Research

Publications

Refereed Journal Articles
  • “Digital Waistlands: Pro-Ana Communities, Religion, and Embodiment.” Journal of Religion, Media, and Digital Culture9 (2020): 207-227.

  • “Weighty Matter(s): Religion, Secularism, and American Weight Loss Culture.” Religion Compass14:2 (February 2020): 1-10.

  • “Spreading the Religion of Thinness from California to Calcutta:A Critical Feminist Postcolonial Analysis” with Michelle Lelwica andJenna McNallie.Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion24:1 (Spring 2009):20-41.(Published under Emma Hoglund.

Textbook Entries
  • “Evangelical Christianities in North America.” Bloomsbury Religion in North America. (In press.)

  • “Women and Christianity.”Bloomsbury Religion in North America. (In press.)

Book Reviews
  • Review of The Story of Radio Mind: A Missionary’s Journey on Indigenous Land, by Pamela E. Klassen. Material Religion15:5(July 2019): 644-645.

  • Review of Religious Affects:Animality, Evolution, and Power, by Donovan O. Schaefer.Material Religion12:4 (December 2016):515-516.

Presentations and lectures

Conference Presentations
  • 2020: “DNA Dieting: Genetic Testing, Nutrigenetics, and American Secularism,” Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Virtual

  • 2018: “Uploading the Body; Embodying the Online:Bodies, Digital Space, and the Pro-Ana Movement,” Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Denver, Colorado

  • 2018: “Networked Anorexia:Pro-Ana Communities, Network Logic, and the Internet,” Conference of the International Society for Media, Religion, and Culture, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado

  • 2018: “Pro-Ana:An Internet-Mediated ‘New Religious Movement’?”Craft Critique Culture Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

  • 2017: “Disrupting Secular Space:Veiled Female Bodies in Turkish Shopping Malls,” Jakobsen Memorial Graduate Conference, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

  • 2016: “Fashioning Identities:New Relationships with Fashion and Modesty in Turkey,” Doing the Body in the 21st Century Conference, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • 2008: “The Body’s Iron Cage and Its Relationship to the Protestant Ethic,” Annual Upper Midwest Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, St. Paul, Minnesota

  • 2007: “From California to Calcutta:Spreading the White-Western Devotion to Female Thinness—A Feminist Post-Colonial Analysis,” Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, San Diego, California

Colloquia
  • 2019: “Biohacking the Body: Fasting, Silicon Valley, and Protestant Privilege,” The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa
Guest Class Lectures
  • 2019: “Digital Waistlands: Pro-Ana Communities, Religion, and Embodiment,” inFood, Body, and Belief: A Global Perspective(RELS 2674),The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

  • 2014: “Spreading the Religion of Thinness from California to Calcutta:A Critical Feminist Postcolonial Analysis,”in Women’s Religious History(REL 374),Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota

  • 2014: “Fashioning Identities:New Relationships with Fashion and Modesty inTurkey,”in Social Theory(SOC302),Minnesota State UniversityMoorhead, Moorhead, Minnesota

Research Statement

American secularism is a pervasive and utterly inescapable aspect of life in the United States today. To participate in American public life is to engage with the particular secularism of the United States. And to engage with the particular secularism of the United States is to perpetuate a Protestant privilege embedded in the very fabric of this secularism on every scale, from institutions to individuals. While a number of scholars have attended to America’s particular form of secularism as it circulates in institutions like law, politics, and economics, less attention has been paid to how individuals embody American secularism in their daily lives. My research attends to this gap by exploring how both religion and secularism shape the everyday at the site of the body by highlighting Protestant culture’s profound yet often overlooked impact on public life in the United States. 

My dissertation, entitled “Secular Embodiments: Body Management, Protestant Culture, and American Secularism in the Twenty-First Century,” argues that American secularism is a unique cultural formation that is best understood as fundamentally embodied and that its embodiments are made plain in contemporary techniques of body management. I find that the body is a foundational site where it is possible to see the co-constitutive nature of the secular and the religious emerge as well as the scope and contours of their entangled ontologies. This entanglement is particularly clear when considering how American secularism is imbued with the same Protestant values, including commitments to individualism, self-control, and optimization, that orient American cultural life more broadly. Through case studies on direct-to-consumer genetic testing, biohacking, and the pro-ana movement, this project explores the tensions between the discourses and practices that seek to sustain American secularism through multiple mechanisms of power and the bodies that confound these attempts by expanding and contracting the field of possibility from which the contemporary subject emerges. 

“Secular Embodiments” is structured around three case studies, each of which considers a different body management culture made popular in the early twenty-first century. My first case study explores the logics of direct-to-consumer genetic testing and the role this practice plays in contemporary subject production. Through an analysis of the published marketing and media of at-home genetic testing companies like 23andMe, I reveal how American individualism is refracted through genetic science and digital technologies at the site of the body as a new expression of biopower, a mechanism of power that operates on the scale of population. My second case study analyzes the disciplinary rhetorics and practices of the hyper-masculinized biohacking movement and how this movement mobilizes and capitalizes on the particular logics of optimization. In this chapter, I consider how entrepreneurs like Tim Ferriss, Dave Asprey, and Ben Greenfield peddle biohacking techniques in ways that privilege particularly white, male, wealthy, and reasonably healthy bodies. My third case study demonstrates how self-control is managed in the online pro-ana movement through daily practices that sustain and diminish life and liveliness in abject, gendered bodies. In this chapter, I analyze the popular pro-ana site MyPancakeAddiction and track embodiments of pro-ana digital culture and performances of shared value systems that reflect a particularly Protestant, and feminized, orientation toward the self and the body.  

