Sunday 28 March 2021

An Interview with Dr. Jennifer Snook

This week I have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jennifer Snook, a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Grinnell College in Iowa. Dr Snook is one of the foremost scholars of Heathenry, a modern Pagan religion inspired by the pre-Christian traditions of linguistically Germanic communities, of which she is also a practitioner. Her monograph, American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement (Temple University Press, 2015), is one of the most important scholarly studies of this new religious movement. We discuss her role as a practitioner-scholar, the polarised politics of the Heathen community, and areas of the subject in need of further research. 

[EDW] When it comes to forms of modern Paganism, Heathenry is smaller and not so well known as Wicca. For the benefit of those readers who may not be familiar with it, could you explain what Heathenry is?

[JS] Heathenry is an umbrella term for the milieu of Germanic Paganisms. It’s what some scholars have referred to as a “reconstructionist” Paganism, as practitioners are inspired by the Eddas and Sagas as well as the archaeology, folklore, histories and religious beliefs of the people of pre-Christian Northern Europe. Many Heathens try to approximate “authentic” historical reconstruction, based upon their perception of the beliefs and practices of Old Norse religion, and some prefer to use that material as inspiration for spiritual or ritual innovations. Heathenry has actually grown in the past few years thanks to Marvel’s Thor movies, and shows like History Channel’s The Vikings, which romanticises and cobbles together bits of history and fantasy about ancient Heathens – as well as games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. “Vikings” in the media get people interested in the lore and history and ultimately some of these fans find their way to Heathenry, once they realize that there are people for whom these stories are sacred.

[EDW] In American Heathens, you are quite open about being a practitioner of Heathenry yourself, having been introduced to modern Paganism through Teen Wicca in the mid-1990s. What drew you to this alternative religious practice and how do you feel it has informed your research on the subject?

[JS] Like most Gen-X Heathens, I came through Wicca because it was the most accessible and popular form of Paganism, and it was a hot topic in the 1990s primarily due to how it tapped into the anxieties of people still freaking out from the Satanic Panic of the 80s and early 90s. Up until that time, I channeled my deep nerdiness and interest in witchcraft, German myths and legends, and swords and sorcery into Norse-Flavored Wicca. Then once day in 1998, I sat down at my computer, dialed into Compuserve, and found an article on the internet called “The Pentagram and The Hammer,” which articulated the differences between Wicca and Heathenry, or “Ásatrú” as it’s sometimes called. I hadn’t heard that there was a particular name, set of practices, and Germanic-history-focused Paganism before, and it struck me as a revelation. It became part of my identity. When I began my work years later, I was pretty clear that it wasn’t just an academic exercise, but that Heathens were the audience for my work. I wanted them to feel seen, and not simply observed. I wanted to do it in a way that would both protect, and challenge, the Heathen community that I was a part of.

[EDW] You earned your PhD from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 2008; how much does American Heathens draw upon your PhD research and what led you to conduct this particular project to begin with?

[JS] American Heathens hangs upon the skeleton of my dissertation. I started my fieldwork in 2002 when I got to Boulder, but continued fieldwork until 2014 when I turned in my book manuscript. So there are years of fieldwork and interviews included in my book that were not yet completed when I graduated – and a major revising of my theoretical framework, plus the addition of a few new chapters. The entire idea for this project came out of my pre-existing interest in contemporary Paganism, my own immersion in it, and the realization that many ethnographers conduct auto-ethnographic work, studying sites in which they are already situated. So I logged on to the internet and found myself a Heathen. We met at a coffee shop and he invited me to join him at a blot (Heathen ritual) with some Boulder / Denver area Heathens – and the research began spontaneously.

Over the years, I realized how I’d really stumbled into something not just intellectually curious about the construction of a new religious movement, but also a microcosm of American hierarchical power dynamics that played itself out in gender, race, identities, and political labelling. When Heathens spoke about how “Heathen” something was, I understood – as a sociologist – that they were producing and sharing in an entire system of meaning around that label. In the field, when I watched American Heathens playing “Viking Games” like “capture the wench,” while chatting with Heathen women about how they imagined themselves as Valkyries or Shield Maidens, I understood that there was a gendered nature to their relationship with Heathenry. The hypermasculine “Viking” stereotype and “warrior” ethos was the other side of the gendered coin, influencing all genders’ performance of Heathenry, and this seemed notable. Right away, I understood that Heathenry also held an appeal to white nationalists at the same time that many anti-racist white people experienced a sacralized connection to Old Norse religion and lore as a marker of ethnic identification. There were so many interesting sociological questions coming out of these rather immediate observations that the project snowballed.

