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Michael Nilon

PhD 2020


  • University of Virginia - PhD Religious Studies (anticipated 2020)
  • Cliical Pastoral Education Resident, Baptist Health System (Fall 2020)
  • Clinical Pastoral Education Intern, Baycare Health System (Fall 2011)
  • Harvard Divinity School - MDiv (2010)
  • University of Florida - BA (2001)

Dissertation and Clinical Work

My dissertation explores the intersection of the Americanization of Zen and the medicalization of mindfulness practices through an experience-near engagement with Upaya Zen Center (UZC). Under the leadership of Roshi Joan Halifax, UZC has undertaken the reinvention of Zen traditions through a sustained dialogue with neurobiology in its chaplaincy training program, and I consider what this says about the history and legacy of liberal Protestant religion and secularization in pastoral care. I pay particularly close attention to how languages of science like psychology, ecology, and neurobiology serve as sources of translation that enable modernized Zen to cross over into socially differentiated biomedical spheres and enable the cultivation of caregiver virtues through spiritual practices.

Research Interests

  • How does the history of liberal Protestantism and humanistic psychology prime the field of clinical chaplaincy for the introduction of Zen neurobiology?
  • In what ways does the dialogue between Zen and neurobiology effect changes in practice of spiritual caregiving?
  • What are the positive, practical effects of the inclusion of Zen and mindfulness practice in medical institutions? Does the practice of Zen cultivate virtues that improve medical care?



  • Introduction to Eastern Religions, Fall 2017—T.A. for Michael Allen 

  • 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


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


  • 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

  • "The Aesthetics of Interpersonal Attunement in Spiritual Care” in Jefferson Journal of Science and Culture: Beauty and Aesthetic, Fall 2019
    • Described the neurobiology of attuned relationship in caregiving and its value as a basis for clinical engagements and social change more broadly.
  • “Auto-ethnography and Normativity”, Theological, Ethics and Culture Conference: “Religion, Normativity, and Method,” October 14, 2017
    •  Analyzed the implicit norms of empirical methodologies in the narrative turn and their programmatic function in structuring the constitution of knowledge
  • “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.