As a scholar of American religion, my research focuses on the embodied sensations of ritual in popular culture and everyday life. I explore the sacred choreography of nonprofits, corporations, and state institutions from the nineteenth century to the present. My work calls attention to the sacred repertoires in a seemingly secular American culture.
My first book, Rituals of the Republic: Sensations of Governance in Protestant Civil Society, describes the rituals that qualified elite white male bodies for power in the American early republic (1790-1840). The book investigates the rituals of the first non-profit organizations in the United States, including benevolent associations, secret societies, and religious corporations. I argue that white Protestant men practiced rituals, such as secret initiations and governance procedures, which only a white body could aptly perform. For example, I show that in order to perform charity, white Protestants would mimic the unruly style of their benevolent subjects (sailors in particular), demonstrating their capacity to lead in civil society through their ability to adopt and then discard a persona of incivility.
My broader research program continues my work of expanding what counts as ritual. My article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2017), “The Lean Closet: Asceticism in Post-Industrial Consumerism,” examines the overlapping practices of religion and capitalism, arguing that theGoopbrand, founded by celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow, demonstrates the centrality of asceticism to contemporary consumer culture—namely the desire to eliminate excess through consumption. This article is part of an ongoing second book project about the role of asceticism in American culture more broadly, including practices such as tiny house building, detoxing, and lifehacking. I argue that the history of Christianity provides crucial insights into how consumer practice has been inflected with desires for discipline, rigor, and negation.