Elaine Howard Ecklund
is the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences, a professor of sociology, and a Rice Scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy
at Rice University. Her latest research focuses on how scientists in different nations understand religion, ethics, and gender. She is the author of four books and more than 60 research articles, as well as numerous op-eds for national publications. She has received grants and awards from a number of organizations, including the National Science Foundation, Russell Sage Foundation, John Templeton Foundation, Templeton World Charity Foundation, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. In 2013, she received the Charles Duncan Award for Most Outstanding Academic Achievement. In 2018, she will give the Gifford Lecture
at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
Associate Director of Research
Laura Achenbaum is responsible for overseeing all research-related activities at the RPLP. She manages the full arc of the program’s research projects, designing and implementing strategies for large-scale data collection and analysis, ensuring the completion of project outputs and outcomes, supporting manuscript development and the dissemination of findings, and pursuing future research and program funding opportunities. She works closely with and mentors RPLP students and staff, and contributes to outreach and development activities. Laura previously worked at the Baylor College of Medicine and has published on research ethics. She has a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a master’s in sociology from the University of Houston.
Hayley Hemstreet manages the day-to-day operations of the RPLP and coordinates program events. Over the past four years, she has organized more than 20 events, including a conference in London, and hosted more than 50 outside scholars and civic leaders on the Rice University campus. She has also helped disseminate the work of the program, contributing to op-eds and press releases that have garnered national and international media attention. She graduated from Rice University in 2013 with a dual degree in history and environmental science.
joined the RPLP as a postdoctoral research fellow in July 2017, shortly after completing a doctorate in sociology at Baylor University. His dissertation, Religion and Differential Justice
, explores the complex associations between race, religion, and outcomes related to the criminal justice system. Bob brings a background in engineering and formal training in quantitative methods to RPLP projects on faith at work and religion among scientists. His research on religion, criminology, justice attitudes, and substance use has been published in a number of journals, including Deviant Behavior
, Journal of Drug Issues
, and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Senior Graduate Student Fellows
is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Rice (Ph.D. expected May 2018). Her dissertation compares how members of two Buddhist temples, one in the U.S. and one in mainland China, construct their religious, ethnic, and gender identities. The work illuminates how the construction of identity among religious individuals is influenced by the nation they live in and the religious organizations they join. Di Di has authored seven peer-reviewed articles and received three small grants and two awards for her work. Her research has also received national and international media attention.
Graduate Student Fellows
Dan Bolger is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Rice. He is currently studying faith-based social service provision, and his research interests include social inequality, religion, race relations, and qualitative methods. He previously worked as an RPLP post-baccalaureate fellow. He graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2013 with master’s degrees in mental health counseling and Christian studies. He also has a bachelor’s in psychology from John Brown University.
is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Rice. Her research interests include the religious identity and practice of religious minorities, race and ethnicity, and immigration. In 2016, she won the Seth Balkishan Das Singhal Award from the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Rice
for her paper entitled, “Defining Sikhism: Boundaries of Religion and Ethnicity Among Sikhs in the United States.” She is currently conducting research with Sikh practitioners in the US, UK, and India. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and planning, public policy, and management from the University of Oregon in 2013.
Sharan Kaur Mehta is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Rice. Sharan works on the RPLP’s Religion Among Scientists in International Context (RASIC) project and the Religious Understandings of Science (RUS) project. Her research interests include religion, interfaith relations, race and ethnicity, gender, and inequality in STEM education. Her master’s research focuses on the lived experiences of Muslim and Sikh Americans and explores the effect of religious discrimination and bias-related violence. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a minor in sociology.
Esmeralda Sanchez is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Rice, where she works with the RPLP and the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC). She began her doctoral studies in sociology at Rice in 2016 to focus on how religion and other issues affect educational achievement. She previously served as deputy director of the Faith and Education Coalition for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), America’s largest Hispanic evangelical organization, where she led national, state, and local initiatives promoting civic engagement among faith communities in educational equity issues. She has a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Dallas and a bachelor’s from Southern Methodist University.
Sandte Stanley is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Rice studying racial and ethnic health disparities and medical mistrust. She has served as a research fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she published articles related to cancer prevention and never-screened populations. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology with minors in bioethics and health promotion from Michigan State University, a Master of Public Health from Emory University, and a master’s in sociology from Rice University.
