|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
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).
REL3160 Religion and Science
This course examines how and why evolutionary theory has been identified—by groups self-described as “Creationists” or “Intelligent Design Theorists”—as being uniquely hostile to biblically-based commitments. In the first section of the course, we will explore the relevant texts from the Hebrew Bible (esp. Genesis) and the historical diversity of its interpreters. In the second section of the class, we will read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and highlight the ways its "one long argument" has been seen as buttressing, damaging or indifferent to theological claims about the history of life on earth. In the final section of the course, we will challenge the notion that the continuing “evolution-creation struggle” is about epistemology, or evidence, or rationality by emphasizing the fundamentally political nature of the controversy.
Meets Liberal studies history requirement.