My name is James Bishop and I am the author and content creator of this blog site. I provide a brief introduction of who I am so readers can have some idea of who runs and maintains this site.
What do I do? What work have I done in religion? What do I believe? What do I do in my free time?
I will speak about my academic interests but also balance this was some lighter information about my personal life and some funny and memorable experiences. I have sprinkled throughout a few pictures too.
What is the Craziest Thing I have Ever Done?
Although I can be quite boring sitting in cafes doing work, I do like to mess around sometimes. During a long college holiday a few years ago, my friend and I came up with the idea of shooting a few pranks. It was actually mostly my idea and he just filmed it. I walked my dog Betsy through a busy park and a cricket club in a monkey suit. The monkey suit was expensive, so I made sure to put the prank into a YouTube video.
I also did a graffiti spray paint prank on security guards at a church, sports club, and an old-age home. But it was actually just a deodorant can I was using and the prank worked really well. I tried to dress up as someone who looks like a graffiti artist, although I am not sure how successful I was in this regard.
Latest Update in my Life
In 2022, I became a member of an academic body in the Study of Religion for the first time. The organization is the Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA). I attended the conference on the 12th of October 2022 at the University of the Western Cape and viewed some fascinating presentations by leading scholars in Southern Africa and overseas.
It is somewhat expected of me to present some of my doctoral work at the 2023 conference. That makes me nervous. Also, at the event itself, I discovered my doctoral supervisor is the President of this organization. Two of my friends in the department at the University of Cape Town presented their work at the conference. I was proud of both of them.
Background Educational Info
I am fortunate to have obtained several degrees and my tertiary educational journey is now twelve years in length (as of 2023).
I graduated in brand marketing and multimedia design in 2014. Initially, I thought I was destined to become a multimedia and graphic designer. I learned how to create websites, apps, and flash games. I also produced comics and illustrations. However, I found myself more attracted to Critical Studies and Brand Marketing at this time, both also a part of the degree.
For a short while, I found work in this field. I was part of a team of graphic designers, marketing students, and copywriters working on brand campaigns for established companies and organizations like ABSA and Design Indaba. I also performed graphic design work for a small business called Life for a time.
In 2018, I completed my studies at the Cornerstone Institute. I graduated in theology majoring in psychology. I obtained my BTh Psych. cum laude. It was during these three and a half years that my interest in religion grew most significantly. I graduated top of my class in Biblical Studies, in particular Old and New Testament Studies in which I learned the tools of biblical exegesis. I would apply some of these tools in my postgraduate studies in Sufism at the University of Cape Town. The professor was impressed and managed to graduate at the top of the class.
I obtained TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in 2017 which is an English language teaching course. I received a distinction for this course, which surprised me because at this stage I had never actually taught anything to anyone.
This motivated me to visit Asia to teach English in June or July of 2022 but I decided against that at the last moment due to private matters at home and to continue my teaching duties at the university.
I obtained honors in the Study of Religion in 2019 and have completed my Masters. I am now enrolled in the Ph.D. program in the Study of Religions and am into my second year. In 2022, I was a guest lecturer in the Sociology of Religion and Hinduism, which provided a great learning experience.
I frequently tutor first, second, and third-year undergraduate students in various modules. To name a few, these modules include comparative religion, Asian and African religions, the Abrahamic religions, sociology of religion, and the psychology of religion.
My goal for the future is to become an established scholar in my field (see below) and procure a full-time lecturing career in the Study of Religion.
Current and Past Dissertation Work
What has some of my work thus far focused on?
In my honors year, I utilized a qualitative discourse analytical approach to analyze two inter-religious apologetic debates. One was between a Muslim and a Christian, and the other between evangelical Christians and modernist theologians. This was a good learning experience because I have always been interested in the topic of religious apologetics in which proponents of various faiths attempt to argue that their beliefs are true.
For my masters, I studied new religious movements with my focus being on the ISKCON movement specifically. I visited a local temple, conducted interviews both there and online, and evaluated as much discourse as possible. These years cultivated my deep interest in new religious movements and I have since collected a small archive of information on them in South Africa and elsewhere.
