Current Research

Much of my recent work engages the emergent field of remix studies with a particular focus on forms of remix that are critical and subversive, but also the metaphorical extension of the concept outside audio-visual applications into cultural at large. This has informed work I've been doing on new religious movements like The Missionary Church of Kopimism that embrace remix as a sacred act, and trends in certain religious traditions that aim to get back to an "original" form. This is also the focus of my dissertation: in brief, I'm developing a conceptual metaphorical model of remix for studying religious traditions, their developments, and practices. The project is currently titled, "Righteous Remixes, Sacred Mashups: Rethinking Authority, Authenticity, and Originality in the Study of Religion."

Prior to Nomos Journal shutting down at the end of 2019, I started a column there that explored topics and ideas related to my dissertation project. The column, Remixing Religion, was meant to serve as a companion to the dissertation, testing out developing ideas and concepts I'm working through in the larger project, highlighting topics or examples that might not be making their way into it, and addressing current cultural trends and happenings that are particularly timely and worth noting sooner rather than later. As noted on my homepage, I'm in the midst of revamping this website; I intend to continue that column here in a more informal blog format. Stay tuned!

I am also currently working on a chapter to be included in the forthcoming The Routledge Handbook of Digital Humanities and Remix Studies: "Versioning Buddhism: Remix and Recyclability in the Study of Religion." Here is a preliminary abstract of the chapter:

As part of his larger body of work concerning early Buddhist texts and their contemporary relevance, Buddhist writer and teacher Stephen Batchelor conceived of a basic “software” analogy to distinguish between and categorize the varying forms of Buddhist thought and practice. This chapter builds upon and extends that initial analogy as it further frames the development and evolution of Buddhist traditions through notions of remix, recyclability, and versioning – indicating how Buddhist “programs” interact with each other in an “operating system” to create different and future iterations. While this analysis more narrowly concerns Buddhism, the framework presented here can be ported to other religious traditions as well. Thus, this chapter 1) emphasizes how inherently dialogic developments are within religious traditions, and that points of origin must be reconsidered in light of such cultural dialogue; 2) shows how authenticity within traditions is measured based on what has been legitimated with cultural value and cycled back into an archival space of acceptable remixable data; and 3) indicates how authority operates in relation to ideas of originality and authenticity, and how such operative authority might be challenged when these two concepts are problematized and subverted. Rethinking the development of religious traditions in terms of datasets being remixed and versioned as they evolve and manifest in different times and places demonstrates not just a unique application of remix theory to the study of religion, but how the networked processes underlying cultural traditions at large can be more clearly and critically recognized through concepts and tools unique to a digital age as well.

I'm presenting at two upcoming conference meetings in 2020 as well. At the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) national meeting, I'm joining three other remix scholars on a panel in the Communication & Digital Culture session. My presentation is titled, "Remixing the Raft: Tezuka’s Buddha and the Authenticity of Narrative Retellings":

The sacred stories of religious traditions often come down to contemporary readers in translation from very old textual traditions that are themselves products of even earlier oral traditions. Under critical examination, this necessarily results in an inherent question of narrative authenticity alongside a recognition of the dialogic processes underlying their formation. But, narrative retellings and revisionist iterations occur in many ancient traditions, with archival material being regularly sampled and reworked into newer forms based on audience, context, or ideological purpose. As the interplay between digital and analog principles continues to inform the ways in which stories, regardless of medium, are told and received, this paper considers how the existence of multiple narrative iterations within religious traditions confronts the question of authenticity through an application of remix theory and computational metaphorical framing. Specifically, this paper considers Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha manga series (1972-1983) as a unique example that integrates Tezuka’s own ideological leanings, interpretations, and narrative liberties with a drama centered on the life of Siddhartha Gautama. While the scriptural repository of Buddhist teachings is both ambiguous in origin and vast in terms of variation and translation, such mainstream iterations are nonetheless accepted as authentic narratives of the Buddha’s life and teachings within their corresponding schools. This paper asks two related questions, then: 1) how is the authenticity of sacred narratives generally measured or determined, and 2) how should Tezuka’s story fit into the archive of Buddhist narratives in light of this? Thus, this paper also examines notions of success and acceptability among remixed media, as they relate to culturally legitimating processes. Moreover, as a popular cultural account that differs from what is found in canonical literature in both medium and form, the example here also raises the question of authority and control over what can officially occupy a tradition’s cultural reservoir.

The other presentation will be at the Rocky Mountain-Great Plains regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). I'm co-chairing a panel with Heidi Ippolito titled, "Storytelling, Medium, and Religious Authority in the Digital Age." My particular presentation is titled, "'It's True...All of It': Religious Narratives, Canonicity, and a Galaxy Far, Far Away":

Han Solo’s confessional remarks in The Force Awakens (2015) about the true existence of the Force and the Jedi signal a broader interplay between canonical and non-canonical material that has preoccupied the franchise’s fandom since the release of A New Hope (1977) over forty years ago. It also taps into an even broader concern over authority and canonicity among traditions outside of the Star Wars universe – in particular, the world’s religions. Contemporary narrative repositories of religious traditions are often the ambiguous product of dialogic oral transmissions that occurred over many years, undergoing variation based on audience, context, or ideological purpose. Through an application of remix theory, these narrative developments can be understood as sampling processes in which acceptable elements are sourced from official archival databases in the creation of unique, and correspondingly true, iterations. Their success hinges upon reception among adherents. The same can be said of popular cultural stories and their fandoms. This paper considers, then, success and acceptability among remixed media, how they are legitimated, and how they are controlled. The dynamic between Star Wars “Canon” and “Legends” in the wake of Disney’s buyout (2012) serves as a main example alongside Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha manga series (1972-1983). While immensely successful in the global market, Buddha, which is interlaced with Tezuka’s own ideological leanings and interpretations, is not an official scriptural account of Siddhartha Gautama. Likewise, “Legends” material is generally accepted – and often enthusiastically engaged – among fans even though it is not officially part of the Star Wars canon. In addressing the intersection between the successful, acceptable, and official, as it relates to narrative and canonicity, this paper examines how authenticity is measured or determined, the variables that guide the selection and use of archival material, and how the authoritative structures guiding these processes – processes that, while official, might not always align with what is accepted – might be challenged.