Elena V. Kravchenko

Lecturer in Religious Studies
PhD, University of Texas at Austin
research interests:
  • Religion and Material Culture
  • Diasporic Religion / Trans-Atlantic Christianity / Orthodox Christianity in the United States
  • Embodiment, Agency and Subjectivity in the Study of Religion
  • Religion, Gender, Race and Ethnicity
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contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
  • CB 1065
  • One Brookings Drive
  • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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Dr. Kravchenko's research and teaching interests includes theory and methods in Religious Studies (including material culture) as well as diasporic religion, trans-Atlantic Christianity and Orthodox Christianity in the United States.

Kravchenko's current research is a continuation from her dissertation, Orthodox Women in America: The Making of a Liberal-Conservative Subject. Her multi-lingual, multi-site, three-year ethnographic study explored the religious lives of contemporary Russian immigrant women in the United States and American women who convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. This fall she presented two papers at the annual American Academy of Religion conference. The first was titled, "Protestants and Iconography in the United States: Of Commodities and Social Reform." The second was titled "To be Black and Orthodox: African Saints and Reconfiguration of Religion and Race."

She teaches the required courses for the Religious Studies major and major: Thinking About Religion, an introductory course that explores questions such as “what is religion and how can we study it?” and Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion, an advanced course which continues exploring the question, “What is religion?” by considering classic and contemporary theories in Religious Studies. She also teaches a variety of courses on religion such as: Religion in the Kitchen; Religion, Transnationalism and Diaspora; Global Christianities; and Material Religion.

Dr. Kravchenko serves as the faculty advisor for Theta Alpha Kappa, the National Honor Society in Religious Studies and Theology and works with senior majors to prepare for the annual senior symposium.

Recent Courses

Thinking About Religion

Nearly everyone has had some experience with something they would call "religion," from at least a passing familiarity through the media to a lifetime of active participation in religious communities. But what do we actually mean when we use the word? What is a religion? What does it mean to call something a religion, or "religious"? And what does it mean to study religion, given the slipperiness of the concept itself? This course offers an introduction to the academic study of religion through a consideration of these questions: What is religion, and how can we study it? Do we need an answer to the first question to pursue the second? Why, and toward what ends, might we undertake such study? We will also consider what is at stake in our investigation and inquiry into religion-for the inquirers, for the subjects of inquiry, and for society more broadly-and what kind of lens the study of religion offers us on ourselves, our neighbors, and society, in turn. To these ends, we will discuss major theoretical approaches to the study of religion and significant work on religions and religious phenomena, toward a better understanding of what "religion" might be and how it might be studied today. No prior knowledge or experience of religion, religions, or anything religious is expected or required. This course is required for Religious Studies majors and minors.

    Topics in Religious Studies: Religion in the Kitchen

    The kitchen is home to food preparation and everyday conversations, not a privileged place of formal religious rites. But much can be learned about religion by focusing our analytical gaze on this seemingly benign space. By expanding the focus of where, and how, we study religion, the kitchen is revealed as a remarkably unstable social space. In this course we will consider questions such as: Is the kitchen constructed as a sacred, profane, or an in-between space? How is the kitchen gendered? Is it perceived as a dominantly female (or male) space, and under what conditions of power? How is food used to construct religious or racial identity, and why is it so powerful? Are kitchen practices cultural or religious activities? And who identifies kitchen work as an authentic (or inauthentic) religious practice? To answer these questions, we will consider a variety of religious, and not-so-religious, traditions within North America.

      Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion

      What is religion, and how can we study it? Do we need an answer to the first question to pursue the second? Why, and toward what ends, might we undertake such study? This course considers these questions through the investigation of significant attempts to study religion over the past century, paying particular attention to the methods, motivations, and aims of these works. Is the study of religion an effort to disprove or debunk it, or perhaps to support it? What would each mean? Is it an effort to describe the indescribable, or perhaps to translate complex beliefs and practices into a language in which they can be discussed by others? Why would such a translation be helpful, and to whom? Is the study of religion an investigation of a social phenomenon, an organization of communities, a specific formation of individuals, or perhaps a psychosis or illusion, evidence of the workings of power on our lives and the difficulty of bearing it? What is at stake in defining religion in these ways, and then in undertaking its study? In this course, we will discuss major theoretical approaches to the study of religion in relation to these questions and others, toward a better understanding of what religion might be and how it might be studied today. NOTE: This course is required for Religious Studies majors and minors. It is recommended that this course be taken after completion of L23 102 Thinking About Religion.

        Material Religion

        This seminar examines contemporary theories and approaches to materiality in the study of religion. Particular attention is given to how scholars envision the relationship between bodies, rituals, religious objects and human ability to think, know and act in the world. By attending to a variety of "things" - prints, icons, ritual clothes, food, incense - and to the history of their use within such traditions as Islam, Buddhism, Candomblé, Lucumí, and Christianity this course seeks to provide students with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with contemporary studies that take seriously the power of material objects to make and sustain religion. This course is simultaneously designed to allow students to practice utilizing material culture as a method in their own research.

          Current Research

          African-American Orthodox Christianity in the Contemporary United States

          Selected Publications

          "Becoming Eastern Orthodox in Diaspora: Materializing Orthodox Russia and Holy Rus’." Religion 48:1, 37-63.
          "Icon of Mary," An Online Journal of the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion, 2014. http://mavcor.yale.edu/conversations/object-narratives/icon-mary