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Communications and Marketing

Department of Religion welcomes expert in religion and food, alternative religions

Assistant Professor Ben Zeller is highly motivated by the activities that take place in his classroom.

A conversation with a Finnish student about religion in Finland, for example, stirred him to apply for the Fulbright Scholar Program to conduct research in the Nordic country last fall. An unsuccessful search for a proper textbook about food and religion for his Comparative Religion class at Brevard College prompted him to co-author an anthology about the topic.

The Milwaukee native now brings his expertise and passion for a subject that can be quite “messy” to Lake Forest College as the new addition to the Department of Religion. 

Zeller said he is interested in religion because of its transformative nature, and because he enjoys trying to understand “what makes sense to insiders but not to outsiders.” This gusto is apparent from the collection of religious artifacts sitting on the bookshelves of his Buchanan Hall office.

Zeller is teaching three classes this semester: Christianity, Religion and Contemporary America, and Religion and Food, the latter aligning with the College’s academic theme of food.

The objective of the class, he said, is to think about religion through a new perspective — through the lens of food. Readings, projects, and discussions will surround how food influences cultural practices, identity, tradition, family, theology, and more.

A proponent of a democratic classroom, he invited students on the first day of class last week to suggest local field trip destinations appropriate to the curriculum. He also looks forward to the conversations his students will have with Finnish students taking a similar course at the University of Turku. Zeller knows the professor, and the two are using some of the same readings in their classes. 

Zeller became enamored by the study of food and religion while teaching a class called Topics in Comparative Religion at Brevard College in North Carolina. Columbia University Press is expected to publish his book The Way of Food this summer, and Zeller said he is proud to have helped establish a food and religion subfield of study through the American Academy of Religion.

Zeller also takes interest in new, alternative, and non-institutional forms of religion. In fact, much of his research at Åbo Akademi in Finland last fall focused on the country’s alternative religions.