February 2022 Update and 2021 Retrospective

2021 was quite a year, and 2022 is starting off in a dizzying way as well!

For those who encounter this post out of context, I should say that I find it helpful to post updates a few times per year to publicize some of my academic work and keep track of time. I can’t even begin to summarize all that’s happened over the past year, so I’ll try something partial that may give a sense for where my research has been and where it is going next.

In May 2021 I defended my dissertation and completed my PHD in the Religious Studies Department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. I was fortunate to have a generous committee who gave me an ‘excellent’ rating after my defense and passed my dissertation without mandatory revisions. My supervisor Travis Kroeker, and readers Morny Joy, Dana Hollander, and Dawne McCance were very engaged during my defense and provided me with helpful feedback. I’m excited to say that I’m currently working on revising Ontologies of Violence for a new Brill series called Political and Public Theologies.

Just a day before my defense, a project that I had been working on during the pandemic came to fruition with the publication of a guest-edited special issue of the journal Political Theology. The issue explores new interdisciplinary approaches to Mennonite Political Theology, and includes contributions from secular, feminist, confessional, and historical Mennonite contributors. If you’re interested the introduction can be found here.

In late 2021 another project that I had been developing during my PHD was published as well. I am very pleased to say that last November my book Postsecular History was published by Palgrave Macmillan (Springer Nature) in an all-too-expensive hardback edition with an amazing cover. The book collects several of my essays and explores how secularity and religion are entangled in ways that challenge the concept of the ‘postsecular’ (and other ‘post’ designations).

Apart from a few typos, I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out, and I am very excited to share this interview with the editor of Anabaptist Historians that introduces the themes of the book.

I am also looking forward to the upcoming book launch hosted by the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre. The launch will be moderated by TMTC’s Kyle Gingerich Hiebert, with contributions from my dissertation supervisor Travis Kroeker (McMaster University, Religious Studies Department), my postdoctoral supervisor Pamela Klassen (University of Toronto, Department for the Study of Religion), and my colleagues Jennifer Otto (University of Lethbridge, Religious Studies Department) and Michael Driedger (Brock University, History Department).

This past year also gave me the chance to teach courses at McMaster University and the University of Waterloo, which left me feeling quite fulfilled as I walked students through the complexities of the academic discipline of Religious Studies (at McMaster) and the relationship between religion and conspiracy theories (at Waterloo).

I am keenly aware that after a PHD in the social sciences or humanities many of my peers have been left without work in their field, which makes me all the more grateful to everyone who helped me successfully apply for a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto, where I’m currently working on a book project on religion and conspiracy theories called Critique of Conspiracism, supervised by Dr. Pamela Klassen. If you’re curious about the conspiracy project I recently did an interview with a friend that may be helpful, and I have posted the text of my AAR presentation here.

This year also saw another unbelievable windfall as I took over as director of a small Mennonite publishing company called Pandora Press. It’s a dream come true to be able to work with authors and make some incredible books that will be published in mid-2022, so keep an eye out for books on the history of Mennonites in Quebec, Mennonite-Catholic dialogue, Community Peacemaker Teams in Europe, a study of the Dutch Anabaptist Hans de Ries, and a philosophical novel called Menno in Athens.

In the coming year I also have some exciting new pieces of writing coming out, including a book chapter that consolidates my Mennonite work in this volume, an article on technology and Mennonite ethics in a special issue of the Conrad Grebel Review, and a longer study of Grace Jantzen’s late trilogy in Angelaki. I am also excited to be responding to Maria José de Abreu’s The Charismatic Gymnasium at this event, at the invitation of Valentina Napolitano.

Looking ahead, in the coming weeks and months I will be working on my response to the book launch, a lecture for the UWO Theory Centre on the ‘Metaphysics of the Book,’ a colloquium presentation for the DSR, and a larger public lecture at 11:00 AM on April 27th, as part of this lecture series:

My contribution to the lecture series will be titled “Anabaptism contra Philosophy: On Violence, Enmity, and Interdisciplinarity.” My draft abstract is below for those who are interested (and it is subject to change as I develop the lecture).

What hath Menno to do with Athens, and what hath the Radical Reformation to do with the philosophical Enlightenment? In his forthcoming novel Menno in Athens, Ron Tiessen narrates the travels of a young Mennonite on the islands of Greece and stages what may be the first sustained literary-philosophical encounter between Mennonite and Greek thought. In a key moment, the narrator asks his father, “if you have the proclamation of a truth in one case that is considered divine revelation, and the same proclamation is found in another culture, must we assume that one is divinely inspired and the other not?” The questions Tiessen raises are at the heart of this roundtable series where we place Anabaptism in dialogue with the traditions of western philosophy. How are we to treat the resonances and oppositions between Anabaptist Mennonite identities and philosophers?

In this presentation I argue that the way forward for this dialogue is to fully dignify the similarities and differences between its two ‘sides’ without the comforts of syncretistic unity or the paralyses of irreducible difference. To do this, I will articulate a ‘secular Mennonite social critique’ that uses the critique of redemptive violence to deconstruct rigid oppositions between religion and secularity, theology and philosophy, and ‘the church’ and ‘the world.’ Beginning from the assumption that these terms do not name stable phenomena, but instead are conceptual tools that are used and abused for diverse purposes, this presentation critiques the imposition of enmity and competition onto the names and concepts we use to make sense of this discourse and this world. The wager of this lecture is that if the Anabaptist Mennonite community is truly committed to the critique of violence and pursuit of peace, then a critical reconceptualization of interdisciplinarity is essential, lest we allow suspicion, fear, and reactivity to define the terms of our encounters with others and ourselves.

This presentation develops my previous work in the second chapter of my dissertation, my 2017 article on the topic (PDF), and my encyclopedia entry on Mennonites and philosophy.

Beyond that, I am excited to develop my work on violence, religion, and conspiratorial thinking in new directions by exploring themes from trauma studies, indigenous data sovereignty, and the ‘quantification of the social‘ in theoretical ways that critique methodological forms of violence, and in concrete ways that could have ramifications for public health and other forms of care work.

Until next time,

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