Religious Studies / Center for Religious Understanding

Varner Hall, Room 217
371 Varner Drive
Rochester, MI 48309-4485
(location map)
(248) 370-2154

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Faculty and Instructors

Director: Henri Gooren

Sub-program Directors:

Christianity Studies: Randall Engle
Islamic Studies: Malik Balla
Judaic Studies: Michael Pytlik

Judaic Studies

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Ian Greenspan is a special lecturer for the Department of History. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley. His major fields were Early Modern and Modern Europe, Religious and Ethnic Conflict and Violence, Antisemitism, and Propaganda. He teaches The Jewish Experience in American Life and The Holocust. Contact:

Rabbi Joseph Klein, holding a microphone.

Joseph Klein is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanu-El (Oak Park MI). In addition to teaching at OU he is Adjunct Professor at Rochester University, teaches in the Jewish Federation's JLearn Adult Education program, and is Visiting Rabbi of the Grosse Pointe Jewish Council.

A headshot of Mike Pytlik.

Mike Pytlik, Director of Judaic Studies, teaches The Archaeology of Israel, God Through Jewish History, Written Tradition of Judaism, Intro. to Judaism, and Monotheistic Mysticism.  He is a frequent traveler to Israel, and has participated in several excavations in Israel. Since 2009 he has organized and leads a group of OU students to Israel for a tour and excavation field school. Students interested in this program should consider the Archaeology of Israel courses and contact Mike by early January if they wish to go on the trip.  He is interested in the formation of the Israelite state, the development of the synagogue, Jewish Theology, Hebrew and the archaeology of Israel.  He is very active in the Jewish community, is involved in Christian and Muslim Jewish dialogue groups.  Mike is also the current faculty adviser for the Jewish Student Organization on campus. Mike holds a Doctor of Science in Jewish Studies from Spertus College, as well as a masters in Jewish Studies and a bachelor's degree in History. Contact:

Islamic Studies

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Malik Balla is director of Islamic Studies and Adjunct Associate Professor of Arabic with the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. He holds a Ph.D. in Education from Michigan State University. His main research interests are language pedagogy, Sudanese higher education, subjects related to Sudan, African and political issues and human rights. Contact:

A headshot of Aly M. Lela

Aly M. Lela is a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic Studies at the Oriental Institute of Oxford University in the U.K.. He holds an M.A. in Near Eastern Civilizations and Languages from Wayne State University and a B.A. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Cairo University. He is the lead imam of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit (IAGD) in Rochester Hills, MI. Key research interests include modern and pre-modern Islamic law and jurisprudence, Islamic legislation and ethics and contemporary Islamic thought. Courses: Introduction to Islam, Controversial Islam, Islamic Ethics, Islam in America, and Islam in the Modern World. Contact:

Christianity Studies

A headshot of Randall Engle.

Randall D. Engle is director of Christianity studies program at Oakland University. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wales as well as a Master of Theology, Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota and a Master of Divinity from Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is currently Adjunct Professor At Detroit Ecumenical Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor at North Hills Christian Reformed Church in Troy, Michigan. His Bachelor of Arts from Calvin College was in Music where he received the Anna Brunsma Award in Music and the Senior Research award.  He is past Trustee on the Calvin College Board of Trustees and past President of the Choristers Guild national Board of Directors. Contact:

A headshot of Charles Mabee

Charles Mabee holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate School (Claremont, CA) and the Master of Divinity from Dubuque Theological Seminary. Previously, he held teaching and administrative positions at Radford University and Marshall University. He has authored two books on biblical interpretation in the American context. His current research interests include theology of peace/post-apocalyptic theology, and the development of a new interreligious grammar. He can be reached at or 248-370-2154. Courses: Introduction to Religion, World Religious Traditions, Religion in the Modern World, Religion in America, and Religion and Science.

Religious Studies

A headshot of Kevin Hickey

Kevin Hickey (Venerable Bup Mee 法尾) M.A., is a Zen Buddhist priest and President and Co-Founder of The Institute for Contemporary Buddhist Ministry ( Kevin is ordained in the Korean Buddhist Taego Order and serves as the Secretary-General for the America-Europe Parish. Kevin holds a graduate degree in Linguistics and undergraduate degrees in Political Science/East Asian Studies and Buddhist Studies. Kevin also teaches in the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies Program and is a regular special guest lecturer for the Oakland University William Beaumont Medical School. Kevin is the staff Palliative Care Chaplain for Beaumont Health (Royal Oak), where he leads several meditation programs and is a Clinical Instructor for the M1 Spirituality Rounds. Kevin has been active in the Detroit metropolitan interfaith community, serving as a founding board member and conference organizer for The Institute of Engaged Hospitality and has made several appearances on the local PBS affiliate television program Interfaith Odyssey. Kevin is passionate and dedicated to innovative and contemporary approaches to Buddhist teaching and practice with a particular focus on the theory and practice of spiritual care, communication and language, inter-religious relationships, and end-of-life dynamics. Contact:

A headshot of Dr. Shalini Jayaprakash

Dr. Shalini Jayaprakash, a Special Lecturer in the Religious Studies Program, teaches REL300: Introduction to Hinduism. She holds a PhD in English literature from the JNT University, Hyderabad, India. Her research interests include Hinduism, Gender and Religion in India, intersections of gender and caste, and South Asian women’s issues and literature. She also teaches as a Special Lecturer in the International Studies Program and teaches the course IS240: Introduction to India. Contact: