|Associate Professor of Religion
Departmental Area: Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy
Address: Department of Religion
Matthew Day (Ph.D., Brown 2003).
There is a rule-of-thumb among sailors: only step up into your lifeboat. That is to say, one should never abandon ship unless she is sinking beneath your feet.
The first decade of my professional life was spent chipping away at two blocks of scholarship. At one level, I was interested in the various links that have connected naturalistic and medical theorizing about religion with the ambition to preserve a modern civic order. At another, I was committed to championing what might be called a “critical turn” in the academic study of religion. I even cared enough about the field to serve as the Editor of Method and Theory in the Study of Religion for a little while.
All of that changed around 2011, when I climbed up and into my lifeboat. My teaching and research is now—and will continue to be in the foreseeable future—more engaged with the history of capitalism, or the associated fields of maritime history and international political economy, than with “religious studies.”
I spend every possible minute messing about in one of my sailboats.
Recent Graduate Seminars
- Marx, Weber, Bourdieu
- The Landscapes of American Capitalism
REL3160 Religion and Science
This course provides an historical and philosophical analysis of major questions in the relationship between religion and science. Meets Liberal Studies: History (LS-HIS).
REL4491-3 SEM: Domination & its Discontents: State Violence and the Genres of Resistance
Marx and Engels famously described the modern state as little more than “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” Max Weber, in his own relentlessly garrulous way, identified the modern state as a system of administration and law which guides the collective actions of an executive staff while claiming authority over the members of the association within a territory over which it exercises domination (that, for the record, is just a paraphrase). Ever since, most contemporary political theories have agreed that the modern state is an instrument of coercive and disciplinary violence designed to achieve socio-economically specific outcomes.
As a result, the evasion of, resistance to and revolutionary confrontation with state violence by subordinate communities have all been persistent themes of engaged reflection. This seminar surveys some of the subaltern discontents with and alternatives to state domination since the nineteenth century. Figures discussed will include: Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Bakunin, Sorel, and Clastres.
REL3142 Religion, Self & Society
This course is structured around the methodological principle that we should abandon the habit of treating some discourses or practices as being irreducibly distinct from mundane political and economic life. That is to say, religion should not be viewed as a substantive term of analysis but as a piece of political rhetoric—a way of strategically representing some all-too-political aspects of collective life as non-political. The Fall 2016 version of the course will thematically focus on nineteenth-century appeals to a “Providential Order” in order to justify, denounce or attack the constitutive institutions of chattel slavery in the United States. Meets LS Cultural Practice (LS-CUL).
REL 4304-3 / RLG5305-3 SEM. History of Rel.: Slavery and Capitalism
The earliest attempts to make sense of capitalism often represented chattel slavery as a pre-capitalist institution. The basic intuition was that if the essential social relation for capital accumulation is wage labor, then slavery—that is to say, unfree and unpaid labor—is by definition a non-capitalist mode of production. More recently, however, historians and theorists of capital have argued that slavery was indispensable for the emergence of the capitalist world order. This seminar examines the historical and structural significance of transatlantic slavery for the emergence of modern capitalism. Throughout the course, students will be invited to analyze the links between bonded labor and capitalism both past (e.g., cotton production in the American South) and present (e.g., sweatshop labor in the Pacific Rim).