In both honors and masters, I used David Chidester’s interpretive tool (which I called the theory of symbolic exchange) to analyze contestations over symbols. It is a helpful tool for coming to terms with how religions are coping in societies and where the ideological, metaphysical, and theological contestations lie between religious persons and the perspectives of others in society. It assists in laying bare the interests that religious and irreligious persons have so as to understand their motivations.
I applied this theory and approach to the Hare Krishnas across twenty-one topics a few of which include gender issues, theological beliefs such as reincarnation and Krishna as the supreme God, science and faith, and ethical contentions on matters of abortion and materialism in Western societies, and so on.
For my Ph.D., I was going to focus on transhumanism and religion in the future of Artificial Intelligence. This is a very interesting topic because it touches on deep philosophical notions of the nature of consciousness, immortality, life after death, and so on.
I decided, however, to change the topic and focus on disenchantment (borrowing this term from Max Weber) in the modern age and how through engaging religion in fantasy products human beings re-enchant the universe.
This changed slightly in 2023 as I decided to de-emphasize Weber and emphasize secularization theory in a more extensive way. My focus is on fiction-based religions in Scandinavia, a very secular setting, in which fiction-based religions have some presence.
What Do I Believe Personally?
Students and strangers repeatedly ask me this and it is so difficult to answer. For example, at a social event recently a man asked me: “You study religion. Is Jesus real?”
Generally speaking, I am agnostic about many things that others take for granted. I seldom adopt strong positions. I am also inclined toward ancient Greek skepticism, which means that I often suspend judgment, especially on matters in which my knowledge is limited. Often I find various views on a matter appealing and cannot decide which one to adopt.
I am also an evidentialist, so I follow the evidence where I believe it leads. I have my biases, but I try my best to keep them at a distance. I have in the past and will certainly continue to alter my views on many topics the more I learn.
When it comes to personal religious belief, the question is even more difficult to answer. Years ago I had a religious experience that shaped my metaphysical and religious worldview quite significantly. I keep this experience and any attachments I have made to it in terms of what I might believe religiously largely secretive.
Sometimes when I am asked what is True, I respond that “I discovered the truth years ago. I just forgot to write it down”.
My Interests in the Study of Religion and Sociology of Religion
There are a number of debates within my specialization that I follow when I can and about which have formed my opinions.
There is, for example, a debate about the decolonizing of the Study of Religion studies which aims to bring light to the discipline’s roots in historical colonialism and how this continues to shape how we think about religion today. I currently hold to a soft version of decolonization in which (unlike hard proponents) I do not believe we should abandon our classical historical theorists or the term/category “religion” entirely. I largely agree with scholar Ivan Strenski who maintains that one does need to be critical of the category of “religion” but need not eliminate it and commit “disciplinary suicide”. I believe we can do much to include many more theorists of color and women in our syllabus. This is indeed starting to reflect in the literature, perhaps less so in Western Europe and more so in Africa.
Defining religion has been troublesome for scholars for decades. Some scholars maintain that we should not even use the term “religion” at all. At the very least, viewing religion as a discursive tradition, a point made by Talal Asad, is important because it takes us beyond definitions of a narrow scope such as, for example, religion is “belief in spiritual beings”, as E. B. Tylor stated it roughly a century ago. Smart’s Seven Dimensions framework is good because it takes into account various factors such as emotional, aesthetic, and embodied gestures of the religious alongside the doctrinal and material aspects.
I am interested in the notion of subjective religiosity, which I first learned through the work of sociologist Rodney Stark. I am interested in the religiosity of persons who are religiously unaffiliated. What types of religious beliefs and sentiments do we find in this demographic? I have also noticed how this form of religiosity has thrown a spanner into the works of some versions of secularization theory and their advocates.
Because of the topic of my Ph.D., I have dived into the secularization debate. This is no easy task as secularization theory has been debated and contested by scholars of religion since the 1960s. If I had to stick my flag on a hill, I would adopt a moderate secularization perspective that emphasizes the differentiation of social spheres, one being religion which has been removed from the locus of centralized social and political power in Western European and North American contexts.
Also relevant to secularization and my thesis is the concept of the mediatization of religion. This field evaluates very “secular” contexts, such as the Scandinavian countries, in which institutionalized religions are barely present and considered relics of ancient history. However, sociologists of religion have noted that religious ideas continue to exist in these countries and that the primary source for this is the media. My interest in new religious movements is particularly pertinent here as many within secular contexts have gone on to create and form fiction-based new religious movements by drawing on religious themes and symbols within fantasy products. And all of a sudden movements like Jeddism, Snapeism, Vampirism, Raelianism, and many others are spawned. For the scholar of religion, he will want to know why this is the case. I seek to answer that question.
