and developing dialogue around diversity and inclusion in both secular and religious spaces. He has taught in formal and informal settings as both faculty and consultant. As an adjunct professor at Iliff Jared teaches a diverse population of M.Div. students how to better engage and lead their churches with regard to issues of diversity and inclusion. This work reflects Jared’s passion for bringing people together to have dialogue that matters as well as his academic work which has focused on theologies of inclusion and the effects of religious and social politics on the lives of queer folk. In addition to adjunct work, Jared is also the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Metropolitan Community Churches.


Mentor: Peter Mena, University of San Diego