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Posts Tagged ‘the academy’


I’m headed to Atlanta tomorrow for the annual meeting of the AAR/SBL (#aarsbl15). I’ll be on three panels, so here’s a sneak peek of each my talks. I’m discussing the 1920s Klan, labor, and academic freedom, which is a lot of ground to cover in one weekend.

Please feel free to say “hello,” especially all of you religious studies tweeps. It is always nice to meet folks in real time.

A21-102 Birth of A Nation A Century Later (Saturday, 9:00-11:00 am)

From “Birth of the Klan’s Nation”: The cross burned on top of Stone Mountain marked the beginning of a new Klan fighting to save a white Protestant nation….The robes and the fiery cross, the most recognizable artifacts of the Klan, materialized the order’s commitment to Protestantism and 100% Americanism. The Klan’s material culture tells the story of both their popularity and decline 100 years later. Their shared vision of white Protestant nation defended by Knights in robes no longer appeals as it once did, but it lingers still.

A21-201 How the University Works: A Roundtable on Labor in Religious Studies (Saturday, 1:00-3:30 pm)

From “Academic Waste”: Yet, after I finished the first chapter of How the University Works, I realized how wrong, and arrogant,  I was. What I accepted as facts about how higher ed functions prove to only be assumptions. Bousquet demonstrates that the job market is not actually a proper market but an illusion of one, which relies upon the casualization of labor for universities and colleges to run.

A22-105 Academic Freedom in Peril–And What to Do About It (Sunday, 9:00-11:30 am)

From “Silence and Speech”:  As I considered my response to this panel on academic freedom at the AAR, those two sentences from Lorde repeated in my head. I worked on other papers. I meet my deadlines. I built Lego castles with my kids, but her words wouldn’t dissipate. They captured my attention in the quiet. Were her words revelation, warning, or a strange mishmash of both? That silence doesn’t afford us any protection became the necessary beginning for my remarks on academic freedom in an age of contingency and precarity. Silence and the freedom to speak. Speech and the attempts to curtail it.



I’m confronting a strange sense of déjà vu. This week, I’ve alternated between studying for the GRE, writing a personal statement, wrangling both kids by myself (Chris is on travel for work), and relying on coffee to keep me mostly alert.

I feel that I have done this process of applying for graduate school before because I have. In 2001, I applied for my MA in Religion. Now 14 years later, I’m applying yet again, but this time for an MFA in Creative Writing with a focus on creative nonfiction. The process feels simultaneously familiar and strange. I know what’s expected of my application. I can prepare. I can still get hives from worrying about a test. Yet, I never expected to consider graduate training again in the middle of my 30s. I imagined a different life than the one I have.

My life changed significantly in 14 years. I’m married with two children. Our 14th anniversary is in December. The cat remains mean, but she’s less playful. The first dog is older, grayer, and deaf. There’s a younger dog, but she’s already middle-aged by canine standards. My sister got married, so did my brother. I now have a niece and nephews. My grandmother died. I haven’t spoken to my biological father since 2007. I earned a PhD and never found that career I trained for. I started freelance writing.



The Religion Bulletin is running a series of responses to Russell McCutcheon’s Theses on Professionalization (2007) by early career scholars. Matt Sheedy, the editor of the blog, asked me to contribute, so I did. I tackled thesis 15 about turning your dissertation into a manuscript. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote.

Before I graduated, I had a book contract and advance. My committee was convinced that I would have no problem getting a tenure track job. Any department, they assured, would be lucky to have me. I chose to believe them. I had four campus visits that year. Following my advisor’s advice about published seemed to work.

However, no amount of advice mattered after the market crash in 2008. The job market for tenure-track positions in the humanities, which already wasn’t good, became worse. The common lament was “there are no jobs,” but this wasn’t true. There were still jobs, but they were not tenure track. Contingent positions, those part-time and full-time jobs re-upped every semester or year, were readily available. I had no problem securing temporary lecturer gigs. My book contract might have helped. Yet, I’m not sure it mattered much when departments just need bodies in front of classrooms to teach students. I finished my book while teaching part-time and applying for tenure track jobs. I got a contract for another book after getting a full-time lecturer job.

I imagined that if I just worked hard enough and published more that I could cajole search committees into hiring me. I didn’t get a tenure track job.

So, while I agree that your manuscript does you no good in your desk drawer, I’m not entirely convinced that it does you any good out of the drawer either.

Read more.

My Teaching Philosophy

I’ve received a few emails asking about my approach to pedagogy. These are mostly in response to my “Dear Liberal Professor” essay published at Vitae, in which I call for empathy in the classroom and take down the silly suggestion that students are the center of all that ails higher ed. I haven’t written about pedagogy in awhile because I’ve been out of the classroom for two years now, so I’m posting my teaching philosophy statement from 2012. I still stand by most of what I say here.

Teaching Philosophy

“The human capacity to injure other people has always been greater than its ability to imagine other people”—Elaine Scarry

“We need to know where we live in order to imagine living elsewhere. We need to imagine living elsewhere before we can live there.”—Avery Gordon

Teaching is as much art as it is embodied practice, engagement, and content knowledge. This craft is flexible and variant, and it shifts from class to class, student to student, evolving not only from worn lecture notes and expected PowerPoint slides but also to our shared performance as students and teacher. Pedagogy feels like some sort of happening that appears as experimental and meaningful as it is multi-variant and chaotic. No classroom experience is ever the same as I describe, redescribe, and recreate my content, my expertise, to mesh with the interest, the varying levels of student expertise, and the classroom atmosphere.

Yet, my courses, no matter what the content, share a common emphasis on empathy and critical thinking. To imagine what life is like for other people is the first step for engaging their lives, and I would argue it is first step toward critical thinking and close analysis. If we cannot imagine what their lives might be like, we cannot begin to comprehend the historical and cultural forces that place them and us where we happen to be.

If we cannot imagine, we cannot analyze. (more…)

The Elusive I

I’ve been thinking about academic writing and the absence of the I, the signifier of the first person. Some disciplines find the I useful as a method to that places you, the author in the text. The scholarship marked explicitly by your person, as if it could be any other way. Religious studies, however, is not entirely sure what to do with the I.

For some, relying on the first person becomes a marker of confessional identity, religious commitment, or activism. For others, like ethnographers of religion, the I is a necessary part of their practice. The scholar must be present because of the interactive relationship between you and subject. You must use the I to place yourself in conversation, events, and analysis. Sometimes, you need to note where you are and what you think. Often, this will require a shift to the first person.

My own training in American religious history seemed nervous about the I. For a long while, I was also nervous about what the use of I in my own scholarship and writing might mean.

My own journal articles (except for my article on evidence), my book (except for the introduction and afterword), book reviews, conference papers were all shorn of the author’s presence. I deleted (almost) every instance of the I.

In graduate school, advisors explained that “I think” “I feel” “I believe” weakened your arguments. This made you seem wishy-washy, ambivalent, or unconvincing. Make claims forcefully, they told me. Don’t qualify your analysis with I. Yet, I wanted to seem ambivalent because I was. I wanted to signal that this was my opinion, not a definitive statement about the subjects that I researched. I wanted less certainty, not more.

What I came to realize was that inserting your self into academic work made one’s work somehow lesser. Absent authors made bold arguments. Who needs visible qualification when you can stay hidden behind your evidence and arguments?

Graduate training eroded my presence in my scholarship. Not all of my courses sought to remove the I, but most massaged the personal pronoun away. The I slipped away in edits, revisions, and finished papers. (more…)