My work starts with a basic question: What does it mean to be human? For me, this is inseparable from the question: What makes humans religious?
In a way, I've been thinking about these questions my whole life. After growing up between Minnesota and Southern California, the 1980s found me on a college tour, spending time in three universities over a six-year period before getting my B.A. in religion/philosophy from Seattle Pacific University. Sandwiched in the college years were a couple "wanderjahren," traveling through Eastern Bloc Europe, the Western United States, and East Africa. I supported myself through manual labor, working in the massive construction and landscaping industries of California.
The 1990s were mainly spent in graduate school, at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and Columbia Seminary and Emory University, both in the Atlanta, Georgia area. I got my first taste of teaching then, with gigs at the Atlanta College of Art (now SCAD), Emory University, and the University of Vermont.
Since the turn of the millennium I've taught at Texas Christian University and Hamilton College, with brief stints at CU-Boulder, Case Western Reserve, and the GTU-Berkeley. I continue to teach, though my writing and speaking increasingly occupy my time.
Along the way, I've spent time at an ashram in Vrindavan, India, the Taizé community in France, an evangelical Christian retreat center in the mountains of Southern California, a Vietnamese Buddhist monastery in the Catskills, a two-week intensive seminar on Japanese gardens in Kyoto, and a four-week Fulbright seminar on visual culture in Germany. In the winter of 2016 I walked 750-kilometers of the Camino de Santiago.
Also along the way, I met the incredible force of energy that is Edna M. Rodriguez-Plate. We've traveled together to many new spots, and are now sharing these places with our two daughters.
Based on my time traveling and talking with people, observing and reading, parenting and partnering, my conclusions about human life, and religious life more specifically, increasingly come back to the important role of basic physical experiences: eating bread together, looking at images, smelling spices, listening to music, and touching other bodies. These are all sensually symbolic, meaningful activities that engage religious people, providing order and values for living, and, more often than not, a little disorder.
Far from ideological arguments that pit theism against atheism, or science against faith, my writings and teachings constantly demonstrate how religion happens primarily in the sensual encounters of the human body. I'm thoroughly undiscplined, reading around in cultural anthropology, art history, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, film and media studies, though I tend to graze most often in the field of religious studies.
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