Plenary Speakers and Garden Sessions

The Religion and Spirituality in Society Conference will feature plenary sessions by some of the world’s leading thinkers and innovators in the field, as well as numerous parallel presentations, by researchers and practitioners. This year's plenary speakers include:


Steven Pfaff

Steven Pfaff (Ph.D. New York University, 1999) is Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington.  His research focuses on historical and comparative sociology, in particular religion and politics, social movements, and social change.   His book Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany (Duke University Press, 2006) was a study of the role of migration and collective action in the fall of Communism in 1989.  He has also written on religion and society in post-Communist Europe, on the diffusion of the Evangelical movement and the political economy of the Reformation in Central Europe, and on religion and contemporary politics.

Pfaff’s current research is in two directions.  The first explores spirituality and cultural change, in particular the role that spiritual innovation and virtuoso activism play in the genesis of new religious movements.  The second explores the reasons why people take part in radical and uncertain forms of collective action, ranging from contemporary student strikes to naval mutinies during the age of sail.

Pfaff teaches courses on the sociology of religion, sociological theory and comparative case-based methods in the social sciences.  In addition to his appointment in Sociology, he holds adjunct and affiliate appoints in Comparative Religion, Political Science, Germanics and in Scandinavian Studies.  He has served on the editorial boards of several journals and is actively involved in the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture (ASREC).  His work has been honored by the American Sociological Association, the Social Science History Association and the European Academy of Sociology.


RHYs williams

Rhys H. Williams (Ph.D. University of Massachusetts, 1988) is Professor and Chair of Sociology at Loyola University Chicago. His research interests focus on religion in American politics and culture, particularly focusing on religiously based social movements. He has written on both liberal and conservative social movements and his current research includes both a study of anti-immigration discourse and an edited collection on progressive religion and social activism. 

Williams has two current research projects in progress. One is a study of young adults' involvement with religious organizations, and the development of personal, social, and religious identity. He has been comparing young adult groups in white and black churches, and the involvement of second generation Muslim and Hindu immigrants in their religious institutions. The second is an examination of the public attitudes and political language about immigration and immigrants in contemporary American politics. He teaches both graduate and undergraduate classes in religion and society, religion in American politics, and sociological theory.

Along with research and teaching, he was co-editor of the journal Social Problems from 1996-99 and the editor of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion from 2003-08. In 2010 he was President of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and in 2012 he was President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.