A Brief History of the Study of Religion at the University of Tennessee

I wrote this history of changes in the academic study of religion at the University of Tennessee: both macro changes in the climate where we worked and internal transformations within that climate.   The department faculty voted not to publish it, so I am posting it here.  I do so primarily to share the fruits of my labor with … Continue reading A Brief History of the Study of Religion at the University of Tennessee

12 Songs for Christmas: I Got So High That I Saw Jesus

 Little by little, I have come to a realization that (as a commentator on a youtube thread articulated it) “Holy shit, I think I’m a Miley Cyrus fan.”  It’s been a long time coming, and by no means implies interest in everything she’s ever done. If you think this sounds absurd, click on this link, … Continue reading 12 Songs for Christmas: I Got So High That I Saw Jesus

12 Songs for Christmas: Kanye’s Christmas Opera

A year ago, Kanye West was in the news because he had premiered a high-concept and well-publicized Christmas “opera” at Lincoln Center. I wrote about it then, and today I am bringing this earlier reflection back so that people have another chance to find it. I do this, in part, because of how interestingly this … Continue reading 12 Songs for Christmas: Kanye’s Christmas Opera

12 Songs for Christmas: “Every Star Shall Sing a Carol (new millennium peace version)”

Trigger warning! I am the sort of geek who actually cares both about schisms among subtypes within subtypes of Calvinists (Presbyterian and Congregationalist) in the antebellum US (which mattered for things like ending slavery and the ongoing curricula of US liberal arts colleges) as well as which factions of the academic left have a correct … Continue reading 12 Songs for Christmas: “Every Star Shall Sing a Carol (new millennium peace version)”

Pros, Cons, and Whiplash: Studying American Religions from a Home Base in Religious Studies

In the first and second sections of this three-part post—introduced here and expanded from my article in the Encyclopedia of American Religion—I sketched the contours of the academic study of religion (ASR), or Religious Studies, and discussed tensions among its creation myths: who were its heroes and villains, in what contexts, as the field emerged? … Continue reading Pros, Cons, and Whiplash: Studying American Religions from a Home Base in Religious Studies

Creation Myths of Religious Studies: Starting Over Near a Dead Tree Vs. an Evolving Garden with Old and New Roots

In the first section of this three-part post—introduced here and based on my article in the Encyclopedia of American Religion—I broached evergreen questions about the definitions, scope, and methods of the academic study of religion (ASR) or Religious Studies. I described these as a “more like a framework for debate than a foundation for consensus” … Continue reading Creation Myths of Religious Studies: Starting Over Near a Dead Tree Vs. an Evolving Garden with Old and New Roots

Notes from a Dinosaur Who Cares About Reference Books

I am so old that I can remember when people used hard copies of encyclopedias! I read the World Book Encyclopedia as a kid, and later I spent perhaps a couple years of my life, depending on how one counts, writing articles for reference books in American Studies and/or the academic study of religions.  Colleagues, … Continue reading Notes from a Dinosaur Who Cares About Reference Books

Exactly What Does “Religious Studies” Study?—the Evergreen Question

As discussed in my previous introductory post, MBE is republishing a piece I wrote for the Encyclopedia of American Religions about the academic field in which I spent most of my career. It will proceed in three chunks and this is the first.  I will add links to the second and third installments here as they … Continue reading Exactly What Does “Religious Studies” Study?—the Evergreen Question

Experts Agree—”Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Extremely Important—Too Bad They Can’t Define It

Since I spend my summers near Minneapolis, I'm part of a working group at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, called the Religion and the Public University Collaborative (RPUC). Tomorrow we will discuss research by sociologist Nancy Ammerman that led to her important book, Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes. Although I’m often delinquent at RPUC, … Continue reading Experts Agree—”Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Extremely Important—Too Bad They Can’t Define It

Injecting Bleach or Ingesting Beach—Inquiring Minds Want to Know

I’m writing this note after reading a New York Times piece and reader’s thread about Trump’s suggestion to combat coronavirus by “injecting” a form of bleach as a sort of "cleansing” (which he has now walked back to supposedly being “sarcastic,” although that seems worse than sincerity). I noticed on cable TV as the story … Continue reading Injecting Bleach or Ingesting Beach—Inquiring Minds Want to Know

A Workshop for Critical Thought about U.S. Religion—with Silly Putty and a Carved Lion

I have built up numerous cheesy but memorable “mottos” for the academic study of religion, which I use in my teaching. Perhaps I’ll write about more of them later, but meanwhile today's topic is the motto, “our class is not a paint-by-number kit, but a workshop for critical thought.” I wrote up a short and … Continue reading A Workshop for Critical Thought about U.S. Religion—with Silly Putty and a Carved Lion