About Me

Why “The Reluctant Americanist”?

“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.

Here are some pictures of what I’ve been up to recently!