Cleve V. Tinsley IV
is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religion at Rice. His research explores critical understandings of social scientific and historical approaches to the study of religion, particularly African-American religion. More specifically, his research focuses on religion and identity construction in African-American communities. He is a recipient of the Fund for Theological Education's Doctoral Fellowship and, prior to enrolling at Rice, earned a Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a graduate and teaching assistant at the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning
, directed by his doctoral adviser, Anthony B. Pinn.
Undergraduate Student Fellows
is a senior at Rice studying sociology and international policy studies and minoring in Jewish studies. Having been affiliated with RPLP since the end of his freshman year, he has been involved in a variety of the program’s projects and initiatives. As an undergraduate fellow, he has transcribed, analyzed, and presented on data from the Religion Among Scientists in International Context (RASIC) project, and additionally took part in participant observations of local Houston congregations for the Religion, Inequality, and Science Education (RISE) project. In addition to RPLP, he has also worked at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy
, the World Affairs Council of Greater Houston
, and the Middle East Institute
in Washington, D.C. Ultimately hoping to pursue graduate school or law school following graduation, he credits RPLP with being a highly formative experience in his development as a young scholar.
Visiting Research Associates
recently completed a doctorate in sociology at the University of Notre Dame. Drawing on interview and survey data from the National Study of Youth and Religion, her dissertation uncovers implicit cultural narratives operating in the lives of young Americans as they ponder and negotiate what makes for a life worth living. On the whole, her work is an examination of the cultural assumptions and taken-for-granted meanings that shape our lives and drive action. Her research interests include religion, emerging adulthood, generosity, and social stratification. She is the co-author of two books, The Paradox of Generosity
and Lost in Transition
, in addition to academic journal articles.
Non-resident Research Fellows
David R. Johnson
is an assistant professor of higher education leadership at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he specializes in the sociology of higher education, work and organizations, religion, and science. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno, he was an RPLP postdoctoral fellow from 2012 to 2015. He completed his doctoral training in sociology at the University of Georgia. David is the author of A Fractured Profession: Commercialism and Conflict in Academic Science
(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). His scholarship can also be found in top social science journals such as The Journal of Higher Education
, Social Forces
, Sociological Science
, Public Understanding of Science
, and Science, Technology, and Human Values
Jared Peifer is an assistant professor of management at Baruch College. He was an RPLP postdoctoral fellow from 2011 to 2013. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell University in 2011. Jared’s research primarily focuses on the moral motivations of people as they engage in various economic activity. Most of his work in this vein explores the moral motivations of investors by focusing on socially responsible investing. He has also published work on charitable giving and environmental consumption, and is currently working on articles that deal with voluntary simplicity, materialism, and the commercialization of scientific research.
Pamela Prickett is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam. From 2015 to 2017 she was an RPLP postdoctoral fellow. As a sociologist Pamela uses ethnographic and historical methods to understand how poverty and inequality are experienced, structured, and reproduced within urban communities. Her current book project, Believing in South Central, draws on more than five years of fieldwork in an African-American Muslim community in a low-income neighborhood in Los Angeles. The book examines the everyday lives of the pious urban poor, including the ways they draw on each other and local religious organizations for social support in light of a changing urban landscape. Her work has appeared in Gender & Society and City & Community.
Chris Scheitle is an assistant professor of sociology at West Virginia University. Broadly, his research examines the social structure and dynamics of religion in the United States, with a focus on three specific areas. The first explores the relationship between religion and science. A second examines innovations in how religion is organized in the United States, especially in regards to the growth of so-called parachurch organizations. The last area of research looks at crimes against religious congregations. He has published two books, over two dozen scholarly articles, and has been awarded two research grants from the National Science Foundation. His research has been featured in a number of media outlets, including USA Today, CNN.com, and ABC News.
Brandon Vaidyanathan is an associate professor of sociology at The Catholic University of America. Born and raised in the Arabian Gulf, he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in management from Canada and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Notre Dame. His research examines cultural dimensions of religious, commercial, medical, and scientific institutions, and has been published in journals such as Social Problems, Social Forces, Sociology of Religion, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, and Journal of the American Academy of Religion.