The staff in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity.

Professor Ari Goldman has taught the “Covering Religion” course at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism every spring for the past 17 years, preparing his students to write about religion for a diverse readership. This year’s course looks at the religions of the Holy Land, including the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sufi, Bahai and Druze faiths. The class includes a 10-day trip to the Holy Land in which students put their expertise to work by studying the workings of faith in a region where it is a developing story. This trip is sponsored by the Scripps Howard Foundation which has subsidized class trips for over a decade to India, Israel, the American South, Moscow and Kazan, Moscow and Kiev, Israel and Ireland. To see previous classes’ websites, click here.

Meet our Reporters
Zohreen Adamjee covers Progressive Judaism. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from UCLA. Right after college, she worked in the scripted television divisions at Fox Broadcasting and Creative Artists Agency. After spending over two years in entertainment, she discovered that her true passion was in news. In 2010, she began writing for the technology blog at the Los Angeles Times and reviewing the latest innovations in digital media. She also hosted podcasts for the Times’ website. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in broadcast journalism at Columbia University.

See all stories by Zohreen Adamjee.
Jacob Anderson covers the Bahai. He grew up near Houston, Texas and was a school teacher for several years. He considers it a major accomplishment to have taught every grade from pre-kindergarten to high school. Jacob left teaching in 2008 to begin reporting for Chicago Public Radio. He also produced radio documentaries from Pakistan and Italy, and in 2010 he worked with Re:sound, a documentary radio show from the Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago.

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Gray Beltran covers Eastern Orthodox Christianity with an emphasis on the Armenian community both in New York City and in the Holy Land. He is also one of the site’s webmasters. He studies digital media at Columbia Journalism School and has a bachelor’s degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. A native of Southern California, his writing has appeared in the Orange County Register and OC Weekly. During college, he studied abroad in Córdoba, Spain, a city that was once a great center of Muslim, Christian and Jewish culture. He can be reached at

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Kelly Boyce covers the Mormons. She works as the administrative coordinator for the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in print journalism at the Columbia Journalism School. She is also a 2011 FASPE Fellow.

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Sumit Galhotra is covering Shia Islam. Prior to beginning the MS program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Sumit earned his MA in Human Rights Studies from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. His areas of focus include South Asia, genocide studies, feminism and minority rights. Prior to his time at Columbia, Sumit served as a William J. Clinton Fellow in Bangalore, India where he worked on minority rights. He earned his undergraduate degree in international relations and journalism from New York University. In the past, he has interned with Human Rights Watch, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law and the Advocacy Lab. Sumit is an Indian-Afghan American from New York City.

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Simone Gorrindo is currently earning her M.S. at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. In 2005, she graduated from New School University’s Eugene Lang College, and has since bounced between her native San Francisco, New York City, and Annapolis, Maryland. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including the Tremont Tribune, Brooklyn Eagle, and Bay Weekly, the Chesapeake region’s independent newspaper. An avid traveler, she gains and loses language skills yearly, and longs to make it back to the rain forests of Indonesia. In her spare time, she writes music and searches out the last of the living who still read poetry.

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Heather Higgins covers the Modern Orthodox Jewish community. She grew up in Bryn Mawr, Pa. and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in International Relations. She went on to pursue a Master of Arts in Eastern European History and Politics at Columbia University. During her time at Columbia, she wrote extensively about the clash of religions and displacement of people during the 20th century. In addition to her academic research, Heather was a nationally ranked figure skater and silver medalist at the United States Figure Skating Championship. She has parlayed her love of skating into a second career by teaching figure skating lessons at New York City’s Wollman Rink. You can follow her on Twitter @HeatherMHiggins.

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Raksha Kumar covers Sufi Islam and is the site’s editor. She is a television journalist from India. She has worked for three years in New Delhi Television, India’s premier TV channel and for four years in All India Radio. She graduated in journalism from Delhi University. Travelling is her only religion, and she has travelled quite extensively across India and other parts of the world. She also loves to swim in cold lakes in the country. Music intoxicates her more than any alcohol. The only campaign she supports and advocates is ‘Free Hugs.’

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Niharika Mandhana covers Sunni Islam. She is a print concentrator at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism where she has taken to the fascinating world of multimedia work. She is the site’s photo editor. She is a law graduate with first class honors from Bangalore, India with a keen interest in constitutional, religious and international law. Niharika has worked for two and a half years as an education and youth reporter for an English language daily called Bangalore Mirror and has done internships at Deccan Herald and the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Center. Her work has appeared in New America Media, Queens Chronicle and She can be reached at

See all stories by Niharika Mandhana.
Dennis Murphy covers Roman Catholicism. He is a broadcast journalism concentrator at Columbia and a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a B.A. in communication in 2010. He has interned at Fox News, working both the channel’s newscast Studio B with Shepard Smith and on the the Fox Nation website. He can be reached at

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Luis Perez covers the Druze. Luis delivers the “good news” as a pastor on Sundays, and he uses more traditional reporting and writing techniques to share news beyond the church pews the rest of the week. He was a Yale University President’s Public Service Fellow at the Yale Divinity School and reported for The New Haven Register, The Hartford Courant and El Nuevo Hudson, where he received First Place Spot News Award and The Hildy Johnson Award of Journalism, both in May of 1997, for team-coverage of a train derailment incident.

