Varun Soni serves as Dean of Religious Life of USC and a CPD Faculty Fellow. In this role, he brings together the spiritual and scholarly resources of the university, provides moral and ethical leadership for the USC community, and works closely with the 70 student religious groups and the 35 Religious Directors on campus. He also oversees the Interfaith Council, organizes interdisciplinary events that explore religion broadly conceived, and leads ceremonial and memorial events. He is an advocate for the proposed Multi-Faith Center for Research, Reflection, and Practice and he remains a visible and vocal proponent of religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue at USC.
Dean Soni received his B.A. degree in Religion from Tufts University, where he also earned an Asian Studies minor and completed the Program in Peace and Justice Studies. He subsequently received his M.T.S. degree from Harvard Divinity School and his M.A. degree through the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He went on to receive his J.D. degree from University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, where he also completed the Critical Race Studies Program and served as an editor for the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law. He earned his Ph.D. through the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town, where his doctoral research focused on religion and popular culture. As an undergraduate student, Dean Soni spent a semester living in a Buddhist monastery in Bodh Gaya, India through Antioch University’s Buddhist Studies Program. As a graduate student, he spent months doing field research in South Asia through UCSB’s Center for Sikh and Punjab Studies.
Dean Soni is currently a University Fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center on Public Diplomacy and an Adjunct Professor at the USC School of Religion. He is the author of Natural Mystics: The Prophetic Lives of Bob Marley and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Figueroa Press, 2014) and his writings have appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Crosscurrents, Jewish Journal, and Harvard Divinity Bulletin. He produced the critically acclaimed graphic novel Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, which is currently being adapted as a feature length film. He also produced and hosted his own radio show on KPFK-Pacifica that showcased music from South Asia and its diaspora. In 2009, he was one of the organizers of the historic Concert for Pakistan, a benefit concert at the United Nations General Assembly Hall featuring Salman Ahmad, Sting, Outlandish, Jeff Skoll, Deepak Chopra, and Melissa Etheridge.
Dean Soni is a member of the State Bar of California, the American Academy of Religion, and the Association for College and University Religious Affairs. He is on the advisory board for the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, Journal for Interreligious Dialogue, Hindu American Seva Charities, Hindu American Foundation, Future45, and the Parliament of the World’s Religion. Prior to joining USC, Dean Soni spent four years teaching in the Law and Society Program at UCSB. Born in India and raised in Southern California, he has family on five continents and they collectively represent every major religious tradition in the world.