[EDW] How did you find that your work was received, both during your research and after publication? Did you feel that sociologists of religion and scholars in other fields were interested? American Heathens explored topics like gender and race, and perhaps because of this there have been Folkish Heathens* who have responded negatively to it, regarding it as being too motivated by left-wing thought; how do you respond to that kind of reception?
[* = Folkish Heathenry is a wing of the religion that generally argues that Heathen practice should be restricted to members of a putative Northern European/Germanic/Nordic racial group. Typically it is characterised as being politically right-wing to far-right.]

[JS] During my research people were often very supportive, and often very aloof. Heathenry has no shortage of people saying that they are “doing research,” or “writing a book.” Heathens expect this – they joke about how Heathenry is “the religion with homework,” and so my work wasn’t particularly interesting to them, save a select few. And other scholars have found my work valuable, particularly those interested in new religious movements, subculture, or Heathenry’s link to white nationalism, and there are an increasing number of scholars interested in Heathenry.

In regards to my response to the criticisms of Folkish Heathens – I generally don’t respond. Sociology as a field is criticised by the right-wing in general, on principle – as are any disciplines whose line of work demands a critical engagement with structures of power and are therefore labelled “left-wing.” These politics bear themselves out daily in the labelling of “liberals,” or “feminists,” or other-such “political opponents” of those on the Right. My work is in the mix – and let’s be clear – the subtitle of my book is “The Politics of Identity…” so the book is situated firmly in sociological literature and self-consciously and explicitly about the impact of political labeling in the process of meaning-making, boundary maintenance and identity construction among Heathens.

[EDW] Back in 2019, you spent some time here in Britain. Did you have much contact with British Heathens and if so, did you note any particular differences between the British and American Heathen communities?

[JS] I was living in London from August-December of 2019 and during that time, had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with the folks of AUK (Ásatrú UK) up in Bedford at an Air BnB weekend-retreat. Then I met back up with a couple of those AUK Heathens in London at their regularly-scheduled pub meet-up. The differences are largely cultural – because UK Heathens were born and live on the land that they imagine their pre-Christian Heathen ancestors inhabited, there is a certain cultural and historical continuity that U.S. Heathens do not have. The Neolithic sites that you and I visited together have deep spiritual significance to Heathens (and other Pagans), because they imagine their pagan forebears at those same sites thousands of years ago. So they have a different relationship to the land and their own history than Americans do. In addition to this big difference, I noticed a lot of similarities. The AUK contains members that have had a lot of experience in The Troth [a U.S.-based Heathen organisation] and others who are similarly inspired, and so much of their ritual form and practice mirrors what I had already seen a thousand times in the U.S. It was very familiar, and the conversations were the same - about the antics of Folkish Heathens in the UK, about anti-racist activism and outreach, in addition to conversations about personal ritual and practice, gods and land spirits. I am friends with many of these people on social media and we are all still in touch, in whatever ephemeral way that people online stay in touch, and they still help me with my work when I have questions.

[EDW] While there had been earlier work by the likes of Mattias Gardell, Jeffrey Kaplan, and Jenny Blain, this had tended to focus on narrow topics such as white nationalist Heathenry or seiðr, and it was really only in the 2010s that we saw the growth of academic publications focusing on what we might call ‘mainstream’ elements of Heathenry. Your work obviously has played a major role in that, followed up by other publications by scholars like Jefferson Calico. This being the case, where do you think the academic study of Heathenry stands at present and what areas do you believe could do with greater academic treatment?

[JS] A lot of scholarship continues to focus on the white supremacy problem in Heathenry, as mass-shooters and insurrectionists in the U.S. appropriate Nordic symbols and the public begins to ask questions and scholars have to answer them. This is unavoidable. I’d like to see an update on my work on the role of social media and popular culture in shaping newcomers to Heathenry, as their discursive online community shapes and influences growth. It would be nice to see a sociological treatment of the political divisions that have widened the chasm between left and right leaning Heathens since Trump’s campaign in 2015. These things matter because new religious movements are realms of meaning that shift with the fluidity of cultural and political change. I think the most useful work on Heathenry will take into account the political roots of the meaning and interpretation of lore or ritual, moving beyond descriptive accounts. Few, if any, scholars have engaged deeply with the increasing popularity and significance of the god Loki to nonbinary and LGBTQ+ Heathens – I would be excited to see that done. And of course there’s a growing gaggle of Academic Heathens and Paganisms scholars brainstorming how to recover Heathenry from the clutches of growing white nationalism and white supremacy, and so more public-facing sociology and scholarly outreach is urgent.