Other Background Info
So, religion doesn’t consume all of my life. What do I do in my free time?
I am fortunate to have fabulous friends with whom I can have insightful discussions about a range of topics. My friends range from atheists to Muslims, evangelical Christians, Platonists, and the unaffiliated, and all have their own, unique perspectives. We talk philosophy, sports, video gaming, work life, important global events, and much more.
I enjoy sports, particularly rugby, and will make time for some socialization around it. I played table tennis competitively in the South African league and division. I trained for hours several times a week but playing competitively ultimately turned out to be an exercise in humility.
I spend way too much money on coffee (and on coffee meetups with friends) but always find myself most productive in cafes.
I love to chat with my students on a personal basis to learn more about them. I have had insightful discussions with a broad range holding unconventional religious worldviews.
I also like to do some traveling. I have been to a few nice places in Asia and Europe, and I will definitely go back again in the future.
Thailand and Spain produced good memories for me.
I don’t drink much but in Thailand that changed for a day or two. One night my brother, two friends, and I drank a bit too much. The happy hour was good, so I drank several Long Island Ice Teas, which is a strong drink. Long story short, I ended up in the wrong hotel further along the beach at around 1AM in the morning. All I remember was following my brother and the two friends somewhere but got lost in the process. Fortunately, with a Herculean effort, I managed to stumble back to the correct resort. I found my brother and friends again, I fell over on the sand with much laughter.
More dramatic and memorable was Spain. It was my second time visiting Spain. This was in 2016. One night, my friend and I were in Barcelona and we decided to do a pub crawl where you pay a small fee and head from pub to pub on foot in a small party. One gets a drink at each pub. Bear in my that I do not drink much at all, so after four or five pubs I was really feeling it and wondering if I could make it to the next pub with the group. My friend Chris, far more accustomed to drinking, was in a similar state.
Somehow Chris and I ended up at a nightclub, a rather usual zone for me.
At about 2AM Chris and I split up somewhere near the club. Either way, I headed back home because that was where we would both end up. But I forgot that “home”, our hotel, was very far away and all I remembered was that we jumped on two subway trains to get to this area. I had forgotten the numbers and names of these subway routes. I also realized that we had just done a pub crawl, which only confused me more.
But I was adamant I could read a map and find the correct route home. I hobbled down the street in a random direction and found a subway entrance. I went down into the subway only to find the gates were locked shut.
I realized I was in a bit of shit at this stage. I did not know where Chris was. I was most certainly lost and the subway was locked. Further, I had no idea how to get back to the club and even if I did, the club was large so I would not have found Chris anyway.
I made my way into the nearest store that was still open at this time and asked the tiller where the closest taxis and buses were. He murmured something and loosely pointed me in a direction. I followed the direction he pointed. At this point, I was entertaining the possibility of sleeping under a bridge somewhere and finding my way back to my hotel and Chris in the morning. One sobers up fairly quickly in such a circumstance.
I don’t know how but I managed to find a taxi. But in the taxi, I learned that the driver could barely speak any English and I forgot the name of my hotel. So, I pointed to the area on a map where I thought my hotel was located. With some divine providence, we found the right hotel.
I showered and went to bed and about two hours later I heard a huge plop on the other bed and it was Chris.
When we spoke about these events the following morning, he told me that he jumped on the wrong public bus from the nightclub and had a free tour around Barcelona in the early hours of the morning. Eventually, the bus driver asked Chris if he was okay and dropped him at the hotel.
Reading and Reading
I am often reading. I enjoy reading the sacred texts of various religions. I have currently made my way through the Tao Te Ching (of Taoism), the Analects (of Confucianism), the Qur’an, the Bible, and some of the Upanishads (of Hinduism).
I read other stuff too, such as philosophy, general history, New Testament, Old Testament, God, comparative religion, world religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, and more.
I have a particular passion for the Philosophy of Religion because I enjoy studying arguments for and against God and religion.
How Do I Get My Information for this Blog?
