Faculty Instructor

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Faculty leader Vivian-Lee Nyitray (Ph.D. Stanford, 1990) is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at UC Riverside.  Before being drafted to UCR, she taught at Swarthmore College, Central Michigan University, Barnard College/Columbia University.  Although her research focuses on the religions of China, her association with the Netherlands dates back to 1975, when she was a Syracuse University study abroad student in Amsterdam. From 1979-82 (and again in 1997), Professor Nyitray lived in Taiwan, working with IUP/ National Taiwan University.  Professor Nyitray was the resident EAP Study Center Director in the Netherlands from 2002-04 and again from 2006-07; since 2009, she has served as the EAP Faculty Consultant for the Netherlands. As a consultant to California’s Boards of Education, Professor Nyitray offers workshops for K-12 teachers on the diversity of post-1965 religion in America and on American civil religion.  She loves dogs, collects religious kitsch, and once won a stand-up comedy competition.

Program Assistant

One foot in the Netherlands, one foot in Germany — Photo by Melissa Hackel

Program Assistant Shady Grove Oliver (M.Sc. Columbia, 2012) is a private pilot, recovering synchronized swimmer, and three-time veteran of UC EAP (Utrecht, Netherlands-Fall ’05, Potsdam, Germany-Spring ’06, Alcala de Henares, Spain-Fall ’06).  As a UCR undergrad she studied Foreign Languages and Religious Studies.  After graduating, she got her EMT certification and moved up to Alaska where she spent a season living on top of a mountain in an abandoned gold mine working as a Natural History Interpreter for AK State Parks.  Heading to Southeast Alaska, she then got a job as the interim program director, morning news host, and occasional multimedia reporter for the public radio station KCAW Sitka.  She relocated to New York City in 2010 to pursue a graduate degree in Narrative Medicine.  While in the Big Apple, she was a world music/folk/bluegrass deejay and arts interviewer for WKCR FM New York, and bartender.  She currently lives in Riverside and is a blogger about spontaneous shrines.


Erin with her husband, Brian

From Erin Stehli:

“I am a returning student who took a 10 year hiatus between high school and college to get married, begin raising my children, and work hard outside of school.  Then, just when things seemed to be getting easier (my children were in school full time) I decided I needed more of a challenge…so I decided to go back to college, and major in Biology. I guess I’m a sucker for punishment. I am excited to experience new cultures and learn more about the world’s religions as we embark on this new adventure together!”

From Angelique Shivers:

“I am a proud junior transfer student at UC Berkeley. This is my second semester at Cal and studying abroad is on my list of must-do-things before leaving Cal.  I have never taken a religion course and hope to be enlightened.  The reading list looks intriguing and I look forward to learning more about myself, the people I encounter and the places that I hope to be welcomed by.  Also, I just wanna have fun! See you all abroad!”

With Thoreau at Walden Pond in Massachusetts

Jason Cardenas is currently an undergrad at UCR double-majoring in history and religious studies. He served eight years in the U.S. Army where he deployed twice in support of both Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. During his peacetime service he worked as a military policeman, community event coordinator, and logistics analyst. After his service and world travels, he decided to return to school to pursue his interests in religion and culture and will soon start his graduate program at USC for social work this fall. As a hobby he collects religious figurines and art, visits religious temples and shrines, and plays hockey when time allows.

With the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Perla Estrada is an undergrad at UCR double-majoring in political science and anthropology. She has always been fascinated with learning about different cultures and languages. She studied abroad in Brasil last winter for four months and immediately became passionate about traveling. Although this will be her first religious studies course, she hopes to gain a better understanding of how religion has played a role in western political societies.

In front of De Valk in Leiden, Netherlands – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Cori Knight is starting the third year of her PhD program in Religious Studies at UC Riverside. She’s interested in American Civil Religion, American religion & literature, and religion & pop culture (Want to know about anything having to do with Futurama? Just ask!). She sees this trip as the last great adventure before buckling down to study for her exams, which are based in part on American Civil Religion. She’s also planning on keeping a weather eye out for the ever-elusive Chick Tracts as part of her side research with colleague and fellow RLST PhD student Sean Sagan.

On top of the Domtoren in Utrecht, Netherlands – Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Andrew Rivera is a 4th year Religious Studies undergraduate at UCR. Since his late teen years he has had an interest in the religious practices and cultures of countries throughout the world, especially European countries–so this trip seemed like a terrific opportunity to gain first-hand exposure. During his free time he enjoys walking his dogs, hiking, and playing basketball.

Cori, Shady, Prof. Nyitray, Angelique, Erin, Andrew, Jason, Perla

  1. VL Nyitray says:

    Wow! What an interesting bunch we are! This course will be enriched by all your varied experiences and interests. I look forward to learning from you all!

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