Happy Academic Writing Month!

4 Nov

Since it’s NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, I figured it would be an apt time to talk about writing. I don’t believe I am an aspiring novelist. Right now I want to be a more widely published academic writer, so for me November is Academic Writing Month (#AcWriMo). Along with moving from Ventura to Orange County and heading to the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting in Baltimore, I’ll be trying to dot some i’s and t’s on projects that have been progressing too slowly.

Below you’ll find 1) Information about the blog and the content of its posts, 2) some thoughts about my book proposal, and 3) comments about an article I’m revising that I haven’t found a good title for.

1. I’ve vowed to continue blogging at a steady clip of 4/week. This is the level of blogging I’ve determined over the last few months to be the right level of blogging for me. I write substantive and often lengthy posts. Four per week is enough that I feel like I’m really moving the blog along, but it isn’t so much that I’m ignoring work for more academic venues.

On this final point, it is true that I tend to blog more about popular culture. I hope to attempt to bring some of my other work to the foreground this month. I continue to work on spiritual warfare, contemporary evangelical history, and spatial theory. These emphases aren’t always so obvious when I’m writing about Witch Doctor or Hellboy. They stem from the same source, however.

My interest in the spatial dynamics of evangelical spiritual warfare has evolved into a broader interest in the dynamics of supernatural beliefs. It was my study of spiritual warfare literature that reinvigorated my appreciation for gothic fiction, horror films, and occult-laden comic books. When I began my dissertation I struggled to explain why demons became so central for evangelicals in the early 1980s. What was it about that era that provoked an return to a demon-haunted world?

I have a far better grasp of the history and context for the resurgence of spiritual warfare now, but I think that I still have a lot of work to do to explain the many different kinds of manifestations of the supernatural that appeared in the late 20th century. Every item of popular culture I find that employs the occult, metaphysical concepts, or religious themes feels like another brick in the foundation of future work. The blog is excellent for advancing these ideas and working on that long-term goal.

2. In the short-term,  however, I must put the polish to my book proposal. It’s been mostly done for a while now, but I’m still receiving feedback on it. One of the significant changes I’ve made beyond the dissertation is to narrow the focus onto territorial demons. The project started when I discovered prayerwalking, but several aspects of that topic require significant fieldwork that I cannot undertake at the moment. As I found, prayerwalking was also even more diverse than I had initially given it credit for. That was surprising to me because I organized an early version of the project around prayerwalking’s diversity. I think it remains a case where we (religious studies) lack a truly effective theoretical framework for analysis. I’m definitely still working on it!

As the dissertation developed, it became much more concerned with the world that spiritual warriors imagined. The book takes this even further by arguing that a uniquely spatially oriented religious imagination was the defining feature of spiritual warfare. Territorial demonology is the best example to show how this works (and not prayerwalking as I initially believed). In part this is because territorial demons is a far more theologically developed concept than prayerwalking. However, it is also the case that the spatial components of demonology became clearer when I was dealing more with the world warriors imagined and less with the dynamics of the practices they used to demonstrate that imagination. I suppose you could say I went from needing anthropological to historical methods. It was better history that explained the logic of these practices for me, not more intimate observation. So the book continues to build on the historical and theoretical explanations my dissertation began. As I suggested in #1 above, I’ll try to share more on this during AcWriMo.

3. I’m revising a paper I gave at the 2010 meeting of the Western Historical association. I’ll be presenting the newly updated article at USC in early December. The paper was formerly called “Los Angeles, a City on a Hill?: Evangelical Outreach and Religious Claims to Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics.” It described the exceptional language evangelicals used to talk about L.A. during the games. In the course of my dissertation research, I did more work on the intercession and evangelism that Youth With A Mission organized. One lesson I learned is that I had inadequately described the extent of urban prophetic beliefs that had emerged. In my earlier paper I stressed the covenantal arrangement evangelicals felt they had entered with God for Los Angeles’ salvation. My revisions keep this argument, but they place it within a more deliberate context with other instances of massive intercession for biblical cities. This invokes much more of the theology of spiritual warfare that grew out of this event.

I’m struggling with a name for the revised paper. There are a few phrases I’m piecing together including a “season of travail for mercy,” “bringing sanctuaries to desolation,” “a rebellious city,” “until the Spirit is poured upon us,” “global awakening,” and citywide intercession. I’m fairly set with the subtitle, Spiritual Warfare in Los Angeles during the 1984 Summer Olympics . It’s my preference–right or wrong–to find something snappier for the main title.

If you’ve got suggestions, send them my way! (On twitter if you like!)

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