Tag Archives: blogging

Forgive me, Father, for I am Daredevil

20 Apr

I’ve been rushing to consume the first season of Netflix’s release of Marvel’s Daredevil before someone comes along and spoils things for me. In part, this is a conceit. I’ve read quite a bit of the Daredevil plot-lines that seem to drive this production, so I have a pretty good idea what to expect. And I’m not here to discuss the looming plot beyond this first season of episodes, but rather to point out one of the main talking points about the show: Daredevil aka. Matt Murdock and his Catholicism. This post collects some of the writing that has emerged discussing the new series and its main character’s religious identity.


Plenty has been said about Daredevil’s Catholic history at Adherents.com where the religious affinities of comic book characters are explored in great detail. Their preference for genealogical details–the gritty line where serial plot holes and back stories are filled in by meticulous attention to decades of comic content–are extremely welcome. The new series, however, seems to assume that, on the whole, their viewers know next to nothing of Murdock or Daredevil.

If the character is a veritable blank slate, then what has been written by viewers now about Murdock’s Catholicism?

Daredevil-Born-Again-Madre-e-hijoSome writers have tried to link the TV series with its former incarnation as a feature film. There’s this short piece over at the Christian TV and film review site, DecentFilms, for instance, that worries that the Netflix series, while a superior production to the 2003 Daredevil film starring Ben Affleck, hasn’t clarified “the sacramental theology issue” the Murdock opens when he pre-emptively asks for forgiveness of sins he has yet to commit.

Such concerns become a serious contention over at ComicBookBin, where Hervé St-Louis asks “Is Daredevil Really Catholic?” The author’s reading of 20th century America’s religious history has some significant issues, which make Daredevil’s Catholicism sound, alternately, like a byproduct of WASPish hand-waving to lowly Catholic masses or trite cultural folklore. In the face of complaints that Daredevil simply isn’t Catholic enough as a character, we would do well to remember the story-arc Born Again, one of the centerpieces of the Daredevil canon. Though I am somewhat loathe to have a fight over canonical authority, this central work seems to be not an issue at all for St-Louis, who ignores the rich theology and symbolism that Miller embedded in his narration of Murdock’s discovery of his mother. (A better attempt at this argument is made over at “The Other Murdock Papers,” a blog devoted to Daredevil. The twisting knife of this argument, however, remains the unsustainable line between a lapsed cultural Catholic and “authentic” Catholics. How are we to judge? And whose verdict of Catholic authenticity shall we trust?)

World Religion News seems to buy Miller’s intentions toward the Catholic side of Daredevil’s character. WRN even identifies Patheos’ blogger Kate O’Hare as one viewer who has taken up the challenge of writing about Murdock’s Catholicism (with extensive links to the works of others before the series premiered earlier this month).  As O’Hare quotes her fellow Patheos‘ writer Jonathan Ryan, I find myself sympathetic to viewers who see Catholic theology in the cross-hairs of Daredevil’s actions if not his words. “This comic is devotional reading for me,” writes Ryan in 2013. “Sin. Redemption. The power of being helpless. Sacrificing yourself so others might live. All concepts that go deep to my heart.”

Other acute readings of the new series (rather than the comic book that were its inspiration) include the New Republic’s (predictable) account of the show as a anti-gentrification hero. That this might go hand in hand with the Catholic ethnic communities embodied by the depiction of Hell’s Kitchen is ignored in favor of other socio-economic angles. (For you academic-types, try John T. McGreevy’s excellent Parish Boundaries.) Surely there is still much to be said of the way in which the ethnic community surrounding Daredevil is not represented by the other characters that immediately surround Murdock. Is his lawyer buddy Catholic? What about their secretary? What about the villains?


Salon pulls out the stops when writer Charles Moss declares that “Daredevil’s Greatest Superpower is his Catholicism.” The twist (as the inevitable click-bait and switch must have)? “It’s also his greatest enemy.” As Moss says, the Show “tries to reconcile the lawyer who defends the law with the Daredevil who breaks it. Murdock’s brutal justice is more than his way of taking personal responsibility for the sins of others; it’s his way of atoning for his own.” Which sins are these, we might wonder. How many sins does the blind lawyer really have at this stage of the story?

