Across the range of my books, I’ve always wanted to tell stories that matter–to me, to the people whom I write about, and to anyone interested in thinking through how religion and spirituality are powerful categories that shape bodily experiences, interpersonal relationships, and systems of political legitimacy and domination. My approach to the study of religion has drawn upon anthropology, history, and theories of colonialism and modernity to ask how people and communities become “religious” subjects in purportedly secular times and places.
My latest book is called The Story of Radio Mind: A Missionary’s Journey on Indigenous Land, and comes out this spring (2018) with the University of Chicago Press. The book follows Frederick Du Vernet (1860-1924), an Anglican missionary bishop, as he travels in Ojibwe, Ts’msyen, and Nisga’a territory, and invents a psychic technique that he calls “radio mind.” With chapters on photography, maps, printing presses and radio as media for storytelling between Indigenous peoples and missionaries, I reflect on how Canada came to be through a process of colonial spiritual invention.
Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State (2018) is also a new volume, co-written with Winnifred Fallers Sullivan and Paul Christopher Johnson, focused on the entangled history of churchstateness in the Americas. It’s part of the TRIOS series at the University of Chicago Press, which brings together three writers to think collectively–and conversationally–about a particular topic. Working on the introduction together and sharing our essays with each other was highlight of my writing life. My essay is called “Spiritual Jurisdictions: Treaty People and the Queen of Canada.”
My 2011 book, Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing and Liberal Christianity, is published by University of California Press, and won the 2012 American Academy of Religion Award of Excellence for Analytical-Descriptive Studies. The book focuses on how, via tropes and practices of healing, liberal Protestants in Canada went from thinking of themselves as the “healers of the nations” to apologizing for their participation in colonialism, while also taking on such therapeutic practices as yoga and Reiki. Contrary to common depictions of liberal Protestants as pewbound and disenchanted devotees of modernism (or what their Pentecostal detractors called “sad Christians”), liberal Protestants held strong commitments to effective forces beyond the material or the “scientific”. They aligned this supernaturalism with their politics in a mix that I call “supernatural liberalism.”
After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement, (2010) is co-edited with Courtney Bender, and brings together a range of scholars concerned with the question of how the ideal of “religious pluralism” has shaped the recognition of what counts as religious in scholarly, state, and popular contexts. Courtney and I jointly wrote the introduction, and it is still one of my favourite theoretical pieces.
My 2001 book Blessed Events: Religion and Home Birth in America considered the ways that women from a diversity of religious affiliations–including conservative evangelicals and Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Old Order Amish, Christian Scientists, mainstream Protestants, and goddess feminists–were united in their conviction that childbirth was not a biomedical, but a “spiritual” event. I tried to write this book in an accessible interpretive style, with generous attention to women’s birth stories, as well as sustained theoretical reflection on the meanings of birth as radical creation.
Going by the Moon and the Stars: Stories of Two Russian Mennonite Women, my first book (1994), is a comparative life history of two women from Mennonite settlements in South Russia who lived under German occupation during World War II. The women fled with the soldiers back to Germany at the end of the war, to live as displaced people, eventually settling in Canada. Employing feminist theories of autobiography and life writing together with methods of feminist ethnography, I argued that the stories these women told me revealed how “religious identity” was formed at the complicated nexus of gendered norms, embodied rituals, collective myths, and personal memory.
Women and Religion: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies is a four-volume collection I edited with the assistance of Shari Golberg and Danielle Lefebvre. I wrote the orienting introductions for the first two volumes, “Women and Religion: Critical Foundations” and “The Politics of Public and Private Religion.” Shari Golberg wrote the introduction for Volume 3, “Texts, Rituals, and Authoritative Knowledges”, and Danielle Lefebvre wrote the introduction for Volume 4, “Women and Religion: Feminist Effects”. The four volumes gather some of the best critical research on women and religion from diversity of disciplines, and include both “classic” and new articles.
- The Story of Radio Mind: A Missionary’s Journey on Indigenous Land. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018
- Ekklesia: Three Inquiries in Church and State, co-written with Paul Christopher Johnson and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.
- Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.
- After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement. Co-edited with Courtney Bender. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
- Women and Religion: Critical Concepts. 4 volume edited collection. With Shari Golberg and Danielle Lefebvre. Routledge, 2009.
- Blessed Events: Religion and Home Birth in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
- Going by the Moon and the Stars: Stories of Two Russian Mennonite Women. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1994.