Participant Bios

Maytha Alhassen

Dr. Maytha Alhassen is a historian, journalist, social justice artist, and mending practitioner. Her work bridges the worlds of organizing, academic research, media engagement, artistic expression and spiritually guided healing practices.

As a commentator, Alhassen has been featured on CNN, BET, Al Jazeera, Fusion, HuffPost Live, Splinter, The Young Turks, NPR, CBC, Pivot, ATTN, WNYC's “The Brian Lehrer Show,” Power106's “Knowledge is Power,” and KPFK. She appears regularly as a guest co-host and digital producer for Al Jazeera English’s current-events program “The Stream,” and guest co-host for The Young Turks’ main hour. 

She lectures nationally across college campuses on the history of the silver and small screen's portrayal of Arabs and Muslims, tying pop culture representations of these communities to prevailing political narratives and US foreign policy in the respective regions.

Anila Ali 2

Anila Ali serves as Board Chair and President of the American Muslim & Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, a group of women leaders who work to strengthen communities, confront bigotry, celebrate cultural heritage, and build enduring bonds with fellow Americans of all faiths.

A native of Pakistan, Ali is a retired California public school teacher, Muslim philanthropist, author, and women's rights advocate. A centrist Democrat, she served as a delegate to the 2012 and 2016 Democratic National Conventions. She is a co-founder of the Irvine Pakistani Parents Foundation and CalPak Educational Services. In 2015 she presented at the Obama White House Summit on countering violent extremism.


Peter Cajka2

Dr. Peter Cajka is an Assistant Teaching Professor at Notre Dame’s Department of American Studies where he also serves as Director of Undergraduate Studies. He joined Notre Dame in 2017 as a Postdoctoral Associate with the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and still engages with the center as a faculty affiliate. He has been teaching in the Department of American Studies since 2019. His research explores the roles of religion and ideas in modern American culture. Dr. Cajka earned a PhD in modern American history from Boston College in 2017. His book, Follow Your Conscience: The Catholic Church and the Spirit of the Sixties explores how American Catholics invoked conscience rights against Church authorities and in disputes with the modern state. It shows that a profound attention to individual conscience is at the center of the modern American Catholic imagination. He has published scholarly articles in The Journal of Church and State, US Catholic Historian, American Catholic Studies, and Ohio History. At Notre Dame, Cajka teaches classes on The Sixties, the Vietnam War, the Culture Wars, Intellectual History, and the Civil Rights Movement. His words have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the National Catholic Reporter.


Rev. Dr. Michael A. Cramer is the founder of the Power for Living Ministry. He is a gifted communicator and inspirational leader. He believes in a positive faith, which embraces the powerful truth that “with God all things are possible.” His emphasis on positive faith encourages people from all walks of life, and connects with leaders in the faith, business, and athletic communities.

For more than three decades, Cramer has served as the Founding Pastor of New Life Church in Osceola, Indiana. His motivational speaking, inspirational books, and radio broadcasts have expanded their ministry far beyond the borders of New Life. He and his wife, Cindi, have four children and twelve grandchildren.

Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Dr. Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a New York Times bestselling author and Professor of History and Gender Studies at Calvin University. She holds a PhD from the University of Notre Dame and her research focuses on the intersection of gender, religion, and politics.

Du Mez has written for The New York Times, The Washington PostNBC NewsReligion News Service, and Christianity Today, and has been interviewed on NPR, CBS, and the BBC, among other outlets.

Her most recent book is Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

Nichole Flores

Dr. Nichole M. Flores is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Health, Ethics, and Society minor at the University of Virginia. She researches the constructive contributions of Catholic and Latine theologies to notions of justice and aesthetics as applied in public life. Her research in practical ethics addresses issues of politics, migration, labor, family, gender, bioethics, race and ethnicity, and ecology. She teaches courses on Catholic theology and ethics, religion and democracy, bioethics, and Latine religion.

Flores is author of The Aesthetics of Solidarity: Our Lady of Guadalupe and American Democracy (Georgetown University Press, 2021). She has also published essays in the Journal of Religious Ethics, the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, and Modern Theology among other academic journals and edited book volumes. She is a contributing author on the masthead at America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture.

In 2015, Flores was honored with the Catherine Mowry LaCugna Award for best essay in academic theology by a junior scholar from the Catholic Theological Society of America. Dr. Flores earned an A.B. in government from Smith College, an M.Div. from Yale University, and a PhD in theological ethics from Boston College.

Megan Goodwin

Dr. Megan Goodwin is a scholar of American religions, race, gender, and politics. She is the media consultant and technologist for the Crossroads Project, an inter-institutional collaboration hosted by Princeton University and sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation. Her first book, Abusing Religion: Literary Persecution, Sex Scandals, and American Minority Religions, is now available through Rutgers (2020). Her next research project is tentatively titled Cults Inc.: The Business of Bad Religion.

With Dr. Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst, Goodwin cohosts Keeping It 101: A Killjoy's Introduction to Religion Podcast. Goodwin and Morgenstein Fuerst are currently at work on Religion Is Not Done with You (Beacon 2024). 

Belynn Hollers

BeLynn Hollers joined The Dallas Morning News as a news fellow shortly after graduating from the University of Dallas in 2021. During her time in the newsroom, she covered religion and politics as it intersected with women’s health and law.

She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Politics from the University of Dallas, where she was the co-founder of the university’s First Generation Student Association. Prior to joining The News, she worked as a commentary and a news editor for the student-led newspaper, The University News. 

