My research emphasizes religion, gender, and sexuality, with particular attention to public discourse and minority religions in the contemporary United States. I adopt an interdisciplinary approach to questions of how normative sexuality shapes American religious and national identity.
Keywords: American religions; religion and gender; religion and sexuality; minority religions; religion and literature; contemporary critical thought
- Master’s Theses
- Invited Panels and Lectures
- Future Research
My dissertation, “Good Fences: American Sexual Exceptionalism and Minority Religions,” explores the ways normative sexuality has complicated American religious pluralism since the 1970s. Suspicions of sexual deviance frequently haunt minority religions, regardless of their communities’ mores or practices. I engage several popular narratives that portray minority religions (Islam, Mormonism, and witchcraft) as predatory, coercing or duping vulnerable American women and children into religious nonconformity and sexual transgression. Federal agents, law enforcement officials, and foreign policymakers have used such narratives—and a desire to liberate their alleged victims—to justify restraining these “dangerous” forms of religious difference. By locating the abuse of women and children in America’s religious margins, these liberatory rhetorics encourage normative practices without violating a professed national commitment to religious freedom. Paradoxically, such rhetorics often work to constrain Americans’ religious and sexual freedoms while doing little to prevent violence against women and children.
My most recent publication, “Thinking Sex and American Religions” (Religion Compass, 2011) explores the relevance of queer theory to the study of North American religions. Drawing on Eve Sedgwick and Gayle Rubin, I propose six axioms by which scholars of American religions might begin “thinking sex.” In “Queer, Not Gay: Limits of Acceptable Sexual Transgression in NRM Discourse,” I demonstrated the prevalence of homophobic rhetoric among North American new religious movements (ARC: The Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University, 2009). Both articles were peer-reviewed. “Conversion to Narrative: Magic as Religious Language in Grant Morrison’s Invisibles,” my contribution to Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books and Graphic Novels (2010), used Webb Keane’s definition of religious language to consider Morrison’s dialogic construction of magic. “A Woman’s Part? Vikings, Unmanliness, and Seið Magic” addresses the necessarily gendered nature of divination among medieval Scandinavian and contemporary American Norse religious communities (Magic and the Modern, ed. Randall Styers and Marco Edward Bever, Penn Press, forthcoming).
My earlier research also explored the interplay of bodies, language, and religious difference. In “Mythical Beasts: How Queer Bodies Expand the Religious Imaginary” (M.A. Religious Studies, UNC 2009), I read Foucault’s technology of “becoming homosexual” against Grace Jantzen’s philosophical project of “becoming divine” in considering the bodily disciplines of transgender neoshaman Raven Kaldera. I argued that bodily disciplines and embodied knowledges make possible radically different thought about bodies and the divine. In “Eve and the Other Woman” (M.A. Women’s Studies, Drew University 2004), I close read Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:1 to propose a biblical precedent for paradoxical characterizations of Eve: she is both Mother of All and the cause of all human suffering. I demonstrated a similarly bifurcated characterization of Woman in early modern and modern British fantastic literature, including Milton’s Paradise Lost, MacDonald’s Lilith, and Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In both theses, I explored connections between religious language, difference, and embodiment.
I will be presenting on the ways normative sexuality has complicated American religious pluralism since the 1970s at INFORM‘s 2014 Anniversary Conference at the London School of Economics in January 2014. I will also be discussing collaborative approaches to and uncertain learning outcomes in directing undergraduate research at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion‘s regional meeting in March 2014.
Previously, I presented my work on Jon Krakauer’s anti-Mormon rhetoric in Under the Banner of Heaven (2003) for the Mormon Studies Group’s “The Mormon Heritage Industry” panel at the American Academy of Religion’s national meeting in November 2012. I have also presented on “Thinking Sex and American Religions” for a panel on American Religions in the Classroom at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion in Atlanta (March 2012) and on “Queering Religion” at the American Academy of Religion’s national meeting for the North American Religions Section’s “key paradigms” panel (November 2011). I have previously presented at the AAR’s national meeting on panels in Popular Culture, Religion and Sexuality, and Performance Studies. My Popular Culture presentation (2010) presented a condensed version of my contribution to Graven Images; my Religion and Sexuality presentation (2009) was an earlier version of my “Queer, Not Gay” article (see publications, above). The Performance Studies presentation (2008) used Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity, Jay Prosser’s concept of body narratives, and Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism to consider the religious practice of transgender Norse neoshaman Raven Kaldera.
I have further presented at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion’s regional meeting in the Hebrew Bible and American Religion sections. For the Hebrew Bible panel (2009), I presented a condensed version of my master’s work on Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:1. For the American Religion presentation, I used Butler’s theory of citationality to think about embodiment in contemporary feminist spirituality.
Recent Invited Lectures and Panels
I have been invited to present my research at the following venues:
- “Religion and Feminism, for Elon’s Feminists for Equality, Change, and Transformation (October 2013)
- “Return of the Goddess,” for Religion and the Counterculture (April 2013)
- “Class Politics, Sexuality, and Moral Reform,” for History of American Sexuality (February 2013)
- “Feminist Spiritualities,” for Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies (October 2012)
- Invited Panelist, “Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality in the Classroom,” SECSOR (March 2012)
- Invited Participant, “Sex, Religion, and the Public Sphere” at Elon University (February 2012)
- “American Religious Intolerance” for the UNC Charlotte Religious Studies Faculty Colloqiua (February 2012)
- “Religion, Gender, and Sexuality” for the UNC/Duke Working Group in Feminism and History (October 2011)
- “Victorian Women and the History of Medicine” for History of American Sexuality (September 2011)
- “Scripting Religious Intolerance” for the HRC’s Program for Religious and Theological Study (August 2011)
- “Reconciling Religion and Sexuality” for Southeastern Regional Unity Conference (April 2011)
- “Neopaganism, Goddess Worship, and Witchcraft” for New Religious Movements (July 2010)
- “Courtship: Romance, Seduction, and Sexual Scripts” for American Sexualities (February 2010)
- “The Gnostic Problem” for Gnosticism (March 2009)
- “Gender and Gnosticism” for Gnosticism (March 2009)
- “Goddess Worship in the United States,” for Introduction to American Religions (April 2008)
- “Ethics,” for Philosophical Approaches to the Study of Religion (March 2007)
- “Sexual Violence and Power,” for History of American Sexuality (September 2006)
I have acted as a research consultant for Dr. Randall Styers (Religious Studies, fall 2010, 2011) and as a research assistant for Prof. Ruel Tyson (Religious Studies, spring 2010 – 2013) and Prof. Michelle Robinson (American Studies, summer 2013).
I am currently revising my dissertation into a manuscript for publication, taking into consideration the ways similar rhetorics of American religious and sexual intolerance functioned historically. I am also currently drafting an article on the significance of captivity narratives, and popular literature more broadly, in the field of American religions. I am revising an article on the role of religion in re-thinking Foucault’s model of “becoming homosexual,” based on the first section of my most recent master’s thesis. Future research projects include considerations of public feminist rhetorics and activist performances that dismiss or disregard conservative religious women’s experiences and the performativity of sexualized hate speech in marginalizing new religious movements in North America.