My research focuses on the material culture of American religious history, c.1900-1930. I study people and things that historians usually call “fundamentalist.” I am interested in the ways that things, pictures, technologies, and sensations help us tell new stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.
I recently completed a dissertation called The Senses of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalists’ doctrinal stances and exegetical habits have long fascinated scholars, but we still have very little idea what it looked like, sounded like, smelled like, tasted like, or felt like to live in a fundamentalist world. We have practically no idea how fundamentalism registered on the body, how it emerged in the techniques and sensations of ordinary bodily routines. Nor do we have a firm grasp of how fundamentalist common sense operated in everyday life, how gut feelings and spirits made themselves known to people.
My dissertation argues that sensing bodies laid the foundation of fundamentalism. I argue that bodily sensations, things, and pictures made fundamentalism resonate with people at a gut level. It felt right. It presented easily comprehensible, visible truth. Each of my chapters examines how one of the senses worked in fundamentalist communities: 1) sight, 2) hearing, 3) touch, 4) the spiritual senses.
The Clarence Larkin picture above doesn’t simply illustrate the ideas or doctrines of dispensationalism. It makes those ideas possible. It reveals how fundamentalists saw as much as what they saw. It shows us some of the visual practices at the foundation of dispensationalists’ “literal” Bible reading. The image unveils the Bible’s literal, prophetic meaning–which is its visual meaning.
I’m committed to materializing the study of religion. I think that studying materiality, immateriality, pictures, and iconoclasm serves as a useful addition to existing scholarly work on discourse, intellectual history, cultural history, and even theology. Material and visual cultures shed light on the practices, bodies, environments, and things that have structured religious worlds.
The gallery below shows some of the images I study.