Kayfabe, or, Why a Scholar of Religion Might Be Interested in Pro Wrestling

PWSJ cover

As a scholar of religion, I’m interested in the term “belief.” I find it to be a very curious term. For example, why would 75,000 people fill a football stadium for two nights of Wrestlemania earlier this year to watch professional wrestling matches that they didn’t believe were “real”? Because pro wrestling is “fake,” right? No one believes it’s a real sport or a real competition, right? But yet enough people in the spend their time and money on these matches they don’t believe in to support two major nationally televised pro wrestling companies (All Elite Wrestling and WWE) on top of numerous regional “independent” wrestling promotions. Continue reading

American Examples: THE BOOK

American Examples

American Examples, the program for early-career scholars of religion in America funded by the Luce Foundation, is proud to announce a new publication relationship with the University of Alabama Press. UAP will be publishing an anthology of research essays from each of the American Examples cohorts beginning with the first AE cohort that met in spring of 2019. The first anthology, titled American Examples: A New Conversation About Religion, will be published in the summer of 2021. We are very excited to partner with UAP and look forward to four more anthologies over the next four years of the program’s funding. Continue reading

Making Sense of a Sabbatical


In my Introduction to Religious Studies course, my students think a lot about “making the strange familiar and familiar strange.” With those lessons in mind, I thought I’d make a bit more familiar for students who won’t see me as much in the Spring a practice that happens within the academy—the sabbatical. After being awarded tenure (typically in year 5 or 6), professors can apply for a sabbatical by outlining a specific research project that would benefit from some time away from campus. The project I described in my own proposal is my second single-author scholarly monograph. But, of course, there are always multiple projects at different stages in the works—or, as a colleague put it to me years ago, various pots simmering at higher and lower temperatures on the same stove. I’ve found I’m far more productive and enjoy writing more when I’m working on a few things at once instead of trying to move through projects and ideas linearly. Going into next semester’s sabbatical, I currently have three proverbial pots simmering:

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#RELResearch: Professors Simmons, Loewen, and Altman Publish Together


If you pick up the most recent issue of the venerable journal Method and Theory in the Study of Religion you will find three essays from REL faculty discussing the recently published Norton Anthology of World Religion. Rather than a simple review of the multivolume work, the essays from Merinda Simmons, Nathan Loewen, and Mike Altman consider what the publication of the anthology means for the larger field of religious studies. Each essay puts the anthology into a larger context of how scholars research and teach about religion. Curious what they said? Abstracts and links for the essays are below. Continue reading

What’s the Point?

15628288442_6ec7bf0571_zAs discussions about the relevance of what we do in religious studies, and academia in general, have become more common lately, my own emphases have coalesced around the skills that the humanities help scholars (whether students or faculty or interested blog readers) develop. And that emphasis on skills is not limited to our work in the classroom.

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Second Sabbatical: First Thoughts


For those other than academic colleagues—primarily our students and our non-academic supporters—a sabbatical is a special benefit every seven years, upon application and approval, awarded to those of us who teach, for “time off” to purse sustained research and sustained writing without the additional responsibilities of teaching, grading, committee meetings and the like.   In my case, spring, 2015, is my second opportunity to take full advantage of this award to pursue two special projects, the first on my mind for a long time, and the second which recently came about:

  • I had previously published two articles in the Journal of Hate Studies out of Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA, addressing the question of the relationship between the socio-cultural construct we call “religion” and the mega-murder we call “genocide” “The Last Uncomfortable Religious Question”, 3[1]: 2003/04—133-143 ; and “Genocidal Religion”, 9[1]: 2011/11—221-235). (My argument in both pieces is that “religion” is a “participating factor” [my term; positively and negatively] in all genocides, past and present.) Upon re-reading these two pieces, and using them in my class REL 410 “Religion and Genocide”, it has regularly occurred to me that, together, they are, in truth, the nucleus of a book-length manuscript—with the now-important addition of looking at the scientific literature whether to not we human beings, as biological creatures, are thus prone to collective group violence. Hence, Project #1.
  • Quite recently, I agreed to be one of four authors, by invitation, for a new—and different—introductory textbook, already under contract (Cognella Press, CA), for courses in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. What makes this project unique, and why I agreed to participate, is its orientation: To introduce students and beginning instructors in a comparative manner to the other historic literatures, civilizations, cultures, civilizatons, and empires of the ancient Middle/Near East. To the best of our collective knowledge, there is no other such textbook available. This international team are all colleagues who already teach such introductory courses, and have agreed to “field test” the manuscript in our courses once it becomes available. (Publication date is the end of 2016, and has been tentatively entitled The Scriptures of Ancient Judaism.) Hence Project #2

I will also be revising at least one article already accepted for publication.

BTW, I have also accepted two other invitations: (1) To serve as the External Reviewer for the MA Program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Richard Stockton College, Pomona, NJ, in April, 2015; and (2) To present a paper tentatively entitled “The State and Fate of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire and the Early Republic during World War I: A Necessary Part of the Conversation” at a conference in New York City in May, 2015, entitled “World War I and the Non-Turkish Minorities in the Ottoman Empire: Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks”. (2015 is the 100th Anniversary of the second Armenian Genocide; the first took place under the Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last Caliph of the Ottoman Empire prior to World War I; and the second under the so-called secular Republic under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk.)

So my advice to myself now that 2015 has begun and my sabbatical has started: Time to get busy! And I promise to keep you updated as I proceed.