May 2023 Update

The past few months have seen some wonderful successes and exciting developments in the research programme that I use this site to catalogue. Below I detail a few new projects and upcoming events for those who encounter this space and are curious about my work.

Postdoctoral Fellowship

From Fall 2021 to this past month I have been a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, where I began work on my next book project – Critique of Conspiracism – which shows deep resonances between religious and conspiratorial thinking and provides a basis for critiquing the conspiracist form of life by drawing from political theology, critical theory, and critical use of the internal family systems paradigm. Now that the fellowship has come to an end, I am turning my attention to my full time work at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine University (with gratitude for my postdoc supervisor Pamela Klassen, whose work on health and religion has been vital for my turn toward this new field of study).

The Centre for Social Accountability

I am now a Senior Research Associate in the Centre for Social Accountability at NOSM U, and I work on an interdisciplinary team exploring socially accountable research methods and research into social accountability (especially in the context of medical education). This means that I work on grant writing, communications, research engagement, and publishing, while supporting doctors and health care professionals who undertake research in northern, rural, and remote contexts.

A month or so ago, I returned from the International Congress on Academic Medicine in Quebec City, where I was involved in meetings on social accountability and accreditation, funded by a SSHRC Connections grant that I coauthored earlier in the year. Combined with my work with Towards Unity for Health (TUFH) I will be coordinating a series of symposia on social accountability and accreditation this Spring and Summer with the leads of the ISAASC working group.

I am also fortunate enough to be teaching a spring intensive course in the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University on “Research in Education for Change.” The course teaches research methods and design in the context of social justice and critical pedagogy, and it has been a great opportunity to teach graduate students for the first time (and to work through George Steiner’s Lessons of the Masters, Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Shawn Wilson’s Research is Ceremony).

Postsecular History

It’s been over a year since my first book was published with Palgrave Macmillan (now owned by Springer Nature), and I have just learned that the symposium on the book has been published in a print issue of Political Theology 24.3 (2023): 338-358. See here for an open access link to my response to the contributions by Travis Kroeker, Jen Otto, and Pamela Klassen.

Ontologies of Violence

My second book is nearing publication with Brill in an exciting new series on public and political theologies, and I have just corrected the first proofs and put together an index. I am excited to be speaking on the book’s reframing of violence next week at the Northern Health Research Conference in a presentation titled “Social Accountability and Methodological Violence: Reframing Socially Accountable Research.”

Critique of Conspiracism

I have recently signed a contract for my third book with the Conspiracy Theories series at Routledge, edited by Peter Knight and Michael Butter. It’s thrilling to have the coming year to finish the manuscript, and even more so to be included in such a foundational series. I am looking forward to sharing some of my preparatory work with the fine folks at the Canadian Institute for Far-Right Studies, where I am also an affiliate.

American Academy of Religion Meetings 2023

This fall I will be traveling to Texas (!) to the American Academy of Religion annual meetings, where I will give two papers: “Social Accountability, Health Care, and Religion: Social Bonds of Public Trust between Secularity and Religion” (in the bioethics unit), and “Transgression and Accountability: Boundaries and Violence in Miriam Toews’ Women Talking and Jenny Hval’s Girls Against God” (at the Mennonite Scholars and Friends forum).

The former paper will be the foundation for my future work on social accountability as a critical theory of society based on social bonds of public trust, and the latter paper will contribute to the discourse on Mennonite/s Writing (for example, see this forthcoming book by Danny Cruz, which I was very happy to endorse).

Anabaptist and Mennonite Studies (New Series) with Pandora Press

Lastly, my work as Director of Pandora Press has kept me busy on evenings and weekends since mid-2021, and the most exciting part has been the re-launch of the Anabaptist and Mennonite Studies Series. As academic editor of the series – in connection with the new editorial board – I am very excited to announce that the first three volumes (which have been in-progress for the past two years) are now published.

