Faculty and Fellows
Edward J. Larson, Director
Ed Larson holds the Hugh and Hazel Darling Chair in Law and is University Professor of History at Pepperdine University. Originally from Ohio with a Ph.D. in the history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and law degree from Harvard, Larson has lectured on all seven continents and taught at Stanford Law School, University of Melbourne, Leiden University, and the University of Georgia, where he chaired the History Department. Prior to becoming a professor, Larson practiced law in Seattle and served as counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in History and numerous other awards for writing and teaching, Larson is the author of nine books and over one hundred published articles. His books, which have been translated into over twenty languages, include An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science; A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign; Evolution's Workshop: God and Science in the Galapagos Islands; and the Pulitzer Prize winning Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. Larson's latest book, The Return of George Washington, was on the New York Times bestseller list in 2015. His articles have appeared in such varied publications as Nature, Atlantic Monthly, Science, Scientific American, Time, Wall Street Journal, American History, The Guardian, and dozens of academic journals.
A popular lecturer, Larson has taught short courses at universities in China, Europe, and South America; been a featured speaker at book festivals and the Chautauqua Institute; and given addresses at over 80 American universities. He was a resident scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Study Center; held the Fulbright Program's John Adams Chair in American Studies; participated in the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Writers and Artists Program; and served at an inaugural Fellow at the Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. A panelist on the National Institutes of Health's Study Section for Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues of the Human Genome Project, Larson often comments on issues of bioethics and science policy. He is interviewed frequently for broadcast, print, cable, and internet media, including The Daily Show, The Today Show, and multiple appearances on PBS, BBC, the History Channel, C-SPAN, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and NPR. Larson lives in Malibu with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking with friends, traveling with his family, and working in his garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Michael Helfand, Associate Director
Professor Helfand is currently an associate professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, where he has taught Contracts, Arbitration Law, and seminars in Law and Religion as well as Multiculturalism and the Law. Professor Helfand serves as the associate director of the Diane and Guilford Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies at Pepperdine University as well a member of the faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution. In addition, he serves as both an arbitrator and consultant for the Beth Din of America.Professor Michael (Avi) Helfand is an expert on religious law and religious liberty. A frequent author and lecturer, his work considers how U.S. law treats religious law, custom and practice, focusing on the intersection of private law and religion in contexts such as religious arbitration, religious contracts and religious torts. His academic articles have appeared in numerous law journals, including the Yale Law Journal, New York University Law Review, Duke Law Journal, Minnesota Law Review, Boston Law Review and University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law Review. In addition, Professor Helfand often provides commentary on clashes between law and religion, writing for various public audience publications, including the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the National Law Journal and the Forward as well as recently testifying before the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
Prior to assuming his position at Pepperdine, he was an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell, where his practice focused on complex commercial litigation. Before entering private practice, Professor Helfand clerked for the Honorable Julia Smith Gibbons of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Monica Osborne, Visiting Professor
Dr. Osborne is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies. Her work in Jewish
literary and cultural studies takes an interdisciplinary approach, addressing issues
including the ethics of representation, Midrash in a modern context, the Holocaust
and other collective tragedies, and, most recently, humor in the context of the Holocaust
and 9/11. Her work often draws from the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, and she is
a co-founder of the North American Levinas Society and an active participant in the
society's annual conferences.
Dr. Osborne completed her doctoral work at Purdue University, where she was also on the editorial staff of the journal Modern Fiction Studies. She completed a dissertation called "The Midrashic Impulse: Reading Fiction, Film, and Painting in the Face of the Shoah," in which she suggests that the problems we encounter in trying to represent the Holocaust may derive precisely from the nature of our attempts: namely, that we have persistently tried to re-present events that we acknowledge to be ineffable and unknowable, and yet that conclusion has only led us to reinitiate the representational attempt. The dissertation highlights this failure as a way of marking a non-representational impulse to which all literature and other artistic endeavors composed in the wake of the Holocaust necessarily bear witness in a more or less self-conscious way. She names this impulse "midrashic" to reflect both what the ancient rabbis designated as a certain response to gaps in the scriptural text, and what a growing number of theorists in literary study, Jewish study, and philosophic study have designated as a significant interpretative mode. The midrashic impulse is a capacity of all literature to document or witness the violent origins from which it comes. Dr. Osborne is currently finalizing a book manuscript that draws from the dissertation: The Midrashic Impulse and the Literary Response to Trauma.
Dr. Osborne is also a graduate of the Cornell School of Criticism and Theory (2007), and has written for Tikkun, The New Republic, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Religion and Literature, Studies in American Jewish Literature, Shofar, Modern Fiction Studies, MELUS, and Jewcy.com as well as various edited collections. Before coming to Pepperdine, Dr. Osborne was an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she worked with Dr. Eric Sundquist and taught classes in Jewish and American fiction, post-WWII German film, and the Holocaust. She has also taught at Loyola Marymount University and at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.
Drew W. Billings, Program Coordinator
Drew Billings teaches in the Religion and Philosophy Division at Pepperdine University. His research focuses on Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world and how material and political contexts shape religious interactions and developments. His dissertation, "In the Image of Empire: The Acts of the Apostles and Imperial Representations" focuses on the cultural identity and social positioning of Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire under the emperor Trajan (98-117 CE).
Billings has taught a variety of Religious Studies courses at McGill University (Montreal, QC), St. Michael's College (Colchester, VT), and Pepperdine University (Malibu and Buenos Aires). He has traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East, researching various archaeological sites from antiquity. Billings received his undergraduate and first master's degree from Cincinnati Christian University and a second master's degree from Columbia University-Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York. Billings is finishing his PhD from McGill University.