If the debate is about whether Catholic viewers see Daredevil in Catholic ways, then the answer is a far more sympathetic yes. Though Catholic Vote identifies the inevitable weaknesses in production elements of the show’s portrayal of Catholicism, the takeaway from their review is their appreciation that the series took the Church “seriously as a positive actor in a world, a voice of justice and conscience in a crime-ridden city and a light in a blind man’s darkness.” The CV seems to be taking whatever it can get. I wonder whether it shouldn’t ask for more. Why haven’t we seen the priest do more in the community? Is his only task to be the quiet, gentle conscience of the brutal justice Daredevil is handing out? Is his promise of redemption one Daredevil can take?

What do you say? Are you a Daredevil comic enthusiast who sees new religious layers to Murdock’s character? Are you a Netflix series newbie who is being drawn into this world? What do you think of Marvel’s Catholic superhero?


Not So Lively?

28 Nov

Promises to get back to blogging are easy to break. I’ve made them before only to find myself staring at months of silence. I’m not about to make another one now. This blog has been a home for many works-in-progress ideas. When I needed an outlet for exploration, this was an ideal forum. I struggled, as we all can, to maintain a steady volume of output. The ebb and flow of posts is essential for long-term readers. As a writer I am learning to be reliable, but it is a long process.

Part of the challenge–which I recently discussed with a colleague or two at the 2014 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego–is the paralysis that can come when writing a certain kind of blog post. I have preferred to write lengthier posts that do a bit of the initial free-writing on a topic I’d like to explore further (Demons in video games, for instance, or the viral qualities of cult formation seen in Twitch Plays Pokemon). This preference makes it much harder to be satisfied with your posts. When have I had my say on a topic that I’m just beginning to write about? Am I using my blog as an “open research notebook” for myself or should I consider my audience as I write?

For me the paralysis of writing often emerges when I fail to find a suitable way to balance the demands of audience and personal research notes. The first requires clarity and a willingness to explain context while avoiding jargon. The second makes more rapid progress while shutting out potential conversations. Rather than walk the line I have often chosen not to take a first step and my writing suffered.

Being out of the classroom (we knew we were moving mid-semester so I lost quite a bit of time when I could have been teaching) also diminished my desire to write. Speaking with folks on sabbatical reminded me how integral the conversations in the classroom have been to my own writing process. This blog has been most active when I have been working intensely with students who challenge me to present my ideas more succinctly and seek out points of reference for their frame of experience. Having begun teaching again this fall I feel my desire to write has been rejuvenated. I am also brimming with ideas, many of which are spurred by the work my students have done.

If this experiment has not been so lively lately, I am certainly to blame. But I have not been idle and I hope to be able to share the fruits of other orchards with visitors when they arrive. I still hope to transfer my digital life over to my self-hosted site; I still work on the details of my Spiritual Warfare Archive; I am moving forward in the development of multiple writing projects; and I have exciting partnerships with folks elsewhere on the web such as SacredAndSequential.org and SacredMatters. Perhaps I should shed more light on the shadowy development process, but, as many of us feel, it is often easier to *do* the things rather than discuss them. Self-reflection is a skill to be mastered just as much as blogging.

AHA 2013 Day 1: THATCamp & My Fears about Digital Religious Studies

3 Jan

I should be headed over to the Marriott for the plenary round table, but I’m afraid I’m too tired and jet lagged to process anything else today. I knew it might happen. Better today than tomorrow or Saturday!

Today’s adventure was my first THATCamp. The Humanities And Technology Camp is an chance for impromptu brainstorming, knowledge-sharing, problem-solving, and interdisciplinary thinking about the intersection of work in the humanities and technology. You can read more about the idea here.

I’m still thinking about the experience–and wondering what it may mean for future involvement in THATCamps and other unconference events–but I thought I’d say a few preliminary words about my day.

1. In the days preceding the event, a handful (maybe 10% or less) of participants posted initial proposal suggestions. More than one of us posted more than one proposal (on pretty different topics). There was relatively less chatter on the website than I expected, but this may have been the awkward (perennially so) timing of the AHA and no fault of the campers.

