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James H. Thrall

Knight Distinguished Associate Professor for the Study of Religion & Culture

James Thrall
Contact
309-341-7912
jthrall@knox.edu

General Interests
"My interest in religion stems in large part from having grown up in Japan, Burma, Korea, and the Philippines as a member of a U.S. Foreign Service family. We were surrounded by a seemingly infinite variety of religious expression that shaped and flavored the cultures in which we lived. I also spent much of my adult life writing about religion as a journalist for newspapers in Maine and Connecticut, and as a media coordinator for the Episcopal Church. These experiences instilled a strong respect for the powerful influence religious commitment can exert on essentially all areas of life. The endless inventiveness of human beings in developing systems of religious meaning, often in ways they would never think to call religious, constantly surprises me. I delight in sharing that sense of surprise with students.

I study religion primarily as a social phenomenon, especially as communicated through cultural products of literature, film, and other media. I am particularly interested in the speculative potential of science fiction in exploring religious meaning. I bring a postcolonial perspective to my work that I have applied most recently in articles on representations of religion in postcolonial science fiction. My other current research interests include religious themes in Japanese film, twentieth-century feminist explorations of mysticism, world Christianity (with an emphasis on Burma), and peace studies."

Years at Knox: 2010 to present

Education
Ph.D., Religion and Culture, 2005, Duke University.
M.A.R., Theology, 1986, Yale University Divinity School.
B.A., English, 1978, Colby College.

Teaching Interests
Religion and film, religion and media, religion and literature, religion and science fiction, theories of religion, world religions (esp. world Christianity.)

Full Curriculum Vitae - (DOC)

Selected Professional Accomplishments

Honors/Grants
Mellon Faculty Grant for Project Advancement, Knox College, 2011-2012.
Exemplary Service Award, International College, University of Bridgeport, 2010.
Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching, Duke University, 2003.
Duke Graduate School Travel Grant for research at Myanmar Institute of Theology, Yangon, Burma/Myanmar, 2001.
Mary Cady Tew Prize for scholastic excellence, Yale Divinity School, 1984-1985.

Publications
"K-Pax" entry in When Worlds Collide: Critical Companion to Science Fiction Film Adaptations. Science Fiction Texts and Studies Series. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool Univ. Press, forthcoming 2013.

"Making Dinner: The Artistry of Communal Meals in Babette's Feast and Antonia's Line," Light Shining in a Dark Place: Discovering Theology Through Film. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2012.

"Learning to Listen, Listening to Learn: The Taoist Way in Ursula K. Le Guin's The Telling." In Practicing Science Fiction: Critical Essays on Writing, Reading and Teaching the Genre, edited by Karen Hellekson, Craig Jacobsen, Patrick Sharp, and Lisa Yaszek. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

"Postcolonial Science Fiction?: Science, Religion and the Transformation of Genre in Amitav Ghosh's The Calcutta Chromosome." Literature and Theology 23.3 (September 2009): 1-14.

"The Religions of Battlestar Galactica: Making Human/Making Other." In When Genres Collide: Selected Essays from the 37th Annual Meeting of the Science Fiction Research Association, edited by Thomas J. Morrissey and Oscar De Los Santos, 141-49. Waterbury, CT: Fine Tooth Press, 2007.

"Immersing the Chela: Religion and Empire in Rudyard Kipling's Kim." Religion and Literature 36.3 (Autumn 2004): 45-66.

"Love, Loss, and Utopian Community on William Gibson's Bridge." Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 33.91 (Summer 2004): 97-115.

Review essay of Gauri Viswanathan's Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity and Belief. Polygraph: An International Journal of Culture and Politics 12 (2000): 187-195.

Assistant editor for Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Ed. Hans Hillerbrand. 4 vols. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2003.

"The Golden Kingdom" [Ann Hasseltine Judson's perceptions of nineteenth-century Burma]. Christian History and Biography 90 (Spring 2006). Served as consultant on Burma and provided photographs for special issue on Adoniram and Ann Judson.

Review essay of Gauri Viswanathan's Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity and Belief. Polygraph: An International Journal of Culture and Politics 12 (2000): 187-195.

