Professor Inspires Critical Thinking through Ancient Texts

July 18, 2011

Professor Inspires Critical Thinking through Ancient Texts


Dr. Lily Vuong has spent many hours of the last decade translating religious texts amid dusty library basements. The assistant professor of religious studies, who is trained in eight languages -- four of them ancient, came to VSU to encourage students to explore the faiths, cultures and traditions of religious origins. Vuong said she hopes to mold a community of critical thinking scholars who value diverse perspectives.

“By demonstrating the value of historical, cultural, political, sociological and theological approaches to the study of religion, my hope is to expand and challenge students’ critical thinking skills and prepare them to develop their own arguments and ideas,” said Vuong, who specializes in early Judaism, Christianity, and the ancient Mediterranean World. “Students who choose to become majors and minors in our department learn the skills to become better speakers, writers, and thinkers, which are precisely the skills graduate, medical and law schools are looking for in their prospective students.”

Vuong developed a love for religious studies during her undergraduate years at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she graduated with honors with a concentration in Western religions. She stumbled upon a Historical Jesus course and became fascinated with interpreting ancient scriptures and texts from a variety of social, historical, literary and feminist approaches. The experience pushed her to view familiar readings and stories from fresh perspectives. She aims to inspire that same meaningful examination in her students.

“As a teacher, I always welcome the opportunity to learn from students, especially when we are exploring new texts and ideas together. I cherish those moments when I am able to light a spark in a student’s mind and watch him or her eagerly head off to follow some intriguing line of thought,” said Vuong, who has presented papers throughout the world. “I hope that when my students leave my classroom they think of me as someone who pushed them to think profoundly about ideas and challenged them to question their own assumptions and biases.”

Forever deepening her own studies, Vuong is presently writing an article titled, “The Impact of Social and Economic Status on the Experience of Martyrdom in Ancient Rome and Carthage: The Case Study of Perpetua and Felicitas” and preparing a monograph, tentatively titled, “Accessing the Virgin: Gender and Purity in the Protevangelium of James,” which explores ritual and sexual purity in the portrayal of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Two other forthcoming articles, one about Jewish and Christian relations and the other about Christian Apocrypha, will be published before the end of the year.

When she breaks from sifting through stacks of Greek and Hebrew texts, Vuong is spending time with her husband, James Jankowski, who works remotely as an associate project manager for a hospital in Los Angeles, Calif. The two enjoy a variety of sports, from volleyball to badminton, and can often be found piecing together puzzles or having a Harry Potter-athon.