For those interested in the content I generate and release on this blog site, I obtain the vast majority of information from academic sources that I spend countless hours summarizing. This includes various books in my online archive and on my bookshelf. JSTOR, EBSCO, and Google Scholar are my most used arenas for academic content.
I have roughly 4500 PDF documents stored in my digital library on many topics. When I am bored or have nothing else to do, I will relax and read through these documents. Most of this finds its way onto this blog.
I make use of websites for my content, although I am very careful and picky about which ones I use. I trust the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Encyclopedia Britannica, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the Ancient History Encyclopedia, and use these fairly often.
For “insider” views on specific topics, I will consult websites of specific individuals and groups (e.g. the official ISKCONZA.com website if I want to know something about what ISKCON teaches or affirms, etc.). No information on this blog site is plagiarized although I do draw generously from what scholars in relevant fields have written.
Also please note that since this blog site is a decade old as of 2023, I am often editing and discarding old materials. This is just one of the cons of being a one-man team and having to maintain a blog site with several hundred articles on it.
For those who want to know more or have any queries, you are welcome to contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
And it’s been awesome to read your stuff, keep going!
Thanks Tom! You too. Keep up the good work.
Well James, you obviously have a keen and inquisitive mind and I have enjoyed and learned from a number of your posts. What with the wide spectrum you cover, I was kinda worried that your personal faith might not be centered in Jesus. Knowledge is one thing, personally knowing the reality of, is another. Not putting you down, you obviously know a lot of things I am not conversant with, but I am also sure that Jesus can and will touch your heart, if you are open to him. Many years ago I sat as a student under a religious professor who frequently mis-stated historical or Biblical truths of Christianity, which subsequently had me spending half of my life in the university library. One day he gave me his class to speak to and of course I did. Later he called me at home and asked to come over. I was quite intimidated because of his academic accomplishments, so I prayed about it and God told me just to speak to him from my heart, which I did. He accepted Jesus as his Lord and saviour in my living room that night and we kept in touch for almost ten years. He was an American teaching in Canada and he did go back to the states shortly thereafter. I often wonder what happened to him. Anyway, short story is that Jesus and all that He told us about is real, today, here and now. And once that reality is actually experienced, nothing else ever remains the same. Hope you get there. God’s blessings on you and yours. – Bruce
Thank you Bruce for these words and encouragement. The story you have about that professor is striking. I’m glad it went the way it did! I much appreciate your presence at this blog and hope you continue to keep an eye here. I also hope your blog is going well!
Thanks for the opportunity to reply and share contrasting viewpoints on the creationist argument founded on the Genesis account. I struggled for years as a result of fundamental Baptist teachings but I am a ‘born again’ believer and as such God gives us the gift of discernment to help us navigate through the confusion of dark saying etc. You say your vehicle of navigation through your personal world of skepticism is education, study and constant reading and that’s okay to some degree but I arrived where I am today by discernment as I read God’s sometimes confusing words. Departure from long time conventional doctrine has it’s difficult moments I found as a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher even if I didn’t veer from conventional wisdom. My prayer for you is to ask Jesus to save your soul and give you that new ‘born again’ experience of Romans 10:13. Praise God for all his confusing scripture!
Hi Calvin, I’m thinking you were addressing your response to James, versus myself, so I thought I would just bring this to you attention and accordingly wait to see if James will respond to you. Blessings.
Dear James Bishop,
Thank you for introducing yourself to your readers. I would like to wish you all the best in your academic studies.
By the way, I am impressed by your well-written post entitled “What is the Tao Te Ching and the “Tao”?”
Since you “have gotten through the Tao Te Ching”, I wonder whether you remember coming across the following two quotations:
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Considering the state of the current presidency in the USA, we should be aware of the abovementioned two quotes, from both of which the current US presidency and also leaders in other countries can learn a great deal.
Speaking of ancient Chinese works, I have attempted to interpret and translate a Chinese poem at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2020/11/11/strong-wind-knows-tough-grass/
Given your expertise and insights, I would appreciate your giving me some feedback and suggestion at the comment section of my said post. Please be informed that you might need to use a desktop or laptop computer with a large screen to view the rich multimedia contents available for heightening your multisensory enjoyment at my blog, which could be too powerful and feature-rich for iPad, iPhone, tablet or other portable devices to handle properly or adequately.
Happy mid-November to you!