The Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding works to cultivate awareness of religious and cultural diversity locally, domestically, and internationally. The educational and research goals of the institute serve two complementary objectives: to enhance religious and cultural literacy and to support reasoned analysis of religion in public discourse. The institute reaches beyond the borders of campus to effect change in the local community and beyond through the cultivation of both a physical and virtual presence.
William “Chip” Gruen, Ph.D.
William “Chip” Gruen, Ph.D. is professor of religion studies and the director of the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding. He has been the chair of the Department of Religion Studies for 8 years and also directs the faculty Humanities Seminar at Muhlenberg. He joined the campus community in 2006 after completing his doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania. He has also matriculated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Cincinnati, and the University of Kentucky.
Dr. Gruen has published in a wide variety of highly respected outlets, including the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha, Early Christianity, and Inside Higher Education. His current research considers how marginal religious groups are (mis)remembered and (mis)interpreted in source texts from antiquity. He is particularly concerned with the preservation and destruction of both textual traditions and objects of material culture and how the resulting incomplete record colors our view of the past.
More broadly, his interests include religions of the ancient Mediterranean, including Christianity, Judaism, and traditional religions of the Roman Empire. Additionally, both his teaching repertoire and publication record include theory and method in the study of religion and the discourses surrounding religion in the contemporary world.
His courses at Muhlenberg College cover the emergence and history of Christianity from its Jewish roots to the present. He also teaches theoretical and comparative courses that challenge students to consider religious belief and practice from new and inventive perspectives.
From the very particular to the highly theoretical, these topics inform a broad repertoire of presentation topics suitable for a wide variety of audiences.
Carrie Duncan, Ph.D.
Carrie Duncan, Ph.D. joined the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding as program specialist in May of 2020. After earning a B.A. in archaeology from Tufts University and an MA from Harvard University in Near Eastern languages and civilizations, she received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Dr. Duncan’s expertise is in the material culture of early Judaism and Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean, and she has worked as a senior field staff member on archaeological excavations in Israel, Italy, and Jordan. Prior to moving to the Lehigh Valley, Duncan taught for several years in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Missouri-Columbia. More recently she has done adjunct teaching at Lehigh University in the Anthropology/Sociology Department, teaching classes on the Archaeology of Pompeii and Archaeology of Jerusalem, as well as in the Religion Studies Department at Muhlenberg College, where offerings have included such courses as Christian Traditions and Divine Appetites.
Dr. Duncan’s programming experience derives from her work at the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies, as well as from her service as vice-president and president of the central Missouri society of the Archaeological Institute of America. In addition to her responsibilities in collegiate education and programming, Duncan is also an instructional specialist for Mizzou Academy, where she works one-on-one with international middle and high school students enrolled in multilingual classes including Speech, Debate, Global Citizenship, and Religion.
Media and Graphic Design Specialist
Christine Flicker is the media and graphic design specialist for the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding and administrative assistant for the Department of Religion Studies.
After earning a B.A. in Art and Graphic Design from California State University, Fresno, Christine spent several years as a graphic designer and website development director for a marketing agency. Her experience as a graphic designer offered an artistic perspective to her web development process, a perspective that will guide her work with the Institute. She is uniquely gifted at creating aesthetic and interesting designs that also accomplish the strategic goals as set forth for the Institute.
Prior to joining the Muhlenberg College community in 2018, Christine also spent more than a decade in market research fulfilling various account management, team management and operational leadership roles. In addition to handling the day to day customer satisfaction, loyalty and commitment research projects for a variety of clients, she built and maintained client relationships and provided client training for a proprietary data collection and reporting application.
Christine’s role as director of an online project management team was to ensure that the project managers were following best practices and managing projects as efficiently and effectively as possible. She provided coaching and direct project support as needed enabling successful completion of projects in addition to increased learning and experience within her team. As an operations leader in the early years of a startup market research company, Christine fulfilled an essential role in the strategy and planning of company structure, process, quality assurance standards, training requirements, staffing needs assessment and implementation of hiring plan, employee retention, and employee compensation.