Over time, the focus of my research has shifted from answering historical questions about religion to using historical and ethnographic sources to exploring how people make sense of ambiguous events and experiences that inhabit the indeterminate space between imagination and reality, craziness and inspiration, fiction and faith. I am particularly interested in experiences, people, objects, & events that people perceive and set apart as special and in the practices and alternate conceptions of reality that people oftentimes associate with them. Increasingly, my attention has turned to the processes whereby people – individually and collectively – come to perceive some things as extra-ordinary (or not); adjudicate such claims within and between groups, traditions, and cultures; and mobilize them in the construction of alternate realities via texts, networks, movements, and organizations. In exploring these processes, I work comparatively to generate the detailed descriptive analyses favored by scholars of religion and to explore the naturalistic explanations developed by researchers in the social and natural sciences.
Empirically, I pursue this research primarily within the contexts of American religious history, the history of Christianity in the modern era, and the history of the scientific study of religion, psychology, and related phenomena (e.g., psychical phenomena, magic, superstition). Theoretically, my work builds on classical theorists, such as Durkheim and Weber, as well as evolutionary and developmental approaches to the study of human behavior.
In an effort to bridge between the humanities and the sciences and at the same time foster new approaches to comparative work in religious studies, we have established the Religion, Experience, and Mind (REM) Lab Group to assist in the development of individual and collaborative research projects, including papers, dissertations, and grant proposals, that seek to understand the interaction of religion, experience, and mind across traditions and cultures. The REM Lab is composed of graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and faculty from various disciplines, including religious studies, psychology, and anthropology, who seek to integrate an overall scientific approach drawn from the behavioral sciences (social and cognitive) with historical and ethnographic methods drawn from the humanities.