2. On the day we got a chance to give/hear quick pitches on the proposals. A few more ideas emerged from the campers and were either embraced as independent proposals or expansions to other proposals. It was nice to hear this emerge organically, but I might have liked to see even more willingness from the crowd to mix’n’match the ideas to create a more (shudder) synergistic set of sessions.

3. Dan Cohen quickly (and it was faster than he intimated it would be) organized the proposals into a schedule. No one had major or substantial alterations, so his schedule was accepted as-is. (Apparently that’s rare.) In the future I will probably only propose a single session–you can miss too much if you’re leading sessions in two slots out of three.

4. The first proposal I attended was one I proposed on Twitter and public scholarship. There were just 3 of us for the majority of the time, and we *could* have been much more productive had we not experienced significant technical problems getting wireless access. It appears that the 50 or so campers unduly taxed the Sheraton’s 4th floor wireless hub. It was legitimately difficult to discuss Twitter and coding Twitter-based archives without access to the internet. This didn’t mean the session was unproductive–we talked about many different pieces of the hurdles to using and treating Twitter as an archive. But we could have done better with laptops fully accessing the internet. If there’s one thing that surely MUST be at a tech conference (or unconference) it’s good internet access. Not much you can do in the heat of the moment though.

5. Lunch came rapidly. In New Orleans, 1.5 hours was perhaps too little for lunch and dork shorts talks. It can get pretty busy in the French Quarter at noon, and if you’re walking 10 minutes each way to get your food you might still take an hour to get back to the meeting room. The dork shorts were also an odd experience–each person having to set up their laptop and then taking an arbitrary amount of time to talk. Perhaps just a bit more structure here would have helped more people talk and talk effectively about their work. The meeting room itself didn’t exactly help. The projector screen was off in the corner and this made many of the chairs arranged in a circle totally useless. A signup sheet and a timer would have been a boon, as would have been a single laptop for use by all dork shorters.

6. Dan Cohen led a great post-lunch workshop on using Google Earth. I should have known more of this already (so I could have attended something else further afield) but it was an excellent beginner’s tutorial and a fabulous refresher on how to start using mapping as a fledgling step in the digital humanities. This wasn’t very unconference-y, but it was very useful, so I was grateful to have it.

7. Another short break (5-10 minutes) would have been nice between panels, but it wasn’t scheduled. Do all sessions need/want to be 1.5 hours long? Thanks to the casual climate it wasn’t much of an issue, so I hopped quickly into facilitating a talk session on gaming in the classroom. Another small session (4-5 people) meant we could talk extensively about our own goals for using games as learning tools. Each of us had pretty different experiences with using games educationally and this led to a broad-ranging brain-storming session that I felt was quite productive. I came away even more convinced that I’d like to continue to push gaming pedagogy in my classroom exercises and assignments. I also gained a new sense of the range of gaming elements that can be added to existing non-game activities. Adding competition to in-class projects is a baby-step on the way to more gaming, but it can also be immensely satisfying on its own.

On the whole I was pleased by the intimacy of the THATCamp experience, which helped foster more direct connections between knowledge-havers and knowledge-seekers. That distinction, however, is fairly arbitrary and quaint. Part of the point is that even the proposer of a session has a fair bit (if not a lot) to learn about what they’re discussing/making/sharing. The intimacy emerged when more and less experienced participants felt equally comfortable in the process of learning and sharing.

I’m excited to continue to discussions I began here this year, but I’m also eager to participate in more unconference events where the distribution and flow of knowledge is more democratic and seeks a better balance than the presenter/audience model of traditional conferences.

I’m also keen to continue to work on expanding my interaction and experience with the digital humanities. One of the most singular take-away feelings for me is that while historians have begun to effectively grapple with doing their work digitally, my own field, religious studies, lags years and years behind these efforts. I am certain there is digital history–complete with some significant sense of itself as an object that is/has emerging/ed in the broader field. I am not certain there is a digital religious studies to match it. Perhaps this is an unfounded fear, but given the composition of panels at the MLA/AHA and the AAR, I’m fairly certain there is a substantive basis for my concerns.

