This is a three-part conversation. Kathryn Lofton and Tomoko Masuzawa, two of the leading lights in the study of religion, cover a variety of topics, including secularism, critical theory, history, comparison and more within the field. It is an engaging and wide-ranging conversation, for your enjoyment and illumination.
Gary Laderman What do you think? Is religious life fully captured by survey questions, graphs and bar charts? Or do these methods of collecting and displaying data fall short as indicators of the spiritual lives of Americans? Is it time to panic about the supposed decline of religion, or should we look to other metrics and methods to delve into what is really happening on the American religious landscape?
Brian Pennington In 1893, Presbyterian minister John Henry Barrows opened the inaugural World’s Parliament of Religion in Chicago by inviting the first-ever assembly of religious leaders from across the globe to join him in a “act of common worship” and to sing Isaac Watt’s Trinitarian re-write of the 100th Psalm. This less-than-catholic invocation, which concludes with the call to “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” was followed by a similar gesture when Cardinal James Gibbons recited the Lord’s Prayer, which Barrow declared the “universal prayer” that would open each of the Parliament’s seventeen days.
Gary Laderman When I was a young, idealistic, newly-minted PhD, moving from the University of California, Santa Barbara, to my first and only job at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, I had one primary, driving goal in teaching: to clarify for students the role of religion in society. Now that I’m older, wiser, and tenured, a different motivation is driving my pedagogy: my ultimate goal these days is to confuse the hell out of undergrads.
Briallen Hopper It’s back-to-school season. Pumpkin lattes are here, school supplies are on sale, and thousands of students are showing up at college and trying to figure out what religion means in their lives. For some students, figuring out faith in college will be a relatively straightforward process that might involve taking a cool-looking religion class, joining a religious student group, or blithely deciding to prioritize sleep over worship services.
Brian Pennington A rare convergence of scholars of religion occurred recently: the World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religion (IAHR), which convenes only once every five years, took place in Erfurt, Germany, in August. This brainy and multilingual affair brought 1500 scholars from six continents together to present their research and confer on collaborative projects.
Kelly J. Baker I decided to begin a project on zombie apocalypses, in part because of The Walking Dead’s popularity but also because of burgeoning amount of zombie media, the books, films, products, television shows, memes, and apps that center on zombies. My decision also hinged on the uncritical embrace of zombies by fans, critics, friends, relatives, and my students.
Gary Laderman It’s not easy being chair of a religion department. August is an especially cruel month as we close out one academic year and start up a new one, and begin again to struggle with an increasingly vital challenge: recruiting and keeping more majors. I’ve been teaching at Emory University for over 20 years, and every August I begin to obsess about a question. . . that’s at the center of my intellectual passion and personal livelihood: how do you convince people to study religion?
What are the current conditions and imminent possibilities for the Study of Religion? In this interview with Marko Geslani of Emory University, Kathryn Lofton, scholar of American Religion and incoming chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University, discusses the state of the field in light of the crisis of the humanities, the institutional location of religion departments, graduate training, and undergraduate teaching.
S. Brent Plate
A strange set of coincidences brought Malcolm X into my life in the past month, some invisible force of history that compelled a fusion of events. It was only a month ago that I realized February 21 was the 50th anniversary of his assassination, but energies were in play long before then that brought me to encounter Malcolm’s powerful ghosts. They arrived in buildings, books, bodies, and films.