The series has been a labor of love that provides me with a steady foot in the Mennonite Studies world, and I’m thrilled to say that there are several more volumes in preparation, including:

  • Volume 4. J. Lawrence Burkholder, Mennonite Ethics: From Isolation to Engagement. 2nd Edition. Ed. Lauren Friesen. 2023. 600 pp.
  • Volume 5. Gottfried Seebaß, Müntzer’s Heir: The Work, Life, and Theology of Hans Hut. Trans. Amalie Enns. 2023. 600 pp.
  • Volume 6. Linda A. Huebert Hecht, Women in Early Austrian Anabaptism: Their Days, Their Stories. 2nd Edition 2023. 320 pp.

It’s been educating to take on the editorial review, editing, typesetting, design, and distribution of the Pandora Press backlist and this series, and I am excited for the next three volumes beyond those planned for this year – the most exciting of which is a new Anabaptist history textbook, which should be ready for 2025.

January 2023 Update

A year ago this week we departed from Southwestern Ontario for Thunder Bay, and arrived in the North amidst a terrible snowstorm. But since then, many things have become clearer, including the research programme that I use this site to catalogue.

2021 was a big year, with the publication of a journal special issue that I edited and the defense of my dissertation in early May, some teaching in the Spring and Fall, taking over as Director of Pandora Press midway through the year, the beginning of a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto in September, and the publication of my first book, Postsecular History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022) at the end of the year.

2022 was all the more intense, with an 18-hour move to a new city, the launch of my book, several lectures and presentations, a book chapter summarizing my Mennonite work, a few articles (including one in Angelaki!), the publication of several books I edited for the press (including one with praise from Margaret Atwood!), the first review of my first book and the publication of a symposium on it, and an exciting new position as a Research Associate in the Centre for Social Accountability at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine University. And amidst it all, I managed to unpack my library and settle into a new home and a new community of people.

2023 has already been a whirlwind, and it’s only been a few weeks. A few days ago I submitted the final revised manuscript for my second book, Ontologies of Violence (Brill, 2023) – a text that has come a long way since the dissertation version of two years ago, thanks to two helpful peer reviewers and comments from series editor Ulrich Schmiedel and some friends. The conclusion of the book turns from the abstract reconceptualization of the concept of violence that the book focuses on to form connections between violence, public health, social accountability, and the social determinants of health.

My current and future work, beyond my postdoctoral fellowship (which concludes in a few months), will carry these themes forward, especially as I make connections between my third book project on conspiratorial thinking, and the study of public health. In connection with three large grant proposals that were submitted last year, I am also working on bringing together the discourse on Social Accountability (in the area of medical education) with the conversations I specialize in, most especially the interdisciplinary study of religion and critical theory. I have posted some initial thoughts here, but this is a piece of writing that will be expanded this year into a shorter book called Social Accountability: A Critical Theory (so it is all subject to change).

On top of it all, I am fortunate enough to be teaching 200+ students at the University of Toronto this term, in an online course called “It’s the end of the world as we know it,” hosted by the Department for the Study of Religion. I’m fortunate to have an excellent team of teaching assistants, and a great group of first-year students, which makes teaching a joy. The syllabus for the course is here, and in the future I hope to turn the course material into a short booklet on religion and apocalypse, so keep an eye out for that if the topic interests you.

Later in the year, another project that I have been working on will come to fruition. I am excited to re-launch the Pandora Press series in “Anabaptist and Mennonite Studies” as a new independent scholarly book series, and the first five volumes will be published in 2023 under my editorship, in consultation with several helpful peer reviewers and the Pandora Press editorial board. More details on the series are available here, and submissions are open, with several titles scheduled for 2024.

For those who encounter my work for the first time, it may be difficult to trace a through line in all of the projects outlined above. The best way that I have to describe my approach is to say that I am trained as a scholar of religion and culture in the Social Sciences and Humanities, and I take an interdisciplinary approach to key terms and topics by drawing from critical theory, political theology, and the philosophy of religion. Key terms like the ‘postsecular,’ ‘violence,’ ‘conspiracy,’ and ‘accountability’ are the focus of my work, and I see deep connections between the study of the religious-secular distinction, the notion that violence is defined by the violation of value-laden boundaries, the problem of conspiratorial thinking, and the social bonds of public trust that underpin social accountability. My future work will aim, in a variety of ways, to clarify these connections.