So for next year’s American Academy of Religion conference the question on my mind will be: what is digital religious studies? Perhaps THATCamp will help us figure that out and begin to erase the latency between religious studies and other more progressive areas of the academy. We have the advantage of leaping past many of the initial discussions and preliminary setbacks experienced by the wide DH community. Can we do this effectively enough to catch up? I’d like to think so. I guess that means that one of the first big hurdles will be identifying what basic DH looks like and helping religious studies see the appeal. You’ve always got to speak to your own audience/market–this surely won’t be any different. Scary, sure, but if none of us newly-minted scholars have jobs that reduces the risks, right? Right?

Leave a comment that allays my fears. Or just express your jealously that in 24 hours in New Orleans I managed to have Oysters, Beignets, Bourbon, Jambalaya, Fried Chicken, Fried Catfish, Pralines, and a Hurricane.

Future Fridays? The Experiment Continues

30 Nov
Ph.D. in Horribleness

Ph.D. in Horribleness (Photo credit: KellBailey)

Welcome back! After buckling down on dissertation research and writing, I’ve made substantial progress toward the completion of my degree. It’s now time to continue to excellent work I was engaging in before I went on an extended blog-cation. (Is that a thing?) I have a plan, too, to prevent the resumption of blogging from impairing the singular goal of my academic year (Ph.D. in hand)! Here’s what you’ll find from now on:

Media Mondays — I am still a devout, card-carrying member of the media generation. I love the art of film, the art of art, the comfort and energy of music, and  all things digital. I’ll fill future Mondays with movie reviews, analysis of religiously oriented popular music, discussions pulled from live-tweeting conferences, and so on. It will be a great way to start each week!

Textual Tuesdays — My growing collection of primary sources for my dissertation as well as resources for teaching courses in religious studies need a home. I hope to spend future Tuesdays sharing great resources from my personal collection as well as those so many great colleagues share throughout the web.

Western Wednesdays — The study of the American West is near and dear to me. Early proposals for my dissertation included substantial western emphases, but these were eventually reduced. You can’t do everything all at once. I’ll be looking for ways to continue these interests, as well as create a climate for cross-blog discussion with the excellent Religion in the American West blog, which I’ve pledged to write several contributions for in the next year. 

Theory Thursdays — I am surprised at how theoretically inclined my dissertation has become. I’ve always been seriously devoted to theories of sacred space and the tools necessary for theorizing the field of religious studies. I hope to briefly introduce some of these major elements and discussions–perhaps with an eye to a fancy technological project I’ve got in mind for the future.

Free-For-All Friday — Like today’s post, I expect to do quite a few different things on Fridays: from site business, Twitter #followfridays, teaching pedagogy, syllabus drafting, and whatever else didn’t quite make it into the rest of the week.

DiSSertation Weekends —  Over the weekend I’ll try to bring focus to the research I’ve been so concerned with for the last few years. I’ll probably post irregularly on Saturdays and Sundays, naturally preferring to work on the dissertation itself rather than write about the dissertation. I imagine these will be lengthier or more detailed academic posts, too, either serving as launching points for my daily grind or tangents that can’t be contained in the project itself.

Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons (Photo credit: Lars Kasper)

Part of the reason I stopped blogging was the challenge of consistently making a variety of content. I was always pushing myself to write substantive and often lengthy posts. This may not have always happened, but that motivation meant I spent more time than I should have planning posts (or drafting them) and less time than I should have publishing what I was working on. In the past year, as I’ve learned more and more about digital humanities and its methods, I can see where this was leading me astray. There’s certainly a place for those posts–hopefully I’ll make more of them–but the average post on my site can be less a lengthy finished product and more a short invitation to discussion and future exploration.

This routine, I hope, will let me publish a consistent volume of interesting items on the topics that keep me motivated and captivated. Let me know if you’re rejoining me! And watch out for those dragons lurking in the unexplored places of the maps.

Should I blog?

28 Sep

Over at Religion in American History Edward Blum writes about his reservations when folks exactly like me blog under their own names. The risks, he believes, should make young professionals think twice about their digital publishing. His point are entirely reasonable and I’ve heard them before from my father, a professor of environmental science, other graduate students, and even academic advisers. Unfortunately, his piece offers no advice for young professionals hoping to get blogging “right” and identifies few of blogging’s benefits in this increasingly digital age. I want to take the time today to explain why I’m here under my own name and why despite Blum’s reservations I think it’s okay and even beneficial for me to be writing here.

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