Graduate Students

The graduate students at the Department of Religion are a diverse group of intellectuals. Many of them come into the program with bachelor's degrees in Religion or Religious Studies, but others have done their previous academic training in related disciplines, such as Philosophy or International Studies. In addition to their formal classroom time, graduate students at the Department often spend a great deal of their free time in social settings together, where they continue to learn from one another. Our small department of only between one and two dozens graduate students is an optimal environment for friendships to blossom out of a common interest in studying world religions.

Kainat Bashir

Kainat Bashir
BA, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
(Religion with minor in Political Science, 2015)

Kainat's areas of academic interest includes Christianity and Islam. She aims to study the confluence between various Islamic traditions and Catholic mysticism in Pakistan. Her aim is to expand her horizon of knowledge in the field of religion and its impact on culture and politics in various South Asian societies.


Amanda Candens

Amanda Candēns
BA, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (Hawaiian Studies, 2015)

Amanda's interests include Animism, Daoism, Śāktism, prehistoric fertility veneration, polytheistic traditions, and new religious movements.  Her areas of focus are on pedagogy in religion and cross-cultural research on female deities within a global context from 40,000 BCE to the present day.



Laura Dunn

Laura Dunn
BA, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (Religion, 2012)

Laura studies Indian religions with a primary focus on the Śakta-Tantric traditions of India while maintaining an avid interest in yogic mysticism. Her research is on the goddess Chinnamastā’s meaning and significance in modern Tantric thought and practice. She studied Sanskrit for three years and is currently learning Hindi.



Charissa Fabia
BA, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (Religion, 2010)

Charissa is a graduate student specializing in indigenous religions. She is currently focusing on Hawaiian religion but is also conducting a research project investigating the religious dimension of healing.



Audrey Hungerpiller

Auddie Hungerpiller
MA, University of South Carolina (English, 2014)
BA, University of the South (English, 2012)

Auddie studies Buddhism with a primary focus on the contemporary manifestations of the Theravada and Zen traditions. Her work is largely informed by her prior studies in Restoration and 18th Century British literature, particularly in narrative semiotics, and trauma theory.


Richard Kaaialii

Keola Kaaialii
BA, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (History of the Pacific, 2015)

Keola is currently interested in all Polytheistic religions, focusing on the function of religion in native Hawaiian politics. Keola has grown up on the homestead of Nanakuli with most of his hobbies in the water such as Surfing, Fishing, Diving, and Music.



Joanna Kim

Joanna Kim
BA, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (Religion, 2013)

Joanna is studying East Asian Buddhism, particularly Korean Buddhism. Her current research focuses on the development of the Jogye Order after the end of the Japanese occupation through the Presidency of Park Chung Hee. Joanna is also interested in indigenous traditions and in their intertwining with transplant religions.


Aaron Leonardi

Aaron Leonardi
BA, Humboldt State University (Philosophy, 2013)

Aaron studies Chinese Religious and Philosophic traditions. His research at Mānoa is primarily focused in Chinese Buddhist literature and thought relating to Buddhist Ethics. Aaron is currently also continuing to learn classical Chinese to enhance his work with primary texts.


Monica McConnell
BA, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
(English with minor in Religion, 2015)

Monica's academic interests are in Hawaiian Religion, Indian Religions and Christianity. Her area of focus is on Hawaiian moʻolelo. She is currently studying Hawaiian language to assist her in her research.



Sameer Vyas
BA, University of Western Ontario
(World Religions and Cultures, 2013)

Sameer studies Indian religious and philosophical traditions, and his primary area of focus is on the non-dual tradition of Advaita Vedanta. His current research involves comparing and analyzing the teachings and understanding of the Self through the perspectives of three Advaitin teachers: Adi Shankara (8th century CE), Ramana Maharshi (20th century CE), and Mooji (21st century CE). Sameer also has an abiding interest in: the nature of self-identity, consciousness, mysticism, and contemporary religious and spiritual movements. He is also currently studying Sanskrit to assist in his research.