[EDW] Are you continuing your research on Heathenry or have you moved on to a different project? Do you have any forthcoming projects that we should be keeping an eye out for?

[JS] I have considered a variety of other field sites, but my presence among Heathens and interaction with other scholars of Paganism keeps me firmly embedded in the thought-world of Heathenry. I have three projects going right now. The first project is an old project, a data set from a questionnaire that I was just wrapping up when we returned back from London and stumbled right into a pandemic that shut down the world – and our College data lab. The analysis of this data is in the works and sure to birth more projects. The second topic is a documentation of the rise of Inclusive Heathenry in the U.S. and Europe in direct response to the increase in right-wing activity. How this branch of Heathenry came about in this political, historical and cultural moment is another example of how new religious movements are creatures of their time and place. It challenges the image that Heathens are primarily Folkish, right-leaning straight guys – because they get all the media. The third project I’m thinking about is how Heathens imagine Place – as so many of them idealize, make reference to, visit, think about, and find places in Northern Europe sacred, or at least significant, in their imagining of their pre-Christian forebears. This connection between place and identity is not a new field of scholarship, but connecting all of the Heathen pieces to it – about ethnicity, race, ancestry, belonging, peoplehood, sacrality, land – is particularly interesting to me in the American context in which U.S. Heathens do not live on, and were not born on, the lands from which Heathenry comes. As an additional piece to that, I’m curious about how American Heathens conceptualize indigeneity – and not just in the sense that Folkish Heathens have appropriated “indigenous” identity and politics as a shield against political criticism – but in the sense that Heathens conceptualize, honor, and practice intentional ritual to connect with the land spirits and indigenous heritage of the tribal lands upon which they are situated.

[EDW] Dr Snook, many thanks for this insight into your work. I look forward to your future projects.

Sunday 21 March 2021

An Interview with Dr David G. Robertson

From 2012 to 2015 I ran a series of interviews here at Albion Calling with scholars (both professional and independent) who worked on topics pertaining to what might best be termed ‘alternative’ religions. Now, in collaboration with the World Religions and Spirituality Project (WRSP) run by the Virginia Commonwealth University, I’m relaunching this series in the hope of interviewing more scholars engaged in research on this fascinating topic. First up I am fortunate to have with me Dr David G. Robertson, Lecturer in Religious Studies at the Open University here in the UK. I’ve been really interested in Dr Robertson’s work since reading his fascinating first monograph, UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age: Millennial Conspiracism. He has since moved on to produce a forthcoming work on the concept of “Gnosticism” and has taken on the helm as co-editor of the journal Implicit Religion, becoming one of the foremost voices arguing for the critical study of religion here in the UK. Many readers will however know him best as the co-creator of the Religious Studies Project, the podcasts of which have interested many of us over the past decade.

[EDW] Your PhD thesis, and then your first book – UFOs, Conspiracy Theories and the New Age: Millennial Conspiracism (Bloomsbury, 2016) – dealt with the place of conspiracy theories and UFOs in the New Age milieu of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Many readers may not understand why UFOs and conspiracy theories are being studied by a scholar of religion; how would you explain this project to them?

[DGR] The fact that it’s not obviously religion is part of the point. Religion is a hugely contested category, and the more you look into it, the less clear it becomes. It is in things that are on the edges of the category where the processes by which the category is maintained become most clear. And the point is not for me to ask is this religion or not, but to think about why others classify certain things as “religion” and not other things? Is religion “belief in supernatural agencies”? Is it a community who hold a similar worldview? Is it a set of ideas about transcendence? Each of those applies to UFOs and conspiracy theories as well as to things we usually identify as religions. These questions – and the processes of the politics of knowledge they reveal – are what makes this project interesting from a scholarly perspective.

