New Faces: Philosophy welcomes two new professors

Mulhern and Tais

The College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State is the largest college on campus, encompassing nine departments, and the Armenian Studies Program.

Each year, new faculty are brought on to elevate the academic offerings here at Fresno State. These new faculty members bring innovative research, diverse fields of study and technical expertise to our college, inspiring new ways of thinking throughout our many disciplines.

Over the next few weeks, we will introduce you to these new faces, by department.

Department of Philosophy

Amine Tais

Dr. Amine Tais joins the Department of Philosophy as a tenure-track faculty after completing his Ph.D. at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

He also holds a master’s degree from the University of Washington. Tais’ primary teaching area is comparative religion (Western traditions) with a particular focus on Islam and his research interests include Islamic intellectual history, reform movements, secularism and religion, scripture and interpretation, as well as religious extremism and violence.

Question: What are you most looking forward to here at Fresno State?

Answer: I am very excited about the opportunity to participate in enriching the learning experience of our students by helping them navigate the worlds of religion. I’m also looking forward to building a solid religion program alongside my colleagues in the Philosophy Department.

Q: Can you tell us how you became involved in your specialty area?

A: At one point in my life, I became very interested in the question of why individuals or groups claim religious commitment to be a driving force in their decision to commit acts of violence. I decided to rejoin the ranks of higher education and study religion academically.

Q: What will your distinctive background do to elevate the Philosophy Department offerings here at Fresno State?

A: Issues surrounding Islam and Muslims are among the most pressing in our country and all over the world. I hope that my expertise will help raise the level of our public discourse about these issues beyond polemics and apologetics, that is beyond simply attacking or defending something we term “Islam” and instead have a robust understanding of the historical, social, political, economic and cultural elements that have shaped the development of Islam as a religious tradition and the diverse lives of people that we collectively call Muslims.

Q: What is a book you think everyone should read?

A: For a short, but scholarly and critically engaged introduction to Islam, I suggest a book titled “Rethinking Islam: Common Questions, Uncommon Answers by Mohammed Arkoun.”

Q: What’s a fun fact people might not know about you?

A: I love sports. I have played soccer throughout my life at competitive levels. I support the Seattle teams, particularly the Seahawks of the NFL. I hope Seattle gets the Sonics back at some point in the near future. Internationally, I’m a big fan of FC Barcelona.

Q: When are your office hours?

A: My office hours for Fall 2018 are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 to 11:30 or by appointment.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Go ‘Dogs!


Dr. Aldea Mulhern joins the Department of Philosophy with an emphasis in areas related to method and theory in religious studies. She specializes in theory of comparison and field research methods, but her interests range widely and she can often be found teaching about Judaism and Islam, or even Christianity or Hinduism, in contrast with Santeria, Vodou, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and even the Vegetarian/Vegan vs. Omnivore debate.

Mulhern comes to Fresno State from Grand Valley State University, where she was Visiting Assistant Professor of Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Communication. Her anthropological field research includes work on North American Jews and Muslims who are active in the Food Movement, and her article “What does it mean to ‘eat Jewishly’” explores foodways developing on the largest Jewish farm in North America.

Mulhern holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of Toronto, Canada, and an MA in Religion and Culture from Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. Her BA from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a semi-conservatory acting degree, which involved mounting theatrical productions in place of a traditional thesis. In her spare time, Aldea consumes YouTube voraciously. Her current top channels include Crash Course, Extra Credits, and Comedy Central. She is also cooking up courses on Judaism (Introducing Judaism Through Food) and on Pigs (tentatively, The Problem of The Pig in Global Cultures).

Question: Can you tell us how you became involved in your specialty area?

Answer: I was in a Ph.D. program in the Study of Religion, poking around in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, showing up at all these Food Movement events and trying to find out what the religious participation in the movement was all about. I kept seeing people from these two organizations, one Jewish and one Muslim, that were always showing up. They were really interesting. I ended up conducting field research simultaneously with both organizations! Everything else flowed from there.

Q: What will your distinctive background do to elevate the Philosophy Department offerings here at Fresno State?

A: I’m not a proper, trained philosopher: really I’m more a philosophy fan. I’m honored to work alongside my philosopher colleagues and I’m handy to have around because I’m formally trained as a Religious Studies person (MA and Ph.D.). I use mixed methods, predominantly anthropological research techniques and major theories from the well-established field of religious studies and the emerging field of food studies, to understand features of contemporary religious life. I’m super interested in everyday, lived religion, in the form of practice and bodies and foodways, particularly in religiously diverse contexts.

Q: What sort of thing are you doing to prepare?

A: Talking to people! I’ve been wanting to find out more about who lives, plays, works, and studies here. Arts and Humanities scholarship is, I think, often very connected to its time, place and community, and this is especially true of the educational part of scholarship. So I design my courses in a kind of dialectical process — balancing what is crucial, classical, and new in the field on the one hand and what people who take a course know, care about, and need to hear about on the other.

Q: What is a book you think everyone should read?

A: Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn by Karen McCarthy Brown. Not only will it teach you about a widely-misunderstood religious tradition; it combines fictionalized narrative and ethnographic analysis, which are fairly different modes of writing. It’s an amazing book- every time I read it, I can never put it down.

Q: What’s a fun fact people might not know about you?

A: I’m from east-coast Canada, so I speak English and French and I love poutine! Which has to have real cheese curds. Also, I can say the alphabet backward really fast. My current goal is to learn Spanish, now that I live here in Fresno. ¡Hola, mucho gusto!

Q: When are your office hours?

A: This fall my office hours are MW 3:30-4:30 and W 11-12, and other times can be set up as well- just email me! In the spring they’ll change, but I’ll post an update on my office door, on the main floor of the Music Building (Philosophy Department).

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: One thing I always like to share: a cup of tea, a snack, and an elaborate conversation! More to the point, though, I’m currently teaching Religion and the Margin and Contemporary Moral Conflicts and in the spring I’ll be teaching Religion and the Margin and Comparative Religion. And who knows what’ll be on deck for next year. I’d love to see you in class!




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