Michael Nilon

Doctoral Student


  • Ph.D Religious Studies, University of Virginia, (anticipated 2020)
  • Clinical Pastoral Education Intern, Baycare Health System, Fall 2011
  • M.Div. Harvard Divinity School, 2010
  • B.A. University of Florida, 2001


The dissertation proposal I am pursuing will consider how caregivers, biomedical personnel, chaplains, and family members in healthcare institutions and homes persons suffering from illnesses aspire to and  achieve good health through embodied practices amidst the presence of socially significant others (human and extra-human) in hospital chaplaincy and Afro-cuban religion in a Floridian urban context. I take both hospital chaplaincy and Afro-cuban religion as forms of practical and discursive tradition that inscribe and inculcate transposable dispositions and chains of active reflection in healers who learn curative and palliative arts in these historically long standing collective projects.

Research Interests

I find myself increasingly drawn to consider how human actors attempt to achieve health in the body and what this says about contemporary concepts of what a human being is and how human beings come to invent and reinvent their complex identities as a collective social process. These interests arise out of my own and family struggles to achieve and maintain health across spiritual, biological, psychological, and social dimensions.
  • Embodied practices (i.e. worded prayers, mutual storytelling, sitting in close proximity or physical touching) of healing (both biomedical treatment and practices that humanize suffering) and immersive research methodologies in local healing contexts
  • The problem of the self, person, and individual in social science discourse and in spiritually inflected healing practices (What is the basic unit of analysis in social science research and discourse with respect to religious healing?)
  • Writing the self and experiencing the self—discrepancies in modalities of self-building as self-knowing
  • Teaching

    University of Virginia

    • Buddhist Meditation and Modern World, Spring 2017—T.A. for James Gentry and Leslie Hubbard

    • Islam in Africa, Spring 2016—T.A. for Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton

    • Afro-creole Religions, Fall 2015—T.A. for Jalane Schmidt

    Other Teaching

    • Maureen Joy Charter School Literacy Instructor for Children with Special Needs, August 2012 to June 2014

    Pedagogical Projects

    • Center for Teaching Excellence Course Design Institute—co-designed “The World is Our Laboratory” (Undergraduate Anthropological Methods) with Ira Bashkow, Summer 2016
      • Created an experiential education curriculum that taught ethnographic method and culminated in a community based project to remodel the Alderman Library.
    • Ethnographic Methods Consultant for Religion and Conflict Value Predicate Analysis Project for Peter Ochs, Summer 2016
      • Designed and taught a series of six modules on ethnographic methodology to 10 undergraduate interns conducting research in eight religious communities in Charlottesville.
    • Facilitator Washington Mandela Fellows Program (Young African Leaders Initiative), Summer 2015

    Fellowships and Awards

    • Gregory L. and Nancy H. Curl Jefferson Fellowship, University of Virginia, Fall 2014 to Spring 2020

    • South Atlantic Fellow, University of Virginia, Spring 2015

    • Reverend Theodore H. Wilson Bequest, Harvard Divinity School, Fall 2007 to Spring 2010.

    Papers Presented

    • “Ethics and Healing in Palo Monte and Regla de Ocha”, Jefferson Foundation Fellows Weekend Presentation, March 21, 2016
      • Described the interaction of two Afrocuban religions as traditions of healing work.
    • “Imagining Galeno-Islamic Medicine: Balancing Ethics and Healing”, Jefferson Foundation Forum Interdisciplinary Dialogue 2015: “Ethics and Development,” September 21, 2015
      • Compared the meaning making projects of medieval Islamic doctors to novel projects in current biomedicine that attempt to humanize care through storytelling.