But funnily enough, it showed me that the approach of Religious Studies – which uses ideas and methods from history, sociology and anthropology – is applicable more widely than simply those groups we can usually classify as “World Religions”. It allows you to bridge sociological models and individual beliefs and practices in ways which are vital to understanding contemporary worldviews – including religions, but also conspiracies, ideologies, and any other case where identities, belief and social structures interact.

[EDW] You talk a little bit about your background in the prologue to your monograph, where you describe yourself as “a lifelong atheist,” but I’d be interested to learn more about what got you interested in religion, Ufology, and conspiracism to start with? What led you to decide that this was the PhD topic you wanted to pursue?

[DGR] I always found interesting ideas interesting, even if I never really had any kind of religion or ideology of my own. It’s really that simple. As I approached thirty, I realised that maybe I should be working with ideas, and decided to go to university to train my ability to think. I initially considered philosophy, but I eventually took Religious Studies, focusing on the New Testament and Koine Greek. I loved the historical investigation, but it felt like everything had already been done, and I didn’t fancy spending my career butting heads with the more religiously-motivated scholars. I was getting more and more interested in New Religions anyway.

The specific topic came to me when I came across a reference to David Icke in a book on the history of the New Age movement. Now, being a decade older than most of the other students, I remembered his famous interview on the Wogan show, and I was also aware of his later conspiratorial material too. So I started to wonder how he’d gone from one to the other. I was never primarily interested in UFOs though – they’re the McGuffin of the story. They were a way to focus the huge amount of material into a coherent narrative, and to develop the argument of shared discursive objects (like UFOs) facilitating a transfer of ideas across different areas of the cultic milieu.

[EDW] Your research topic was, I think it’s fair to say, somewhat unusual. How did people receive it? Particularly, I’m wondering how it was received both by your fellow scholars of religion and also by those who espouse the sort of UFO-based and conspiracist beliefs that you were examining?

[DGR] Some examiners and reviewers have certainly been dismissive, even indignant, especially early in my career. Most of the scholars I met were intrigued, however, including some quite conservative people. RS scholars love novel areas of research. Nobody else was really looking at religion and conspiracy (or not that I knew of at that time, at least), so there weren’t special conferences or journals or anything. I had to work in mainstream venues, so I put a lot of effort into the theoretical issues, and how to justify my work within Religious Studies. And of course, I wasn’t getting opportunities to teach on conspiracy theories, it was all Religion 101, so that tightened up my broader knowledge of the discipline, as did starting the Religious Studies Project.

I’ve had largely positive responses from the groups I’ve written about. They thought I treated them fairly and reported things accurately, even if they didn’t always agree with all my conclusions. I put it down to just common decency. I didn’t patronise them, and I made it clear that I wasn’t out to write a hatchet piece. In fact, I stayed in touch with some of them for a while, they were mostly pretty sweet and interesting people. I remember someone saying in a review that I’d misrepresented Whitley Strieber in an encyclopedia entry, and being able to respond “Well, Whitley said I’d done a better job of describing his career in 1500 words than he could”!

[EDW] Since the publication of your monograph, you’ve also brought out the Handbook of Conspiracy Theories and Contemporary Religion (Brill, 2018), co-edited with Asbjørn Dyrendal and Egil Asprem, in which you bring together contributions from a broad range of academics. Where do you think the scholarly study of conspiracy theories is at the moment and where would you like to see it headed?

[DGR] Over the last ten years or so, there’s been a move to seeing conspiracy theories as a global phenomenon, and much more focus on the cultural significance. Much of the work prior to this was more concerned with exposing “wrong thinking”. Clearly, the broader cultural relevance is easier to see in the last five or ten years, and there are many more research projects being funded today than previously, although I do have concerns with the normative character of some of these. Conspiracy theories inherently challenge power – governments as well as academia – and scholarship that legitimises the control of free speech and free enquiry in the name of controlling conspiracy theories is more likely to get funding then that which addresses the systemic reasons that people are less inclined to trust authorities, or the state’s own use of narratives of a conspiratorial Other, for example.

The next step is to begin to conceptualise conspiracy theories as an intrinsic part of the episteme of the Post-Truth world. Do they, as Bruno Latour, Steve Fuller and Erica Lagalisse have suggested, represent a popularised version of critique, and so a “levelling up” sophistication in popular discourse? Perhaps this democratisation of the means of knowledge production is precisely why conspiracy theories threaten the traditional institutions of political and epistemic power, and those who benefit from their hegemony. Why are some irrational beliefs challenged in the public sphere, and others defended?

