My name is James and I am the author and content creator at this blogsite. I provide a brief introduction of who I am so readers can have some idea 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?
Background Educational Info
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.
In 2018, I graduated in theology majoring in psychology. I obtained my BTh Psych. with cum laude. I also obtained TESOL in 2017 which is an English language teaching course. I planned to visit Asia to teach English but pulled out at the last moment 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.
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 have 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 blogsite) 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 students I tutor.
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 thoughts quite significantly. Sometimes others think I have an answer to the question of what religion is True because I study religion professionally.
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 on 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, which I support.
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.
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 contexts.
Other Background Info
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.
I enjoy sports, particularly rugby, and will make time for some socialization around it. I use to play table tennis competitively in the South Africa league and division.
I spend way too much money on coffee (and on coffee dates 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.
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 a particular passion for the 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 blogsite, 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 concerning which ones I use. I trust 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 blogsite is plagiarized although I do draw generously from what scholars in relevant fields have written.
Also please note that since this blogsite is several years old, 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 blogsite 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