Who is James Bishop (Author, Religion Researcher, and Content Producer)?

My name is James 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?

I can be quite boring. But I do like to mess around sometimes. So, 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. So, I walked my dog Betsy through a busy park and a cricket club in a monkey suit. I actually put this into a YouTube video.

Oh, I also played a graffiti spray paint prank on security guards at a church, an old-age home, and at a sport’s club. But it was actually just a deodorant can I was using. Either way, the prank worked really well.

Latest Update

Here is the latest update in my life!

I recently became a member of an academic body in religion for the first time. The organization is called the Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA). I was able to attend the conference on the 12th of October 2022 and view some fascinating presentations by leading scholars in Southern Africa and from overseas.

ASRSA conference 2022.

In fact, next year it is expected that I present my doctoral work at the 2023 conference! Also, at the event itself, I discovered my doctoral supervisor is the President of this organization. Two of my friends in the department at my university presented their work at the conference. I was super proud of both of them and now it is my turn to pitch up next year.

My friend presenting his paper on religious extremism. He is blocked by the pillar in this photo.
Graduation cum laude, 2018.

Background Educational Info

I will begin with my educational background. I am fortunate to have obtained several degrees and my tertiary educational journey is almost twelve years in length. I am getting old!

I graduated in brand marketing and multimedia design in 2014. Initially, I thought I was destined to become a multimedia designer and graphic designer. I learned how to create websites, apps, and flash games. I also produced comics and illustrations. However, I found myself most attracted to Critical Studies and Brand Marketing at this time, both of which were also a part of the degree.

I filmed a documentary on refugee crises for my multimedia 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 like ABSA and Design Indaba. I also did 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 3.5 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, a module I was also fortunate to graduate at the top of the class.

I also obtained TESOL in 2017 which is an English language teaching course. Surprisingly, I received a distinction for this course, which surprised me. This motivated me to visit Asia to teach English but I pulled out at the last moment due to private matters at home and to continue my teaching duties at university.

I obtained honors in the Study of Religion in 2019 and have completed my Masters. I am enrolled in the PhD program in the Study of Religions at the University of Cape Town. In 2022, I was a guest lecturer in the Sociology of Religion and Hinduism. I also tutor undergrad students in various modules within the discipline.

In the future, I hope to procure a full-time lecturing career in the Study of Religion focusing on new religious movements, critical theories of religion, and comparative religion.

Current and Past Dissertation Work

In my honors year, I utilized a qualitative discourse analytical approach to analyzing two inter-religious apologetic debates. One was between a Muslim and a Christian, and the other between evangelical Christians and modernist theologians.

For my masters, I studied new religious movements with my focus being on the ISKCON movement. I visited a local temple, conducted interviews, 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 (I have posted just a handful on my blog already but stay tuned to see more!).

Visiting the Hare Krishna temple for fieldwork.

In both honors and masters, I used David Chidester’s interpretive tool (which I call 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 presented my proposal for my PhD in religion. Initially, I was going to focus on transhumanism and religion in the future of Artificial Intelligence. I decided 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.

Beyond my university work, I enjoy applying Ninian Smart’s seven dimensions of religion to alternative religions. I am also fascinated with the theory of religion (see the theories of religion section on this blog site) and I have recently been uploading videos to my YouTube channel on which I provide summaries of many of the classical theorists and their views on religion. This is to assist the students I tutor.

A Buddhist temple in Cape Town, South Africa

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 “religiousexperience that shaped my metaphysical thoughts quite significantly. Sometimes others think I have an answer to the question of what religion is True because I study religion professionally. But as I like to say, “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 closely and about which have formed my opinions.

There is, for example, a debate about the decolonizing of religious studies which seeks 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.” I largely agree with scholar Ivan Strenski who maintains we need to be critical of our 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.

I think looking at religion as a discursive tradition is important as this takes us beyond the narrow scope of defining religion as belief “belief in spiritual beings,” as E. B. Tylor stated it. This is partly why I use Smart’s Seven Dimensions framework because it also takes into account emotional, aesthetic, and embodied gestures of the religious alongside the doctrinal and material components.

I enjoy a great deal of feminist scholarship on religion. I think it is important we include more voices of women in our discipline and that we also pry open history to allow religious women to speak. Often these voices have been marginalized and much good work is being done in this area to bring them to the surface.

I am interested in the notion of subjective religiosity, which I first came to learn of through the work of 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, and so on? I have also noticed how this form of religiosity has thrown a spanner into the works of the secularization hypothesis and its proponents. It remains fascinating to see how these trends will continue to evolve.

Vida cafe. The worst coffee in the world.

Currently, because of the topic of my PhD, I have delved deep 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 of which is religion that has been removed from the locus of centralized social and political power in Western European and North American contexts.

Also very 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 in those societies 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 once 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.

Sunday practice

I spend way too much money on coffee (and on coffee dates with friends) but always find myself most productive in cafes.

Working at the cafe.

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.

Champagne Valley.
France, 2007.
Thailand.

Holiday Stories

Thailand was an awesome holiday. I don’t drink much. But one night my brother, two friends, and I drank a bit too much because of discounts. I drank several Long Island Ice Teas, which is a very strong drink. Long story short, I somehow ended up in the wrong hotel further along the beach at like 1AM in the morning, in fact, quite far down the beach. I followed my brother and the two friends but got lost somewhere along the journey. Fortunately, I got back to my actual beach resort.

Probably the most dramatic and memorable holiday experience I have had was in Spain. It was my second time in Spain. This was in about 2016. One night, my friend and I were in Barcelona and we decided to do a pub crawl. Here you pay a small fee and head from pub to pub on foot in a small party. You get a free drink at each pub. Well, after four or five pubs, I was starting to feel it. And indeed my friend, Chris, and I were.

Chris and I on the pub crawl. I was definitely feeling it at this point.

Somehow we ended up at a nightclub. Again, this is not my usual zone. I am not a big drinker and definitely not that into clubs.

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 on the other side of Barcelona (or very far away). And all I remembered was that we had to jump on two subway trains to get to this area. I had forgotten the numbers and names of these subway routes. But I was adamant I could read a map and find the correct route. So, I hobbled down the street in a random direction and down into the nearest subway area only to find gates were locked shut.

I realized I was in the shit at this stage. I did not know where Chris was, or where I was, the subway was locked, and I definitely couldn’t find my way back to the club. So, I made my way into the nearest store that was still somehow open 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 seriously 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.

So, I showered and went to bed. About two hours later I heard a huge drop on the other bed and it was Chris. Apparently, he jumped on the wrong public bus from the nightclub and had a free tour around Barcelona.

Greece.

Reading and Reading

I am often reading. I am busy reading the sacred texts of various religions. I have gotten through the Tao Te Ching (of Taoism), the Analects (of Confucianism), the Qur’an, and some of the Upanishads (of Hinduism).

I read other stuff too, such as philosophy, general history, Church history, historical Jesus studies, New Testament, Old Testament, God, comparative religion, world religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, and more.

I have lots of books on religion.

I have a particular passion for Philosophy of Religion. I enjoy studying arguments for and against God.

How Do I Get My Information?

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 make use of websites, 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 quite 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 several years pf age, 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: james.bishop35@gmail.com

7 comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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:

    A leader is best
    When people barely know he exists
    Of a good leader, who talks little,
    When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
    They will say, “We did this ourselves.”

    ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

    All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.

    ― 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!

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