Postsecular History Symposium!

A symposium on my book Postsecular History has just been published in Political Theology (online 2022, forthcoming 2023). See below for links to the contributions, and an open-access link to my response. I feel really lucky to have such thoughtful mentors and peers responding to my book, so please enjoy!

Postsecular History, continued.

I have just heard that the proceedings of the launch event for my book Postsecular History will be published as a mini-symposium in the journal Political Theology, including reflections from my friend Jen Otto, my doctoral supervisor Travis Kroeker, and my postdoctoral supervisor Pamela Klassen (and my own response, titled “Beyond the Postsecular?”). I couldn’t ask for more generous engagements with my work.

I have also just received an email with the first review of Postsecular History, written by Paul Doerksen (whose dissertation was also supervised by Travis Kroeker). Paul’s review is also generous, and amidst his supportive comments he points out the structural limits of the book that I too would have noted if I were reviewing it. Postsecular History is an essay collection that collects published and unpublished graduate school essays of mine, united under the banner of a critique of the postsecular. But its unity is questionable, and my attempts to unify it were at times forced – all of which I’m happy to accept, now that the book is published, public, and being read.

But I have more thinking to do about how criticism features in scholarly book reviews, especially because in the same issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review I reviewed Layton Boyd Friesen’s new book Secular Nonviolence and the Theo-Drama of Peace. Whereas Paul’s review of my book was almost entirely positive, my review of Friesen’s book was predominantly critical. I don’t enjoy writing critical reviews, and I don’t take pleasure in criticizing the hard work of others. Instead, I try to reserve my critical voice only for those areas of inquiry that have high stakes. For me, in this review, the stakes are high because the distinction between secularity and religion is so often used by Christian theologians to prop up caricatures of ‘bad secularity’ and ‘good religion’ without critical attention to the ambiguities of these terms and the profound limits of using the religious-secular distinction to explain things in the world. I have too often seen this distinction used as a normative and polemical means to write off entire fields of study and forms of life, and I found Layton’s approach to the distinction to be too simplistic, and potentially harmful inasmuch as it contributes to the gatekeeping and boundary maintenance that underpins Christian orthodoxy (which is so often constructed by processes of implicit and explicit demonization and heresy-making).

That said, it is disorienting to read such a generous review of my own – very limited – book, just a page after my highly critical review of another scholar’s first book, and I hope that my criticisms do not shut down, but instead open up, the discourses that I am trying to intervene in (political theology, Mennonite Studies, etc.). The theme of openness, and the difficulty of critiquing violence without repeating the violence of critique, are central to my next book, which I aim to submit to Brill by the end of the year. In Ontologies of Violence I argue that concept of violence is defined by the violation of value-laden boundaries, and that treating violence as a diagnostic concept that reflects the values of its users and critics is a helpful interpretive strategy for reading the approaches to violence taken by Jacques Derrida, Grace Jantzen, and Mennonite philosophical theologians. I see this paradigm intersecting with my work in Postsecular History because each of my main sources in Ontologies of Violence uses theological and political terms to periodize the relationship between origins, essences, and ends, as part of their critiques and metanarratives. So too with the forms of conspiratorial thinking I will attempt to delineate in my postdoctoral project, but more on that another time…

The Centre for Social Accountability at NOSM University

My work with the Centre for Social Accountability at NOSM University continues, and I would like to share this piece I wrote on the launch celebration for the centre earlier this year. I’m continuing to link my work on violence, conspiratorial thinking, and political theology, with social accountability, and I am excited to see where these connections go. The conversation on social accountability has already made some connections with the study of religion and critical theory, via the social determinants of health, but I’m eager to go further and examine the character of the social bonds that compose socially accountable institutions.