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Maquita Kyria Monisa Peters covers the Evangelical Protestants. A journalist from the beautiful island of Barbados, she worked for several years in newspaper, radio, television and public relations before migrating to New York in 2006 to attend CUNY City College. There, Maquita earned a BA in Media and Communication Arts and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude. That degree landed her jobs in advertising, public relations and non-profit organizations. But Maquita missed the fast-paced energy of the newsroom and after a six-month stint at WCBS 880 AM, she decided to pursue a Master’s degree at the Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Maquita’s hobbies include cooking, listening to Reggae, reading Stephen King, playing chess, doing crosswords and enjoying the sights of NYC with her friends. See all stories by Maquita Peters.
Benjamin Preston covers Sephardic Jews. He comes to the Columbia community from Santa Barbara, California, where he was a staff reporter for the alt weekly Santa Barbara Independent. Having covered a range of topics including the environment, water resources, Jewish community news, and military affairs, his work has appeared in a number of publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Booklyn Eagle, Miller-McCune Magazine, the Las Vegas Weekly, and the Surfer’s Path, among others. No stranger to the Middle East, Ben traveled to Iraq in 2009 to cover a Santa Barbara-based U.S. Army Civil Affairs unit.

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Zahra Raja covers the Chabad-Lubavitch. She was born in England and raised in Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Kenya. After graduating from the Heritage School in Harare, she moved to the Middle East to study Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Jordan in Amman. She then read Theology and the Study of Religion at Oxford. Zahra edited her school magazine in Pakistan, worked for her university paper in Oxford and interned at the Reuters East Africa Bureau. Zahra enjoys debating, rowing and mountaineering; she’s even climbed the two highest peaks in Africa. She is a Fulbright scholar at Columbia.

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Yardena Schwartz covers the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Hailing from Parsippany, New Jersey, Yardena graduated from the University of Delaware in 2008, where she was a founding editor of the online music magazine aUDio. In January 2008 she traveled to New Hampshire with The New York Times to report on the presidential primary, and has since worked in news production in New York at ABC News and NBC’s Today Show. You can follow Yardena on Twitter at @yardenas.

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Chiara Sottile is a multimedia journalist covering the Coptic Orthodox Church. She is one of the site’s webmasters. Previously Chiara reported for The Associated Press in Rome (and got back in touch with her Italian roots). She hails from wine country, California, and got her start as a senior news reporter for Daily Bruin Television at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). There she was awarded a Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists in the general news reporting category. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA in 2009 with a degree in political science and public policy. Her experience also includes internships at MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” KABC-TV, and GOOD Magazine. Two of her loves are Final Cut Pro and the city of London. She hopes to continue multimedia reporting after she graduates from Columbia. Follow her on Twitter.See all stories by Chiara Sottile.
Meet our Professors
Professor Ari L. Goldman, a former religion correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of three books, including the best-selling “The Search for God at Harvard.” He was born in Hartford, Conn., and was educated at Yeshiva University, Columbia and Harvard. Professor Goldman is a former dean of students at the J School. He has been a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in England and a Visiting Fulbright Professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has been teaching the “Covering Religion” seminar since 1993.
Visiting professor Gershom Gorenberg is the author, most recently, of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977. A senior correspondent for The American Prospect, has also written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy and in Hebrew for Ha’aretz. He blogs at When not teaching at Columbia, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife, journalist Myra Noveck, and his three children.
Cynthia Bernstein (TA) is currently a candidate for a Masters of International Affairs at The Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). At SIPA she studies Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, and serves as a student head of the Human Rights concentration, as well as the Book Review Editor for the Journal of International Affairs. Cynthia focuses her academic studies on transitional societies and the use of history and education to sustain peace. She is particularly interested in the use of religion to promote dialogue and peace and has traveled extensively to study these concepts. Cynthia is thrilled to be joining the class for the second year and can be reached at
Scholar-in-Residence Ophir Yarden teaches Jewish and Israel studies at Brigham Young University in Jerusalem. He is a lecturer at Yad Vashem, the Swedish Theological Institute and other Christian institutions in Israel and has spoken at many American Universities. His research interest is in contemporary Israeli culture’s relationship to its classical past. Ophir is Director of the Center for Interreligious Encounter with Israel of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI). He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and their 4 children.
Photos by Lacey Johnson, a student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.