People ask me all the time what I do for a living, and most of them understand that it has something to do with religion, and maybe culture or music -- but that's about it. So here is the gist of it: While some people (like seminarians and pastors) study religion from a confessional point of view theologically, and others (such as philosophy professors and angry people on the Internet) analyze or critique religion at the level of ideas philosophically, I study and write about religion and other things sociologically. This means that, at least in my capacity as a scholar, I am less interested in whether or not any religious belief or perspective is true* and more interested in the "human side" of religion. In other words, my attention is directed toward describing, understanding, and explaining the social, cultural, organizational, institutional, and practical dimensions of human life, especially as it is expressed through religion.
To help me do that well, I earned a Ph.D. in sociology in 2016 from the University of Notre Dame. During graduate school, I lived in South Bend, Indiana, the first four years (but only during the academic year), followed by a fifth year spent traveling around the country while gathering data for my dissertation, and the final three years (i.e., once I got married) I stayed in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During the final two years, I was a visiting graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where I also earned my B.A. in sociology with a minor in philosophy in 2008. (All of this confuses people to no end, so I hope that helped.) I also earned an M.A. in sociology at Notre Dame in 2010, and I passed my comprehensive qualifying exams in sociology of religion and sociological theory. My primary institutional home within the sociology department at Notre Dame was its Center for the Study of Religion and Society, where Christian Smith is the director. I have also presented my research and writing most years (although less so recently) at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association and those of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Anyways, I am mainly interested in religion, culture, theory, movements, organizations, and young people (and any topics that tend to go along with those, like beliefs, practices, morality, and art). If there is a common thread running through all of that, then it is an interest in how persons' social trajectories and stations in life causally influence, and are influenced by, their ability to live a good human life, to flourish. With that view in end, all of my work is ultimately motivated by my interest in bigger questions in the areas of philosophical anthropology and moral philosophy -- like what is a person and what does it mean to flourish as a person and as a society. I am also interested in fundamental questions about how human life at the level of "the social" is put together, which means I try to arrive at the best answers to questions about social ontology (How is the social world structured? How does causation work? To what extent, if at all, is our world *not* only socially constructed?), conceptual development (What is social structure? What is culture? What is religion?), social cognition (What role does the human brain and body play in social life?), action theory (What motivates people? Why do persons do and choose whatever they do instead of something else?), change and continuity (How is social and cultural life reproduced and changed? And what is temporality, anyways?), and so on. In all of this, I approach my research and writing from a critical realist philosophy of (social) science. You can download my CV for additional details about my interests and work.
My thinking (as far as sociology goes) has been shaped most heavily by sociologists such as Christian Smith, Omar Lizardo, John Levi Martin, Margaret Archer, Steve Vaisey, and Phil Gorski. Other influences on me (again, at least in the discipline of sociology) include Gabriel Abend, Nancy Ammerman, Will Atkinson, Pierre Bourdieu, Wayne Brekhus, Rogers Brubaker, Craig Calhoun, Charles Camic, Mark Chaves, Randall Collins, Matthew Desmond, Paul DiMaggio, Dave Elder-Vass, Michael Emerson, Gary Alan Fine, Erving Goffman, Neil Gross, James Davison Hunter, Gabe Ignatow, Hans Joas, Shamus Khan, Michèle Lamont, Vanina Leschziner, Michael Lindsay, Gerardo Marti, Doug McAdam, Ashley Mears, Doug Porpora, Isaac Reed, Lauren Rivera, Saskia Sassen, William Sewell Jr., Philip Smith, Iddo Tavory, David Voas, Loïc Wacquant, Brad Wilcox, Robert Wuthnow, Eviatar Zerubavel, Phil Zuckerman, and Sharon Zukin, among many others. From outside the discipline, Catholic social teaching has robustly formed my sociological imagination in various ways.
Having just recently defended my doctoral dissertation, the main project on my plate these days is rounding it out and getting a book contract. At this point, I have written about 95 percent of the manuscript (i.e., 95,000 words). The project uses strategic action field theory to causally explain the "neo-Reformed" or "New Calvinist" movement within American Evangelicalism, and thereby draws broader conclusions about religious strength (vitality, power) and weakness (e.g, incoherence) in the advanced modern world. You can learn more about my dissertation/book project as well as other research by clicking the "research" tab above, or just click right here.
As of June 2016, I am also the Director of Social Research for Docent Research Group, which is a non-profit research group based in Austin, Texas. I do many things in that capacity, but the bulk of it involves leading small teams of researchers in order to produce (or sometimes just summarize) social science research and theorizing for Christian organizations, most often churches. (I worked on a very part-time basis for Docent while in graduate school starting in February of 2009.) I've listed out select projects with Docent in a separate section of my CV, for those interested. Additionally, I enjoy pursuing on the side a few intellectual interests in other disciplines, especially philosophy, Christian theology, and theoretical physics. Lastly, on a more personal note, in September of 2013, I married a wonderful young woman named Alex, who works as a chemical engineer, and we now live near downtown Ann Arbor. Thank you for stopping by my website, and feel free to reach out by clicking on the "contact" tab at the top or, again, you can just click right here.
*For the record, however, I do think something in the ballpark of traditional Reformed Christianity is true, good, and beautiful.