Catherine Bell

Catherine Bell Named Alumna of the Year 2004


The Board of Trustees of the Baptist Theological Union has named Catherine M. Bell the Divinity School’s Alumna of the Year for 2004.

Bell is Bernard J. Hanley Professor and chair of the Religious Studies Department at Santa Clara University, where she has taught since 1985.

Born and raised in New York City, Bell attended Manhattanville College, where she double-majored in philosophy and religion, earning her B.A. in 1975. She went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. in History of Religions from the Divinity School in 1976 and 1983, respectively. Before joining the faculty at Santa Clara, Bell taught at Seishin Joshi Gakuin in Tokyo from 1982 to 1983, and the International University of Japan in Nigata in 1983.

Bell’s research interests include History of Religions methodology; ritual studies; Asian religions; and Chinese religions, including popular religion, religious tracts (shanshu), and printing and ritual.

Her published work looks at the role of text and rite in Chinese religion and, more broadly, the efficacy of ritual in religion in general. Her first book, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) won the American Academic of Religion’s best first book in the History of Religions award in 1994, and is considered a seminal text in the study of ritual.

A celebrated teacher, Bell has offered a variety of courses in her home institution. These have addressed: ways of understanding religion; Asian traditions; Buddhism; Chinese Religions; Japanese religions; magic, science, and religion; comparing fundamentalisms; gender and religion in Asian religions; ethical issues in Asian religions; and religion and violence, among other topics. In 1994, she was awarded the Brutocao Award for Excellence in Curriculum Innovation, Santa Clara’s highest award for teaching, designed to recognize those teachers who have had a deep and lasting impact on the lives of students.

In addition to being a great scholar and teacher, Bell is a skilled administrator, which she has demonstrated by chairing the Santa Clara Religious Studies Department since 2000.

Bell will deliver her Alumna of the Year address, “Theory, Palm Trees, and Mere Being,” at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 28, 2005, in Swift Lecture Hall.