Hollers is also an alumna of Collin College, where she received her associate in arts degree in 2018. Raised in Lavon, Texas, she has strong ties to North Texas. Hollers is an editorial fellow through the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Alexander Hsu 2

Dr. Alexander Hsu serves as an Assistant Teaching Professor for the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion and the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies. He is also the Ansari Institute’s academic advisor and program manager. His research focuses on early Buddhist scriptures in medieval China and employs perspectives from manuscript studies, genre theory, and cultural history in order to examine how the use of texts reflects transformations in religious reading practices.

Hsu's current book project examines why and how medieval Chinese Buddhists used anthologies to “economize” their gigantic scriptural canon.

Syed Hussain

Dr. Syed Ali Hussain serves as Assistant Professor at Arizona State University. His research deals in part with religious tolerance. Hussain has studied the use of storytelling to reduce bias toward immigrants in the US, and has explored the use of nostalgic emotional appeals to improve attitudes and intentions to help immigrant populations.​

Hussain’s research focuses on the positive aspects of social media to provide digital audiences a safe and productive environment for online interactions. He has explored how individuals living with depression express their feelings and emotions through photographs on social media and how virtual reality videos can relieve depression.

Bilal Malik

Imam Bilal Malik leads the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, which has served residents of Jacksonville since 1978. Previously, he served as the primary religious leader for the Islamic Society of Frederick, Maryland. 

Malik’s interest in studying Islam began in childhood, and he memorized the Qur’an at age 10. His desire to earn the highly respected honor of Hafiz—the Arabic term for someone who has committed the sacred text to memory—stemmed from a healthy sibling rivalry. His older brother achieved the same honor when he was 12 years old. 

Brendan Mccallister

Brendan McAllister is a widely respected peacebuilder and mediation expert from Northern Ireland. He was a peace activist in the Northern Ireland conflict from the age of 17 and in 1992 he became Director of Mediation for Northern Ireland, developing indigenous mediation in support of the peace process. In 2008, as part of the peace settlement, he became a commissioner for victims and survivors of the Northern Ireland conflict.

McAllister transitioned into the international peace mediation field in 2012, coaching and advising senior EU officials. From 2015-2017 he was a member of the UN’s Standby Team of Senior Mediation Experts and continued to serve as a Senior Mediation Advisor with the UN Department of Political Affairs until 2019.

He also served as the Government-appointed Advocate for victims of historical institutional childhood abuse in Northern Ireland before his retirement in December 2020. In January 2022, McAllister was ordained as a Catholic deacon and now serves in the Diocese of Dromore in Northern Ireland. 

Jessica Mesman

Jessica Mesman is Associate Editor of the Christian Century and a widely published writer whose work has been noted in Best American Essays. Her first book, Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship in Letters, co-authored with Amy Andrews Alznauer, won the 2014 Christopher Award for “literature that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” Currently, her work is taking her deeper into ecology, horror, and folk religion.

Her articles and essays have appeared in LitHub, Elle, Vox, America, and Christianity Today. She has served as online editor and host of the Image Podcast and as managing editor of the literary magazine Creative Nonfiction, where she occasionally teaches spiritual memoir. She is an affiliate faculty member at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

Mahan Mirza 2

Dr. Mahan Mirza is Teaching Professor of Islam & Science in the Keough School of Global Affairs and Executive Director of the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion at the University of Notre Dame. An Islamic studies scholar and expert on religious literacy, Dr. Mirza previously served as lead faculty member for the Madrasa Discourses, a project to advance scientific and theological literacy at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He also served as Dean of Faculty at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, America’s first accredited Muslim liberal arts college. Mirza holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from University of Texas Austin, MA from Hartford Seminary in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, and PhD in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has taught a range of courses in Arabic-Islamic studies, western religions, and history of science, along with foundational subjects in the liberal arts including logic, rhetoric, ethics, and politics. His doctoral research was on the intellectual world of al-Biruni, an 11th-century scientist from Central Asia. Dr. Mirza has edited two special issues of The Muslim World and served as assistant editor of the Princeton Encyclopaedia of Islamic Political Thought.

Alejandra Molina

Alejandra Molina is a national reporter for Religion News Service who covers Latinos and religion in the West Coast region. She is based in Los Angeles. 

Previously, Molina worked as a reporter for the Southern California News Group where she covered cities, immigration, race and religion for such newspapers as The Orange County Register, The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, and The Los Angeles Daily News.

Reynolds Susan

Dr. Susan Bigelow Reynolds is a Catholic theologian and ethnographer whose research examines the intersection of ecclesiology and lived Catholicism in contexts of diversity, marginality, and suffering. Her forthcoming monograph, People Get Ready: Ritual, Solidarity, and Lived Ecclesiology in Catholic Roxbury (Fordham University Press, 2022), draws on years of parish-based ethnographic research in Boston to examine the question of community in a racially and culturally diverse church, arguing for the retrieval of solidarity as an ecclesial virtue. Her work has also examined public ritual, urban Catholic practice, parish closures and congregational change, migration, motherhood and pregnancy loss, and the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis.

Reynolds’ work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, volumes, and public-facing venues including American Catholic StudiesNew Theology ReviewExchangeAmerica, and The Atlantic. She is a contributing writer for Commonweal magazine and is a frequent contributor to national conversations on Catholicism and public life in the media, including National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, NBC, and CNN.

Bob Smietana

Bob Smietana is an award-winning religion journalist who has spent two decades producing breaking news, data journalism, investigative reporting, profiles, and features for magazines, newspapers, trade publications, and websites. He serves as national religion writer for Religion News Service.

Smietana has also served as senior writer for Facts & Trends, senior editor of Christianity Today, religion writer at The Tennessean, and contributor to OnFaith, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

He is known for his coverage of Islam and Islamophobia, including his comprehensive reporting on the Murfreesboro mosque conflict, and on evangelical Christianity.