My research and teaching center in Western modernity as it is conceived in various sources – philosophical, literary, theological, and political. I am interested in root concepts that structure the humanities, such as history, critique, and field, and in canons and stories that make sense of an intellectual landscape, an inheritance of texts and distinctions and practices. My essays and courses have taken up these interests in a variety of authors, and I have published two books: Spinoza’s Revelation: Religion, Democracy, and Reason (Cambridge, 2004), which works in the crosscurrents of Spinoza’s metaphysics and politics, and Powers of Distinction: On Religion and Modernity (Chicago, 2017), a wide-ranging critique of the West in light of modernity’s elementary forms.
Before coming to Yale, I taught at Williams College and Indiana University, Bloomington. I have served on the editorial board of the Social Science Research Council blog on secularism, religion, and the public sphere, The Immanent Frame, where I co-curated forums and published a variety of essays. I currently serve on the board of Method and Theory in the Study of Religion. My teaching pursues questions in the history of ideas as well as readings of particular thinkers and themes. To spur collaboration in both research and teaching, several of us in religious studies have founded a doctoral field in religion and modernity, which includes participants from across the university.
My work in progress is on the freedom of interpretation, a motif that appears in two recent articles: “The Religion of Confrontation: Concepts, Violence, and Scholarship,” Harvard Theological Review 113 (2020) and “Canon, Repetition, and the Opponent: Interpretation in the History of Ideas,” Journal of Religious Ethics 48 (2020).