Contributing to religious studies, cultural studies, and gender studies, my project makes plain the ways in which American secularism is embodied and thus corrects a longstanding disregard for the bodily techniques that sustain public life in the United States. Its case studies reveal that both secular and religious practices privilege Protestant ways of engaging with the world, often through intimately embodied experiences of gender, race, and class. Protestantism is stubborn and persistent, in part, because it lurks in the body, in daily behaviors and practices that, on the surface, seem neutral, natural, and even accidental. “Secular Embodiments,” then, illustrates the profound influence of Protestantism on the articulation of secular subjecthood in twenty-first century bodily techniques shaped by modern genetic science and digital technologies. Indeed, attending to performances of contemporary body management cultures reveals the privileging of particular bodies through a persistent Protestantism finding purchase in new expressions of American secularism.  

My larger research agenda attends to the religio-secular assemblages that shape and are shaped by everyday embodiments in the contemporary United States. I have refereed articles published with both the Journal of Religion, Media, and Digital Culture and Religion Compass. The former is entitled “Digital Waistlands: Pro-Ana Communities, Religion, and Embodiment” and attends to the intersection of religion, embodiment, and digital culture in the pro-ana movement by exploring how anas embody religio-secular values in their performances of ana culture. The latter is entitled “Weighty Matter(s): Religion, Secularism, and American Weight Loss Culture” and summarizes the state of this fairly new field of research in religious studies. Finally, I am developing a book proposal based on my dissertation that I will be prepared to discuss with editors in the very near future.  

My next research project considers the early nineteenth century American diet reform movements that flourished alongside the rapid urbanization, industrialization, and emergence of an identifiable print public in the United States. These movements not only linked body size with morality and connected body regulation to the rise of American consumer culture but also worked to establish hierarchies of race, sexuality, gender, and class. While much of the work on early American weight loss movements has centered on Sylvester Graham and his followers, I am exploring another trend: the water cure, a movement that was largely dominated by women in the United States. Most hydropathic spas were run by women and functioned as epicenters for dress reform, temperance, and the women’s rights movement. Indeed, the first National Dress Reform Association meeting was held at the Glenhaven Water-Cure. Through an analysis of this trend’s primary periodical Water-Cure Journal, published between 1845 and 1857, I will trace changing attitudes toward the body in light of the personal ads it ran that included height and weight specifications for prospective partners. Because other preferences like political orientation and religious affiliation were also listed, I expect to find evidence of shifting attitudes towards both religion and secularism as well. A careful reading and analysis of the Water-Cure Journal will offer important contributions in our understanding of evolving orientations not only toward the body but also toward religion, secularism, and the persistence of Protestant culture embedded in the increasingly secular imperative to count calories from the mid- to late nineteenth century in the United States. 

Broadly, my work is an interdisciplinary engagement with themes of Protestant culture and American secularism; critical theory and religion; religion, food, and the body; and gender, religion, and culture. I am committed to exploring the intersections of religion and secularism in the contemporary United States as they manifest as embodied practices in the everyday. This work offers important contributions to the fields of religious studies, cultural studies, and gender studies by shifting the primary unit of analysis from populations to the individual and by considering how the individual, gendered body mediates the secular and the religious through daily actions and behaviors. 

Research Assistantships

Jenna Supp-Montgomerie, Religious Studies Department, 2015-2016

Michelle Lelwica, Religious Studies Department, 2006-2008

Dissertation Abstract

Secular Embodiments: Body Management, Protestant Culture, and American Secularism in the Twenty-First Century

American secularism is a pervasive and utterly inescapable aspect of life in the United States today. To participate in American public life is to engage with the particular secularism of the United States. And to engage with the particular secularism of the United States is to perpetuate a Protestant privilege embedded in the very fabric of this secularism on every scale, from institutions to individuals. Indeed, any serious attempt to understand the contemporary religious landscape of North America must address the complexities of American secularism, which is just as much part of this landscape as are the more obvious religious communities that have shaped American culture historically and today. While a number of scholars have attended to America’s particular form of secularism as it circulates in institutions like law, politics, and economics, less attention has been paid to how individuals embody American secularism in their daily lives. 

“Secular Embodiments” argues that American secularism is a unique cultural formation that is best understood as fundamentally embodied and that its embodiments are made plain in contemporary techniques of body management. It finds that the body is a foundational site where it is possible to see the co-constitutive nature of the secular and the religious emerge as well as the scope and contours of their entangled ontologies. This entanglement is particularly clear when considering how American secularism is imbued with the same Protestant values, including commitments to individualism, self-control, and optimization, that orient American cultural life more broadly. Through case studies on direct-to-consumer genetic testing, biohacking, and the pro-ana movement, this project explores the tensions between the discourses and practices that seek to sustain American secularism through multiple mechanisms of power and the bodies that confound these attempts by expanding and contracting the field of possibility from which the contemporary American subject emerges. 

Contributing to religious studies, cultural studies, and gender studies, this project makes plain the ways in which American secularism is embodied and thus corrects a longstanding disregard for the bodily techniques that sustain public life in the United States. Its case studies reveal that both secular and religious practices privilege Protestant ways of engaging with the world, often through intimately embodied experiences of gender, race, and class. Protestantism is stubborn and persistent, in part, because it lurks in the body, in daily behaviors and practices that, on the surface, seem neutral, natural, and even accidental. “Secular Embodiments,” then, illustrates the profound influence of Protestantism on the articulation of secular subjecthood in twenty-first century bodily techniques shaped by modern genetic science and digital technologies. Indeed, attending to performances of contemporary body management cultures reveals the privileging of particular bodies, which are overwhelmingly white, male, wealthy, and reasonably healthy, through a persistent Protestantism finding purchase in new expressions of American secularism.