UCSB religious studies professor Catherine Albanese and physics professor Anthony Zee were recently elected to be members of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences, making them two of just 33 UCSB scholars elected to the Academy since its founding in 1780.

With 250 Nobel Laureates and 60 Pulitzer Prize-winners in the Academy, the organization works to champion scholarship, foster civil dialogue and engage in independent research through its thousands of fellows and hundreds of foreign honorary members across the globe, according to its site. The two UCSB professors stand alongside 202 other new fellows elected to the Academy this year, with this list of scholars and researchers including winners of high honors such as the National Medal of the Arts, Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, as well as Grammy Awards, Oscars, Emmys and Tony Awards.

Chancellor Henry Yang said the AAAS includes thousands of scholars from a wide variety of academic disciplines, including over 4,600 Fellows and 600 Foreign Honorary Members, 250 Nobel laureates and 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Yang said he was proud UCSB professors were among those added to the impressive list of fellows.

“This year, AAAS named 204 new Fellows,” Yang said. “We are very proud that professors Albanese and Zee are among that distinguished group of scholars.”

Albanese is the J.F. Rowny Professor Emerita in Comparative Religions and Research and has been on the UCSB faculty since 1987. Specializing in religion of 19th- and 20th-century America, she also focuses on U.S. religion and culture, metaphysical religion in America, as well as religion and healing. Upon hearing about the award, Albanese said she was pleasantly surprised and grateful for the recognition.

“I am still in a state of shock about receiving it — enormously humbled and enormously gratified by it,” Albanese said.

Kathleen Moore, chair of the Religious Studies Department, said Albanese demands the best from her students and herself.

“She strikes fear in the hearts of graduate students,” Moore said. “Also, that reputation that she has for setting standards very high and setting standards high for herself led the department to support her selection as the chair of the department from 2005-2010. She has really committed herself.”

With the recent selection of Albanese, Moore said the award brings honor and prestige to the entire Religious Studies Department.

“The best way to understand the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is that it’s the who’s who of academia,” Moore said. “And when you have Cathy Albanese listed in the who’s who of academia, it really leaves a lasting impact and puts our department in very good standing.”

Zee, who joined UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Department of Physics in 1985, is considered a leader in particle theory, with his research specializing in high energy physics, field theory, cosmology, biophysics, condensed matter physics and mathematical physics. Humbled by the award, Zee said he is honored to be part of a society whose members include innovative pioneers like Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone.

“I’m really excited that it’s the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, so it includes all kinds of people from the arts, including the performing arts,” Zee said. “People like Bob Dylan and Woody Allen are in this academy.”

Zee said he was especially interested in meeting one particular member of the organization.

“I’m kind of excited that I might get to meet Al Pacino, and I’ll ask Michael Corleone to take care of my business,” Zee said.

The list of members in the Academy includes Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin and Ralph Waldo Emerson. This year’s class includes UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and actor Al Pacino as just some its new fellows.


A version of this story appeared on page 6 of Wednesday, April 30, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.