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."

As part of a panel on remix and archive at the upcoming national conference for the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, I'll be giving a presentation on these concepts in the context of Secular Buddhism. Our panel description is below, along with an extended abstract for my presentation. The official listing for this panel and its presentations is developing here as well: https://pcaaca.org/content/remix-archive.

"Remix the Archive"

The presentations on this panel broadly engage the intersection between remix theory and the “archive” in both digital media practices and broader cultural traditions of recombination and repurposing. David J. Gunkel begins with deconstructing the assumptions and values shared among proponents and critics of remixing pre-existing media content. He considers how conceptual assumptions about archival material and what we do with it affects the ways we think about and judge remix practices. Eduardo Navas more specifically homes in on the principles of selectivity in remix and how those principles inform the recycling, repurposing, and recombination of archival material as we represent, interpret, and make sense of our surroundings. He pays particular attention to the aural features of such practices amid a culture seemingly dominated by the visual. Scott Haden Church frames remix artists as exemplary curators of ever-increasing archives of cultural information. Illustrating his points through an analysis of particular remix albums, he notes how these curators, through their uncanny ability to recall and creatively combine, uniquely craft meaning out of an overabundance of perpetual fragments of information. Seth M. Walker considers what amounts to an acceptable remix of archived cultural “source material” through an extension of these concepts to the study of religious practices and traditions. Taking the Secular Buddhism movement as his main example, and building upon the ideas presented by his co-panelists (contested assumptions about remixed works, the principles of selectivity in combinatory practices, and the exploitation and coalescence of perhaps disparate features), he reflects on the utility of rethinking religious developments in this way.

"Versioning Buddhism: Religious Traditions and the Remixing of Cultural Archives"

In an essay for Keywords in Remix Studies (2017), Richard Rinehart notes that archives function as instruments of social and collective memory, and as the “primary sources” around which histories are based and selectively constructed. The archive exists, then, as a remixed collection of our history and cultural heritage. What this paper considers, however, is the metaphorical application of such framing in the context of religious traditions and their developments. General assumptions cast “religions” as referring to very specific cultural creations: their variations, denominations, sects, and the like pull acceptable elements from certain conceptual databases to be considered as such (i.e., “new” while still maintaining a tie to the “old”). Whether these “new” manifestations point to something static and “original” or not, an archive of source material does exist that determines what can be utilized in subsequent iterations of a “religion.”

Drawing on various thinkers within remix studies and particular concepts like “bricolage” and “restrictive remix,” this paper engages “archive” in a way that uniquely intersects with our digital age, its conceptual metaphors, and developments in cultural traditions. Demonstrating Lev Manovich’s assertion that culture’s “computerization” has affected our “reservoirs” of metaphors, this paper takes Stephen Batchelor’s work on Buddhism as its main example in considering the utility of rethinking religious traditions in terms of cultural archives: Buddhism 1.0 (the normative “operating system” and database of Buddhism, with various schools as “programs” on top of it) is placed in contrast to Batchelor’s proposed Buddhism 2.0 (a newly conceived “operating system” and database aiming to provide a more original form of Buddhism for use in newer “programs”).