Professor giving a lecture to students in old main

Ten Questions for the Religion Department: Dr. Daniel Mathewson

Daniel Mathewson in front of a mountian covered in snow1. Who are three teachers who’ve had a particularly significant impact on you, and (briefly for each) how have they impacted you?

Jay McDermond (Messiah College). No teacher has had a more profound impact on me than Jay. I took every course he taught, and I also T.A.ed for him in two introductory courses. In the classroom, Jay was informal, relatable, and utterly sincere. He obviously loved the material he taught. During my senior year, I’d stop by Jay’s office pretty much every day to chat with him for half an hour or so – sometimes about course topics, but more often about normal, everyday things. Jay became a good friend; we still keep in touch. In many ways, Jay is my model for what an effective instructor at a liberal arts college should be.

Carol Newsom (Emory University). I’ve told many of my colleagues in academia that Carol is the scholar that all of us want to grow up to be someday. She’s a superstar researcher with numerous highly regarded books, articles, and essays; she’s a superstar administrator, having directed Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion and served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature; and she’s a superstar teacher, something I saw firsthand when I T.A.ed for her in an introductory-level class. (Quick story about that class: on the last day of the semester, after she’d delivered her last lecture, the 90 students in that class rose and gave her a standing ovation. It gave me chills!) Carol is also a superstar dissertation director, something I also know firsthand!

John Hayes (Emory University). John showed me that teaching has as much to do with caring for your students – both inside and outside the classroom – as it does with anything else. I’ve never known a teacher more dedicated to his students than John.

2. What are your ten desert island discs?

What is a disc? Are you talking about a Frisbee or something? If you’re talking about music, you probably mean the music I download. In no particular order my desert downloads include:

The Roots – either Things Fall Apart, Phrenology, or …and then You Shoot Your Cousin
Danger Doom, The Mouse and the Mask
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Half the City
OutKast, Aquemini
Alt-J, An Awesome Wave
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, Dirty Radio
Graveyard, Hisingen Blues
Led Zeppelin, II
Corinne Bailey Rae, self-titled
Stephen Colbert, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!
Yes, that’s 11 not 10 (in honor of Spinal Tap).

3. What is one book that has changed you, and how did it change you?

So many books. Soooooo many! I’m going to go with James Michener’s Hawaii, which I read when I was in college. Prior to reading this book, I was not what one might call a lover of the written word. In fact, I had somehow managed to convince myself that I didn’t like reading at all – that it was boring and an utter waste of time (unless it was Sports Illustrated or the sports section of the Toronto Star). Oh, how silly I was! Michener’s Hawaii showed me that, in reality, I truly do love reading fiction. I mean, I really love reading fiction. My favorite authors right now include David Mitchell, Michael Chabon, Marilynne Robinson, and Adam Johnson. Let me also give a shout out to a book I’ve read more recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Wow, what an incredibly moving book, written as a letter to his teenage son about growing up black in America. Coates has this powerful gift of making the reader not just know the truth, but feel the truth of what he’s describing. There’s a reason Toni Morrison, another one of my favorite authors, called this book required reading.

4. Fill in the blank: “I am good at making ________________.”

Very, very detailed instructions for writing assignments. Also staircases. And sausage.

5. What are the three research projects that you are currently most interested in working on?

Though I’ve been writing about it and giving conference papers on it for a few years

now, I still probably still have a couple things to write about Christian professional wrestling. I’m getting the sense, though, that it’s probably time to move on to something new. Evangelicals and The Ten Commandments in the late-20th century. This is likely my next big project. I want to know why, how, and precisely when professing adherence to The Ten Commandments became a key marker of Evangelical identity – on par with such things as opposition to abortion and rejection of gay marriage. There has been plenty written on the latter two, but, as far as I know, nothing on the former.

Beyond the above two projects, I’m also generally quite interested two contemporary trends in the world of religion:

 The shifting conception of religion among the younger generations (i.e., decreasing religious affiliation, increasing hybrid religious identities, quick increase of the “nones,” etc.)

 The fracturing of the Religious Right since the tail end of the George W. Bush presidency, but particularly during the 2016 primary season.

6. If time allowed for you do so, what is the one TV series (whether you’ve seen it before or not) that you would watch in its entirety? Why?

That’s easy: all five seasons of The Wire, my all time favorite television show. The Wire had a massive cast of compelling characters; an intricate narrative arc that unfolded slowly over the course of each season; and it told the story of complex individuals and troubled institutions in inner city Baltimore. The show was brilliant, troubling, and deeply moving. And also: Omar!

7. In the last five years (or so), what is one way that your thinking about religion has changed?

My thinking about religion has changed in two ways over the last handful of years.

First, I’ve increasingly moved away from thinking and teaching about religious traditions per se, and moved toward thinking and teaching about religious individuals who situate themselves within, beside, and/or against the religious idioms and practices they’ve inherited and acquired. Second, I’ve become completely convinced of the necessity of interfaith engagement as one of the basic civic skills of an educated citizenry in our increasingly pluralistic world.

8. What movie have you seen the most times, and why do you like it so much?

Star Wars, episode 4 – namely, the original. Why do I like it so much? Because it was soooo frikkin’ amazing!!! It had mind-blowing (at the time) special effects, a terrifying super-villain, and a super relatable good vs. evil, triumph-of- the-underdog plot. And light sabers! The original three were the movies of my childhood. Let me also take this opportunity to say that Jar Jar Binks is an abomination.

9. What is one class you haven’t gotten to teach yet, but you want to be able to do?

I don’t know what to call the course, but I want to teach an upper-level seminar on contemporary American religiosity and spirituality (however those two may be distinguished).

10. When you were in high school, what did you want to be?

An auto mechanic or a professional hockey player (the former was a much more realistic possibility than the latter).