Benjamin Zeller

Ben Zeller

Professor of Religion
Chair of Religion
Chair of Islamic World Studies


Areas of Specialization

Religion in America
Religion and Culture
Religion and Science
New Religious Movements


University of North Carolina
The Graduate School – PhD, Religious Studies, 2007.

Harvard University
Harvard Divinity School – MTS, 2002.

University of Rochester
College of Arts and Sciences – BA, Religious Studies, 1999.

Previous Appointments

Associate Professor of Religion, Fall 2016 – Spring 2022.

Assistant Professor of Religion, Lake Forest College, Fall 2012 – Spring 2016.

Director of Honors Program, Brevard College, May 2010 – Spring 2012.

Coordinator of Religious Studies Program, Brevard College. Fall 2009 – Spring 2012.

Assistant Professor, Dept. of Religious Studies, Brevard College. Fall 2007 – Spring 2012.

Instructor, Dept. of Religion, Temple University. Fall 2005 – Spring 2007.

Instructor, Dept. of Communication Studies, University of North Carolina. Spring 2005.

Teaching Fellow, Committee on the Study of Religion, Harvard University. Spring 2002 – Spring 2003.


Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

Prophets and Protons: New Religious Movements and Science in Late Twentieth-Century America. New York: New York University Press, 2010.

Edited Books

Handbook of UFO Religions. Leiden: Brill, 2021.

Religion, Food, and Eating in North America, with Marie W. Dallam, Reid L. Neilson, and Nora L. Rubel. Columbia University Press, 2014.

The Bloomsbury Companion to New Religious Movements, with George D. Chryssides. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2014.

Journal Articles

“‘American Wise Men Discover the Secret of Religion’: Religious Content in the Civilization Computer Game Series,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture vol. 34 no. 1, Spring 2022.

“New Religious Movement Responses to COVID: Frame Alignment Strategies and Social Context,” Approaching Religion vol 11, no. 2, November 2021.

“(Dis)Enchanted Ufology: The Boundaries of Science and Religion in MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions vol. 25, no. 2, November 2021.

“‘Food (Not) from a Truck’: Teaching Religion, Nature, and Food,” Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology vol. 25, no. 1, March 2021.

 “The Fraternité Notre Dame: From Emergence in Fréchou to Sojourn in Chicago,” Numen: International Review for the History of Religions vol. 67, no. 2-3, April 2020.

“New Religious Movements: A Bibliographic Introduction,” Theological Librarianship vol 22, no. 1, April 2020.

“Altar Call of Cthulhu: Religion and Millennialism in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos,” Religions vol. 11, no. 1, December 2019.

“‘Make your own Religion’: The Fictive Religion Assignment as Educational Game,” Teaching Theology and Religion vol. 21, October 2018.

“Religion as Embodied Taste: Using Food to Rethink Religion,” Body and Religion vol. 1, no. 1, Summer 2017.

“One Foot in Helsinki, One Foot in Mayapur: ISKCON Finland as a Glocal European Religion,” Journal of Religion in Europe vol. 9, no. 1, Spring 2016.

“Totem and Taboo in the Grocery Store: Quasi-Religious Foodways in North America,” Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis vol. 26, April 2015.

“‘But Aren’t Cults Bad?’: Active Learning, Productive Chaos, and Teaching New Religious Movements,” Teaching Theology and Religion vol 18, no. 2, April 2015.

“At the Nexus of Science and Religion: UFO Religions,” Religion Compass vol. 5, no. 11, Nov 2011.

“American Postwar ‘Big Religion’: Reconceptualizing Twentieth-Century American Religion Using Big Science as a Model,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture vol. 80, no. 2, June 2011.

“Science as Social Identity Marker: The Case of Early Unificationism in America,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions vol. 14, no. 4, May 2011.

“New Religious Movements and Science,” Nova Religio vol. 14, no. 4, May 2011.

“Religion and Science in America,” Religion Compass vol. 5, no. 4, April 2011.

“Extraterrestrial Biblical Hermeneutics and the Making of Heaven’s Gate,” Nova Religio vol. 14, no. 2, November 2010.

“‘We Learned So Much When You Weren’t There!’: Reflections on the Interteach Method and the Acephalous Classroom,” Teaching Theology & Religion vol. 13, no. 3, July 2010.

