In the beginning, there were no Indians, Africans, or Europeans…

Or, What African American Studies Teaches Me About Religion in America

(Re-posted from Religion in American History)

Where to begin, where to begin… This semester I am teaching Religion in America (RELS 250 here at CofC) for the first time, if you can believe it. Up to this point it was the class I’d thought most about how to teach but had never actually taught. No longer! Now I’m wrestling in realtime with the dilemmas many of us share on the daily. What must I include? What can I cut? Where (oh, where!) do I begin?

Unsurprising to most (who read this blog), I began with requisite hand-wringing. What is the “religion” in American religion? What, where, and who is the “America” in religion in America? These questions are crucial for me. In a sense, these questions are what my course is about. I like opening all my classes on this meta-level, challenging students to challenge themselves (and the world around them) about what they assume they already know. Whether its a 101 intro or a 200-level African American religions survey, one of my universal objectives is for us to wrestle with the fraught history of words that might appear, at first glance, to be neutral, even innocuous: “religion,” “nation,” “race,” “America.”

The trick is how to get this to stick. Continue reading

Star Wars as American Religion

My last blog of the year is a joint one, posted at both Religion in American History and Sowing the Seed (an online scholar-student collaborative). Enjoy, happy New Year, and May the Force be with You.


Fear not, no spoilers….but seriously, you need to go see the movie already! 
Star Wars Meme 1

So I’ve been (over)thinking Star Wars for the better part of a month now. If you know me, you know I’m quite the nerd. For the past few weeks, though, it’s been turned all the way up to 11. Not only have I been obsessing over Star Wars, I’ve been thinking about Star Wars as American religion.
Why? Well, I’ve known for some time that I’m due for an end-of-the-year RiAH post. In the throes of syllabusing (like Charles McCrary and so many of us this time of year), my initial instinct was to blog on course construction. Then Richard Newton, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College and fellow Star Wars overthinker, solicited essays on religion, religious studies, and Star Wars forSowing the Seed (a student-scholar digital collaborative that hosts conversations on religion, culture, and teaching). Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted, I settled on the following topic: What would it mean to think about Star Wars as American religion?

What does that even mean, you might ask? Well, to restate the question, I’ve been wondering under what circumstances (by what parameters, for what purposes) Star Wars might be considered American religion. To put it yet another way, could I include Star Wars in my Religion in America (RELS 250) course this spring? These are the kinds of questions that awaken – I know, I know, that pun was a little Forced – when you rewatch the (original) Star Wars trilogy and see The Force Awakens(twice), all while writing your Religion in America syllabus……. See what I mean? The nerd is notched up to Ludicrous Speed.

My nerdiness notwithstanding, it strikes me that how one answers these questions could tell us quite a bit. Whether a teacher is willing to consider Star Wars as American religion has the potential to tell us how they define “religion” and how they conceptualize the purpose of a “religion in America” course. Continue reading

A Catholic Case for Reparations

12063775_880628641625_220248543911893373_nI recently had the honor of giving the Fr. Jerome Kelley Lecture at my alma mater St. Bonaventure University. There I served as the invited guest for SBU’s Francis Week festivities. I took the opportunity to make my first (public) foray into what will be one of my “next projects,” research exploring the entanglement of Catholics, race, and white supremacy in the United States. In this lecture, I blended autobiography and history to make the case that white Catholics bear a particular responsibility to make reparations for racial injustice in America. Watch me make “A Catholic Case for Reparations.”

Race and White Supremacy in the making of “American Catholicism”

My latest for Religion in American History is essentially me extending an invitation to you to join a conversation on the role of race, racism, and white supremacy in the making of this thing we scholars call “American Catholicism.” Check it out below.


It’s October the 31st, so you all know what that means… Just twenty-one days until the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting kicks off in Atlanta! (It also means my daughters will soon be Nemo and Marlin, but that’s a post for Facebook.) As you sit down and start planning out your time in Atlanta I want to call your attention to a roundtable conversation I’m especially excited about. Yes, I’m excited about it because I organized it, but I know it’s something many of you will be interested in as well. I want to invite you to join me and a group of stellar scholars for a roundtable conversation on “Race and White Supremacy in the Construction of American Catholicism” at 9AM on Monday, November 23 (Marriott L-405-406).

What will we be talking about? Well, here’s the short version. On the morning of Monday the 23rd, Emma AndersonShannen Dee WilliamsFelipe HinojosaKristy Nabhan-Warren, and M. Shawn Copeland will join me to think through at least two questions. What would the study of Catholicism look like if it included a sustained consideration of the ways race and white supremacy have shaped the very idea of “American Catholicism”? What consequences would such a consideration have for Catholic studies? Full disclosure: I think it would have far ranging consequences not just for the study of Catholics, but for the study of American religion writ large. Continue reading