I am a specialist in religion and American culture, focusing particularly on the intersection between religions and politics since 1900. My most recent book is Spirits Rejoice!: Jazz and American Religion, a study of the intersections of jazz and American religions in and across comparative themes/categories like ritual, community, and cosmology. The book is enjoying coverage from mainstream and academic media, including National Public Radio, the Washington Times, Downbeat, All About Jazz, and all the usual academic suspects. It was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2015. The book has a listening blog, though probably half the links are dead at this point.
While I may return to writing about music at some point, I’ve published most actively in the area of U.S. political religions, including my first two books, Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2008), a Choice Outstanding Academic Title of 2008, and The Fracture of Good Order: Christian Antiliberalism and the Challenge to American Politics (University of North Carolina Press, 2003). I’ve also published multiple articles, review essays, and occasional pieces on religion, politics, and culture in the United States, and – increasingly – on theory and method in the study of religion. I’m currently finishing Embattled Majority: Religion and Its Despisers in America (forthcoming, Oxford University Press).
The book started out, over a decade ago, as a genealogy of the rhetoric of “religious bigotry” in conservative Christian politics since the 1960s (as this category is manifested in Christian textbook narratives, conferences such as Justice Sunday, and political organizations like the JCCCR) and of the varied responses to such claims. You can read my earlier observations here and here. While I’m still focused on how Americans think broadly about “religion” as a register of public panic and/or public virtue, my claims have changed since resuming this work in recent years. The work is now a sustained argument that, for the sake of reassessing democratic fundaments, Americans should stop wrestling over outrageous religion.
I’ve had a chance to spread my wings in shorter writings recently. In 2012, I contributed to a generational state of the field journal issue, along with some of my friends and most respected colleagues. I’m still pretty happy with my piece. Other recent faves are my piece on law and secularism; an analysis of the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis; a primer on religion and heavy metal; and a meditation on facial recognition technology and rockets.
And, since it counts as research (and there was a lot of it!), I also did a course on religion and violence for The Great Courses.
My other major activity is playing improvised music on the guitar. I’ve been in plenty of rock bands (I sang with Lunges in high school, and played guitar for Sweatbox during and after college – one day I’ll upload some demos). The rockingest of all was the mighty M, in grad school, and we’re still kinda sorta going. I still need to convince Simms to upload our Louisville 1995 show to Bandcamp, since it slays. Our most enduring creation, which I still plan to bring to the Triangle, is described here.
As far as improv goes, my longest association is with the Unstable Ensemble, which I founded in 1998 or 1999. I’d been playing solo and in a power trio that played my compositions (again, I’ll upload some demos someday), but when flautist Richard Patterson and I met saxophonist Marty Belcher, the UE was born. We went through a few lineup changes over the years because the UE relocated from Indiana to NC when I took the job here at State. We released three albums on Family Vineyard. You can check them out here. We recorded for this anthology and this one, too. We toured a lot, got a bunch of good press, and were preparing a fourth album when the UE just kind fizzled after Eric Weddle moved back to Indiana.
Within a month of arriving in NC in 2000, I met percussionist Ian Davis. The first time we ever played became our duo album. Check it out here, along with our trio with Richmond saxophonist Jimmy Ghaphery, one from the studio and the other a compilation of live trio tracks from Chapel Hill and Baltimore. Ian also invited me to join the Micro-East Collective, with whom I played on Fabric and Cells, one of my favorite shows ever, where about 20 of us played a piece written for us (and conducted) by Frank Gratkowski.
Within the last decade I’ve branched out as a player, with a bunch of new and old associations. My interest in electroacoustic music has continued, most audibly on a record with my friend and fellow NCSU faculty member, Tomas Phillips (who plays laptop with me but is a rad metal bass player too). I’ve continued to play with Marty, and we’ve released two records over the last few years, Exo and The Paris Suite. I’m pretty confident we’ll be playing together forever, which brings me great joy.
In recent years, I’ve also been gigging regularly with two collectives, Polyorchard (led by bassist David Menestres) and Cyanotype (led by violist Dan Ruccia), as well as in a duo with saxophonist Chris Robinson. David and I recently released our duo album, which we’re very proud of. Bandcamp named it one of the best experimental releases of the month. With Cyanotype, we recorded some very sad music just a few days after the 2016 presidential election. More recently, we did a record in quarantine. And the Out and Gone label also released a compilation of solo tracks a bunch of us did during this hellish year.
I’m working on a solo record . . . maybe I’ll have it done by the time I update this in another five years.
Ph.D. Religious Studies Indiana University 2000
Area(s) of Expertise
Religion in American History and Culture; Religion and Politics; New Religious Movements; Theory and Method in the Study of Religion; Religion and Popular Culture