[EDW] The existence of conspiracy theories has really been brought to mainstream attention since your monograph appeared, especially through the emergence of QAnon, discourses about “fake news,” and conspiracist ideas pertaining to Covid-19. Do you think that there has been a genuine change in either the content or popularity of conspiracy theories in Western countries in the past five years, or is the growing visibility primarily a result of increased media attention?

[DGR] It’s partly a result of media attention, and partly the increasingly polarised relationship between “official” and unofficial knowledge. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to see how the current QAnon stuff is so substantively different from McCarthyism, or the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s, or beliefs about Jews in the early twentieth century. When I was growing up, the IRA – a religious, political and nationalist movement – were regularly bombing sites in the UK because they thought there was a Royalist Protestant plot against them. Large numbers of people will believe quite extreme things about other groups of people with alarming ease. Religious ideas and supernatural beliefs are held by the majority of people, and they are no more “rational” than conspiracy beliefs, and they can lead to violence too. But the category “conspiracy theory” is relatively recent, not being really in mainstream use until the 1990s. The distrust of institutions has increased steadily since then – as has the gap between rich and poor – and with it the perceived need to protect the institutions they challenge against the barbarians at the gate.

[EDW] You’ve moved your research focus away from conspiracy theories and are now working on a critical history of Gnosticism in the so-called “History of Religions” paradigm, on the subject of which you have a forthcoming book. Could you tell us about this project and what it reveals? Do you feel that “Gnosticism” a term that scholars should be using, or would we be better off abandoning it?

[DGR] The book is a history of how scholars (and others) took a term for heresy in the second century AD, transformed it into a religion in the nineteenth century and then again into an ahistorical religious essence in the twentieth. It’s a really interesting case study in this sort of reification because almost everything we think we know about Gnosticism was already in place before we discovered the Nag Hammadi texts, and even though they challenged what had been hypothesised from the accounts of Church Fathers, those ideas stubbornly persist in Religious Studies (though not in Biblical Studies). The historical narrative should make it clear that if you choose to use the term, you’re not referring to any historical reality, but rather to a narrative about some kind of pure, elite religious knowledge straight out of the Eranos meetings and the phenomenological History of Religions.

[EDW] With Christopher Cotter, you co-edited the volume on After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies, published by Routledge in 2016. Could you tell my readers a little bit more about the concept of “world religions” and why you have joined other scholars in critiquing its utility? If we shift-attention from teaching about the so-called “world religions,” how do you think we can best teach about religion, whether in schools or universities?

[DGR] There are really a lot of problems with thinking about religions through the World Religions paradigm. First, why is it always the same five traditions? If it’s numbers, then why is Judaism there, and not, say, African or Greek traditions? If it’s importance, well, how do we ascertain that? The answer is that the WRP [World Religions Paradigm] presupposes a Protestant Christian model of religion, so religions are ranked on historical proximity to Christianity (so, Judaism) and on similarity – whether or not they have scriptures and priests, or offer a message of salvation, and so on. It also hugely misrepresents the religious lives of adherents – we “know” that Buddhists are pacifists, Catholics believe in transubstantiation and the Vedas are the sacred texts of Hinduism, yet none of these things are true of the majority of adherents to those religions. It oversimplifies the historical and vernacular diversity of traditions to create these monolithic entities, which usually marginalises non-elite voices like women and the poor. And it ignores that people don’t necessarily belong to a single religion in the way we tend to in the West.

The important thing to remember is that the concept of ‘world religions – and indeed, ‘religion’ – comes from a particular historical context: colonialism. It’s the equivalent of the Tree of Life with humans as the pinnacle of evolution, except here it’s Christianity as the paragon of religions. The religions of people that the Victorians weren’t interested in ruling or trading with were simply ignored. It’s high time that the way we teach about religion moves past “descriptions of the strange beliefs of foreigners”.

The book is focused on teaching, so there are lots of suggestions in it for how to teach after world religions. My approach is to say to the students, “I’m not going to tell you what religion is – I’m going to help you to see all the different ways that people understand it, and for you to get better at seeing which one is at play at any given circumstance.” Then we can take some examples chosen to show when these different models come into dispute – like yoga being banned in schools in Alabama, or whether racist nationalist Christians are “really” Christians, or whatever. This gives them a really useful toolkit for thinking about people, wordviews and societies, not just a set of inaccurate “facts” about some religions.

