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Emma Rifai

Emma Rifai, Instructor

Emma Rifai
Emma Rifai, Instructor

Department of Religion and Culture

203 Major Williams
220 Stanger Street
Blacksburg, VA 24061
218.851.7112 |

Dr. Emma Rifai’s research explores how both religion and secularism shape the everyday at the site of the body by highlighting Protestant culture’s profound yet often overlooked impact on public life in the United States.  Her dissertation, entitled, “Secular Embodiments: Body Management, Protestant Culture, and American Secularism in the Twenty-First Century,” argues American secularism is a unique cultural formation that is best understood as fundamentally embodied and that its embodiments are made plain in contemporary body management cultures like direct-to-consumer genetic testing, biohacking, and the pro-ana movement. These case studies reveal how the relationship between individuals and culture is negotiated bilaterally at the site of the body through multiple mechanisms of power. Contributing to religious studies, cultural studies, and gender studies, this project demonstrates how American secularism is experienced in the gendered and raced body and how these experiences contribute to the construction of contemporary American culture.

  • Protestantism and Secularism in the United States
  • Critical Theory and Religion
  • Religion, Food, and the Body
  • Gender, Religion, and Culture 
  • PhD in Religious Studies, The University of Iowa, 2021
  • MA in Religious Studies, The University of Iowa, 2018
  • MA in Middle East Studies, The University of Washington, 2011
  • BA in Sociology of Religion, Minnesota State University Moorhead, 2009
  • BM in Instrumental Music and Religious Studies, Concordia College, 2008
  • Chair of the Religion and Media Workshop of the American Academy of Religion
  • Barbara W. and Rex E. Montgomery Award, The University of Iowa, 2021
  • College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dissertation Writing Fellowship, The University of Iowa, 2019
  • Graduate College Post-Comprehensive Research Fellowship, The University of Iowa, 2019
  • President and Mrs. Eugene Gilmore Scholarship, The University of Iowa, 2019
  • Rev. Louis Penningroth Award, The University of Iowa, 2018
  • Graduate Student Senate Travel Grant, The University of Iowa, 2016 & 2018
  • Alice Marguerite Blough Award, The University of Iowa, 2017
  • Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, The University of Washington, 2010-2011
  • Schwartz Fellowship, The University of Washington, 2009-2010
  • Centennial Scholars Grant, Concordia College, 2006-2007

Refereed Journal Articles

“Digital Waistlands: Pro-Ana Communities, Religion, and Embodiment.” Journal of Religion, Media, and Digital Culture 9 (2020): 207-227.

“Weighty Matter(s): Religion, Secularism, and American Weight Loss Culture.” Religion Compass 14:2 (February 2020): 1-10.

“Spreading the Religion of Thinness from California to Calcutta: A Critical Feminist Postcolonial Analysis” with Michelle Lelwica and Jenna McNallie. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 24:1 (Spring 2009): 20-41. (Published under Emma Hoglund.)

Textbook Entries

“Evangelical Christianities in North America.” Bloomsbury Religion in North America. (In press.)

“Women and Christianity.” Bloomsbury Religion in North America. (In press.)

Book Reviews

Review of The Story of Radio Mind: A Missionary’s Journey on Indigenous Land, by Pamela E. Klassen. Material Religion 15:5 (July 2019): 644-645.

Review of Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power, by Donovan O. Schaefer. Material Religion 12:4 (December 2016): 515-516.