Rita Lester, Ph.D.

Professor of Religion
Gender and Sexuality Studies Program Director
Office location

Old Main 304

Office hours

Every weekday when I am not in classes, including 12-1 pm. If my office door is closed, email me at rlester [at] nebrwesleyan.edu (rlester[at]nebrwesleyan[dot]edu)

rlester [at] NebrWesleyan.edu

"The call is coming from inside the house!"


PhD in Religion, Northwestern University
MTS in Theology & Ethics, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
BA in Philosophy & Religion, Graceland University

Courses taught
  • First-Year Seminars
  • Religious Diversity in the U.S.
  • Apocalyptic Imagination in America
  • Constructing Religious Identity
  • Women and Religion
  • Judaism, Christianity and Islam
  • History of Christianity
  • World Religions
  • Contemporary Religious Studies
  • Religion, Peace and Social Justice
  • Medieval Women Writers
  • Religion in Human Experience
  • Literature and History of the New Testament 
Research and academic interests


"Accommodations", "Curriculum", "High-Impact Practices", and "Senior Seminar", in Teaching the Study of Religion: A Practical Guide for Undergraduate Classes, edited by Russell McCutcheon, Bloomsbury Academic, publication expected 2023.

"How Do You Solve a Problem like 'Religious Literacy'? Religious Literacy: Some Considerations and Reservations, edited by Steven Ramey, Brill, 2022. 

"Religious Freedom” in Stereotyping Religion: Critiquing Cliches vol. 2, edited by Brad Stoddard and Craig Martin, Bloomsbury Press, 2022. 

"Teaching Religions of the World without World Religions", The North American Association for the Study of Religion Working Papers, On the Subject of Religion: Charting the Fault Lines in a Field of Study, edited by Dennis LoRusso, Equinox Press, 2022. 

“Tradition is an Argument Worth Having: Feminist Christianity and the Study of World Religions”, Voices of Feminist Liberation, edited by Emily Silverman, Dirk von der Horst and Whitney Bauman (Equinox Press, 2012), 59-69. 

“Emma Smith and Reorganized Latter Day Saints,” Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, edited by Rosemary Skinner and Rosemary Ruether, University of Indiana Press, 2006.  

“The Nature of Nature:  Ecofeminism and Environmental Racism in America,” Gender, Ethnicity and Religion, edited by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Minneapolis Fortress Press, 2002, 230-247. 

Service interests

University Service:

  • Coordinator, Sex and Gender Thread
  • Strategic Planning for Teaching and Learning
  • Program Director Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • Faculty President
  • Chair of Philosophy and Religion
  • Chair of Arts & Humanities Division
  • Coordinator of Archway Curriculum Integrative Core Thread Chaos
  • Fulbright and Critical Language Scholarship Advisor
  • Academic Freedom and Academic Standards
  • Student Conduct/Judiciary 


Professional and community affiliations, certifications and awards

2022      Elected, Advisory Council, North American Association for the Study of Religion

2021      Virtual Global Engagement grant, with Encounter World Religions Centre, Dir. Brian Carwana

2020      Nominated for American Academy of Religion Excellence in Teaching Award

2020      NWU Advisor of the Year Award

2020      NWU Diversity and Inclusion, Most Influential Woman Faculty

2019      NWU Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant, Teaching Religion without World Religions Paradigm (with students Jacob Barrett and Ciara Eichhorst)

2018      Nominated by the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for the  Cherry Award for Great Teaching (Baylor University)

2018      NWU Faculty Mentor Award

2014      NWU Sabbatical, Encounter World Religions Centre , Toronto, Fall semester 

2014      Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Distinguished Alum Award (spoke at graduation)

2012      Professor of the Year (Nebraska), Carnegie Foundation for  Advancement of Teaching & Council for Advancement and Support of Education

2011      NWU Margaret J. Prouty Teaching Award

2010      Council of American Overseas Research Centers & Council of Independent Colleges, “Islam and Middle Eastern Culture”, Jordan, Jan. 1-23 (article here)

2008       YWCA, Women Eliminating Racism Award, Lincoln, NE 

2008       NWU Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant,  “Site Visits as Pedagogical Strategy" (with student Nicole Francavilla)

2007       NWU Sabbatical, Encounter World Religions Centre .Toronto,  Spring semester

2007       Contributing author, Women and Religion in North AmericaAmerican History Association Leland Award , 2001-2006 

2002       United Methodist Exemplary Teacher Award, NWU

2001       Harvard Pluralism Project Research Affiliate