[EDW] With Carmen Becker you co-edit the peer-reviewed journal Implicit Religion. This isn’t a term that will be widely understood outside certain academic circles, so can you explain what you mean by the term “implicit religion” and what you see as the journal’s aims?

[DGR] “Implicit religion” is the name of the journal, and no more. We inherited it when we inherited the journal from Edward Bailey. Implicit Religion was his thing, the idea that anything that people found profoundly meaningful was essentially religious, whether they thought so or not. It has some fans, but was never widely used in RS, and I certainly had no interest in it. When he died, Equinox wanted to reinvent the journal as a critical religion journal, and approached me because of my work with the Religious Studies Project. We recently added the subtitle, Journal for the Critical Study of Religion, to make it clearer that it’s really a different journal.

Carmen and I want to focus on cases on the borders of the category, where the ideas of what religion is – implicit or explicit – come into play. So we’ve had issues on how religion is conceptualised in the law, in nationalism, in Alcoholics Anonymous, features on how scholars study non-religion and Scientology, and a retrospective on Timothy Fitzgerald’s The Ideology of Religious Studies. We’ve built an incredible editorial board which brings together the best critical scholars from Europe and North America. I’d urge anyone who’d be interested in contributing to get in touch with me.

[EDW] You are also a co-founder of the Religious Studies Project, which is a really excellent website on which you feature recorded interviews with scholars working on the study of religion. What led you to establish this site, how did it get off the ground, and what do you see its role within the field?

[DGR] Chris [Christopher B. Cotter] and I were graduate students together at Edinburgh. We’d been hanging out, and one night I suggested we could record a few seminars and put them out as a podcast. The idea developed, and we recorded our first interviews at the BASR [British Association for the Study of Religion] conference in 2011. That was ten years and about four hundred episodes ago. Now it’s a whole international team, we’re a registered charity and we’re expecting to hit a million downloads this autumn.

The aim was to demystify Religious Studies a bit, presenting ideas in an accessible way and in a natural, conversational style. But we also wanted to embed the whole think in the critical paradigm, always bringing it back to broader theoretical issues about the category “religion”. It’s funny to think of a whole generation of scholars coming up having listened to the RSP, but if it means that they have internalised some of the critical approach, it will have been worth it.

[EDW] We are seeing a decline in the popularity of most humanities subjects at the undergraduate level, at least in Britain, and that probably doesn’t bode well for the study of religion as an academic field. How is the field faring, and what do you think are its prospects for the future? Do you think its future health will necessitate greater reliance on independent scholars and on academics working in other (arguably institutionally stronger) disciplines like history and anthropology?

[DGR] The humanities have been hit hard in the UK through the neoliberalisation of higher education (the introduction of student fees) and the financial crash of 2008, which led to research funding cuts. Religious Studies was always a small subject, but it isn’t faring too badly, in fact – though this isn’t too clear from the way the figures are counted (Philosophy, Religion and Ethics courses, for example, are actually growing, but aren’t counted part of Theology and Religious Studies by UCAS). Moreover, the WRP has meant that departments have been increasingly staffed by area specialists, further weakening the disciplinary identity. So we are still vulnerable.

Religious Studies has two major issues to overcome, however, if it is to thrive as an academic subject. We lack institutional power, because almost every RS department is controlled by religiously-motivated scholars, as are all the bodies who make decisions at policy level or funding research. For such people, RS is at best “the other religions”, or at worst an atheist upstart out to undermine them. This brings me to the second point: we have failed to make the case publicly or institutionally for the unique contribution and value of the social-scientific non-confessional study of religion. If we cannot do so, then we cannot hope to move the public discourse on religion forward. I personally think that the two are related – we cannot hope to make the case so long as we are shackled to those in whose interest it is that we don’t. Either RS has to start cutting ties and work to establish itself among the social sciences, or we should move into sociology and anthropology departments and stop shoring up theology departments with the student numbers and interdisciplinary potential we bring.

[EDW] Are there any other projects of yours that we should be keeping an eye out for?

[DGR] If you like melodic prog rock, you might like to check out my new album at

[EDW] Many thanks for this insight into your work, Dr Robertson, and I wish you all the best for the future.

This interview is also available at the World Religions and Spirituality Project website (