Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences

2017 David Julian and Virginia Suther Whichard Distinguished Professor in the Humanities

Dr. Joseph Hellweg

August 25, 2017

By Lacey L. Gray
Director of Marketing and Communications
Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences

Joseph Hellweg


Dr. Joseph Hellweg, an expert in the interdisciplinary areas of religion, social violence and public health, joins the faculty of East Carolina University this fall as a visiting associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies.

Hellweg is
the 2017 David Julian and Virginia Suther Whichard Distinguished Professor in the Humanities. Housed within the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, the professorship is made possible through a generous donation by the Whichard family in honor of David Julian and Virginia Suther Whichard of Greenville.

“I am thrilled to be here,” said Hellweg. “I look forward to working with colleagues across the university to think about ways that the study of religion can illuminate multiple disciplines and help answer challenging questions.”

Through the professorship, Hellweg intends to “highlight the importance of what we call religion as a factor in politics, society, economics and culture,” and he said he looks forward to sharing how much the discipline of religious studies has taught him about the world.

“Religious studies has the potential to offer the most holistic, critical perspective on the world in the academy right now. And I say that as a cultural anthropologist who was not trained as a doctoral student in religious studies,” said Hellweg.

As Whichard Distinguished Professor, Hellweg will teach a course each semester and host other specialized symposia.

His fall course will examine violence based on religious claims. He and his students will talk about violence in Nigeria with the Boko Haram Movement, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, the ongoing Civil War in the Central African Republic, and the case he knows best, the Civil War in Côte d’Ivoire.

“I want students to think about the reasons for which non-state actors take up arms against the state,” said Hellweg. “Non-state actors often frame these reasons in religious terms. So paying attention to the religious statements of such people can help us better understand their political claims and why they feel marginalized.”

The spring course will focus on health and religion in the Black Atlantic. It will examine the religious dimensions of the AIDS and Ebola epidemics in Africa, post-disaster recovery in the Caribbean and health disparities in the southeastern U.S. In particular, Hellweg plans to focus on the disposal of hog waste in eastern North Carolina and how it “disproportionately and negatively affects working-class African American communities,” said Hellweg.

Ideally, Hellweg wants students to play a role in the education efforts surrounding hog farming practices. In addition to the class discussion, Hellweg will host a mini conference pertaining to the issue, which will be open to the public.

Hellweg’s research interests are a good representation of the breadth of the arts and sciences spanning the HIV/AIDS epidemics and the LGBTQ rights movement in Côte d’Ivoire; the study of an alphabet invented in 1949 by Solomana Kanté to write Mandé languages, spoken in several countries in West Africa; and research among an initiated group of Côte d’Ivoire hunters, who call themselves
dozo, and the praise songs they sing at their colleague’s funerals. The songs combine an interest in ancestral veneration and Islam, which is the topic of a book Hellweg will publish next year.

Hellweg received his doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of Virginia in 2001. He began teaching as an assistant professor at Florida State University in 2003 and joined FSU's Department of Religion in 2008, where he currently serves as an associate professor of religion.