I am a PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Religion and Culture track. My research interests are grounded in questions about religion and governance, law, and the state through contemporary examples from American politics. Drawing on the theoretical works of Bruce Lincoln, Naomi Goldenberg, and Judith Butler, my work places the discourse on “religion and politics” within a discussion of performativity and authority to see the discursive and rhetorical tools used to create, maintain, and (re)negotiate the terms of power and control on both sides of the dominance relationship within the neoliberal state.
With a focus on the United States court system, I examine the ways “religious freedom” is an ever-shifting concept rather than a static, stable guarantee of the First Amendment. I look at court cases as negotiations of authority that point to larger, systematic contests between groups vying for control of the nation state and the correlating resources. I work to challenge popular assumptions about “religion” by recognizing them as mechanisms of governance that serve the interest of one group’s claim to power, and the ways in which those assumptions are breaking apart and being recalibrated. I aim to use computational analysis to capture broad patterns in the outcomes and rhetoric of court decisions across time to demonstrate the dynamic nature of “religious freedom.”
Originally from Colorado Springs, I completed a B.A. in Philosophy & Religion with a minor in Biology from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 2020. While at NWU, I gained extensive experience in Student Life from my roles as Involvement Intern in the Center for Student Involvement, President of the Entertainment Board, and Student Body Vice President. Following my time at NWU, I completed an M.A. in Religion in Culture with a Graduate Certificate in Advanced Online Pedagogy from the University of Alabama in 2022 where I gained significant skills in the digital humanities – both on the public scholarship side (video production, podcasting, web design, etc.) and the computational analysis side (text analysis, network analysis, data visualization, etc.).
In addition to my academic research and teaching, I work as the Media and Communications Coordinator for the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR). In this position, I am responsible for NAASR’s online presence by running their social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) and creating cross-platform content promoting the activities, publications, and other initiatives by NAASR and NAASR members. I work closely with the NAASR Officers and Executive Council to clearly and effectively communicate with members while intentionally engaging scholars from across the field with the critical study of religion. I also work as the Director of Marketing and Publicity for the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature – Southeastern Region where my role includes ensuring timely and effective communication between the region’s leadership and its members. Additionally, I am working as a Research Assistant with Dr. Jeri Wieringa on her digital project “Scholarly Edition of the SDA Periodical Literature” where we are using computational analysis and a collection of periodicals from 1850-1920 to answer the question, “What large trends can we uncover in the rhetoric of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination over time, particularly as related to end-times expectation, and how do those trends relate to other cultural constructions, particularly gender?”
“The Reluctant Americanist” might seem like a strange name for this website, especially given that my work focuses on the United States and “reluctant” is not an adjective an academic would typically want to be associated with. So, how did the name come to be? To find the answer to that question, we have to go back to the first week of my M.A. program. I was eager and ambitious as early graduate students are, and I thought I knew what I wanted to study. The first week of classes, I emailed a professor I wanted to work with and set up a meeting to, as I put it, “chat about my research interests and advice in starting to look at PhD programs.” We met, and after I gave my whole spiel about wanting to do some big research project that included examples from numerous nations, traditions, and time periods (remember when I said I was eager and ambitious?) the professor began asking me questions about what I was interested in. I spent the next thirty minutes dodging their attempts to get me to express an interest in the United States that was very clearly there. Almost every answer I gave went something like, “Well, you know how in the United States this happens? What if I studied that but not in America?” After a while, the professor sat for a minute and offered me this:
“I think you are a reluctant Americanist.”
I remember sitting there not quite sure how to respond because I didn’t know what that meant, but as soon as the words hit me they felt right. I began jokingly referring to myself as a reluctant Americanist when people would ask what kind of scholar I wanted to be and was always met with a laugh. I wore that label and parroted it for several months after that meeting, never entirely sure what it meant. Overtime, though, I began to develop an explanation that framed my work in a way that I felt accurately described what I wanted to do while also making sense of my professor’s initial comment. I was an Americanist, but only because I was actually interested in conversations about religion and politics and theories of governance, and looking at religious freedom in the United States was a good example to use to explore those conversations.
And so, “The Reluctant Americanist” is the name of this website because my work focuses on the United States and therefore, by most definitions, I am an Americanist. I’m a reluctant one, though, because being an Americanist comes with the tendency to promote notions of American exceptionalism and (whether explicitly or not) assumptions that the United States is interesting in and of itself. For me, studying how the court system in the US defines religion and manages diverse groups with competing interests is a way into understanding the rhetorical functions of “religion” and how both the nation state and those it governs make use of the category.