Catherine Bell

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Catherine Bell (1953-2008) was a religious studies professor at Santa Clara University and an expert on ritual and Chinese religions. She completed a B.A. at Manhattanville College in 1975 and earned her M.A. (1976) and Ph.D (1983) in History of Religion from the University of Chicago Divinity School. She taught in Japan and completed post-doctoral work in Taiwan before joining the religious studies department at Santa Clara University in 1985. Bell was named the Bernard Hanley Professor of Religious Studies in 1998 and served as the chair of the department from 2000 until 2005. She retired from teaching in 2007 due to complications from multiple sclerosis. She passed away on May 23, 2008 at age 55.


Bell contributed to the fields of critical theory, history of Chinese religions, liturgical theology, ritual studies, and Scripture. Her published works include Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice (1992) and Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions (1997). She served as editor and contributor to Teaching Ritual (2007). An accomplished scholar and teacher, Bell was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the American Academy of Religion Book Award in the History of Religions, the Brutocao Award for Excellence in Curriculum Innovation, and the Godfrey Diekmann Award. In 2005, she was named Alumna of the Year by the University of Chicago Divinity School. Bell received fellowships and grants from the Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2007, Bell received a NEH fellowship to pursue the study of belief. The resulting manuscript, Believing and the Practice of Religion, was left unfinished at the time of her death.

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