“Scaling Heaven’s Gate: Individualism and Salvation in a New Religious Movement,” Nova Religio vol. 10, no. 2, November 2006.

“‘We’re the Other Catholic Church’: Feminism in a Radical Catholic Renewal Community,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion vol. 19, no. 2, Fall 2003.

Book Chapters

“Food,” in Bloomsbury Handbook to Studying Christians, edited by Stephen E. Gregg and George D. Chryssides. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.

 “Food and Health,” in The Routledge History of the 20th Century United States, edited by Jerald Podair and Darren Dochuk. London: Routledge, 2018.

“The ‘Going Clear’ Documentary: A Matter of Framing,” in Handbook of Scientology, edited by James R. Lewis and Kjersti Hellesøy. Leiden: Brill, 2017.

“Writing and Researching New Religious Movements: A View from the American Academy,” in The “Cult Wars” in Historical Perspective, edited by Eugene V. Gallagher. London: INFORM, 2016.

“Food & Cooking,” in The Routledge Companion to Religion & Popular Culture, edited by John C. Lyden and Eric M. Mazur. London: Routledge, 2015.

“Quasi-religious American Foodways: The Cases of Vegetarianism and Locavorism,” in Religion, Food, and Eating in North America, edited by Benjamin E. Zeller, Marie W. Dallam, Reid L. Neilson, and Nora L. Rubel. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

“Heaven’s Gate, Science Fiction Religions, and Popular American Culture,” in Handbook of Hyper-Real Religions, edited by Adam Possomai. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

“Food Practices, Culture, and Social Dynamics in the Hare Krishna Movement,” in Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production, edited by Crole M. Cusack and Alex Norman. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

“Individualism and Salvation in Heaven’s Gate,” in Heaven’s Gate, edited by George D. Chryssides. London: Ashgate Press, 2011.

“The Euphemization of Violence: The Case of Heaven’s Gate,” in Violence and New Religious Movements, edited by James R. Lewis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

“Inverted Orientalism, Vedic Science, and the Modern World: Bhaktivedanta and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” in Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science, edited by James R. Lewis. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

“Apocalyptic Thought in UFO Religions,” in End of Days: Understanding the Apocalypse from Antiquity to Modernity, edited by Karolyn Kinane and Michael A. Ryan. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland Press, 2009.

Awards and Honors

Leader, Craft of Teaching Workshop, Teaching Religion and Film, University of Chicago Divinity School, 2019.

Respondent, The Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective (YARG) research project conference, Åbo Akademi University, 2018.

Participant, Beyond Disenchantment: Science, Technology, and New Religious Movements, Williams College Oakley Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, 2018.

Scholar, Summer Institute on Objects, Places, and the Digital Humanities, National Humanities Center. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, June 2017.

Participant, Colloquy on Writing the Scholarship of Teaching, The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, June 2017.

Communal Studies Association, Best Book Award, Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion, 2015.

William L. Dunn Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarly Promise, Lake Forest College, 2014.

Fulbright Scholar, Fulbright Scholar Program, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland. Fall 2012.

Fellow, Salzburg Global Seminar. “Public and Private Cultural Exchange-Based Diplomacy: New Models for the 21st Century.” (Session 490.) Salzburg, Austria, April 2012.

Faculty Leader, Teaching and Learning Institute, Appalachian College Association. June 2011.

“Pedagogies for Engaged and Actively-Learning Students in Religious Studies,” The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, Fall 2011.

United Methodist Church Award for Exemplary Teaching, Brevard College, 2010-2011.

Wabash Summer Fellowship for Pre-Tenure Religion Faculty at Colleges and Universities, Summer 2009.

Appalachian College Association, Faculty Grant for Undergraduate Research, Summer 2008 – Spring 2009.

Fellow, Salzburg Global Seminar, Mellon Fellowship Community Initiative. “Colleges and Universities as Sites of Global Citizenship.” (ISP 22 & ISP 29.) Salzburg, Austria, January 2008 and January 2009.

Library of Congress / Adventure of the American Mind, Course Development Grant, Fall 2007 – Summer 2008.

Professional Membership

American Academy of Religion
American Society of Church History
International Society for the Study of New Religions