Presentations
Conference organizer and discussion group leader for Religion and Media Workshop on "Feeling Political: Religion, Media, and the Politics of Emotion," American Academy of Religion, Chicago, November 2012.

"Memory, Loss, and Return in Kore-eda Hirokazu's Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo)." International Society of Religion, Literature, and Culture, Copenhagen, Denmark, October 2012.

"What's in an Image?: Picturing Religious Diversity at Knox," Knox-Lombard Fifty-year Alumni Club (June 2012).

"Faith, Spirituality, Religion," Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority, Knox College, April 2012.

Discussion of Eliza Griswold's The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam, with Prof. Bruce Lawrence of Duke University, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Hillsborough, North Carolina, December 2011.

Moderator, "Endo Shusaku: Religion, Literature, and Missionary Endeavor" Panel, American Academy of Religion, San Francisco, November 2011.

Conference organizer and moderator of "Bookish Objects: Then and Now" Panel, Religion and Media Workshop on "What's Next for Texts: Scripting Religion in a Networked World," American Academy of Religion, San Francisco, November 2011.

Tree of Life film screening and discussion with Prof. Daniel Wack, Knox College, November 2011.

"Teaching Peace: Hiroshima's Mary McMillan." Midwest Regional Conference, American Academy of Religion, Augustana College, April 2011.

"Women, Spirits, and Postcolonial Speculation in Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads," Arts, Literature, and Religion Section, American Academy of Religion, Atlanta, October 2010.

"Song of the Other: Kon Ichikawa's Biruma no Tategoto (The Burmese Harp)," Film and Religion Section, International Society of Religion, Literature and Culture, Oxford University, UK (September 2010, scheduled).

"Gods and God: Frontiers of Religion on Caprica," Science Fiction Research Association, Carefree, Arizona, June 2010.

Film Presenter, Jesus of Montreal. Religion, Film and Visual Culture Group, American Academy of Religion, Montreal, November 2009.

"Magic Words and Magic Rites: Roman Catholicism in Warren Rochelle's Harvest of Changelings," Science Fiction Research Association, Atlanta, June 2009.

"Christianity: A Western Religion?" Organized world religions panel for Litchfield Community Center Adult Education Program, Litchfield, Connecticut, March-April 2009.

"Battlestar Galactica's Women of Faith." Women and Religion Section, American Academy of Religion Southeastern Region, Nashville, March 2007.

"‘Space' as Sacred Space?: Science Fiction Television Images the Void." International Society of Religion, Literature and Culture, University of Stirling, Scotland, October 2006.

"Facing Danger: May Sinclair's Erotics of War." Arts, Literature, and Religion Section, American Academy of Religion Southeastern Region, Atlanta, March 2006.

"Crazy Saints: Movies, Sainthood and Mental Illness." Duke University Psychiatry Residents Group, October 2001, February 2005.

"Life, Death and the Bourgeoisie in Evelyn Underhill's The Grey World and The Column of Dust." Co-organizer and presenter, joint session of Religion and Popular Culture/Christian Spirituality Groups, American Academy of Religion, San Antonio, November 2004.

"Who's in Charge of Heaven?: The Afterlife, Film, and Ethics." Joint session of Religion and Popular Culture Group/Religion, Culture, and Communication Consultation, American Academy of Religion, Toronto, November 2002. Also presented at International Society of Religion, Literature and Culture, York, England, September 2002.

"Resisting the Bomb: Hiroshima's Mary McMillan." Yale-Edinburgh Group on the History of the Missionary Movement & Non-Western Christianity, Edinburgh, July 2002.

"Mother Wants You: Frontiers of Desire in Shane." Arts, Literature, and Religion Section, American Academy of Religion, Denver, November 2001.

"Passing for Human: Hybridity and Border Issues for Roswell's Aliens." Joint session of Religion, Film and Visual Culture Group/Religion, Culture, and Communication Consultation, American Academy of Religion, Denver, November 2001.

"Finding Middle Ground with the Middle Way: Christian/Buddhist Synthesis in Modern Buddhism in Burma." History of Religions Section, American Academy of Religion Southeastern Region, Atlanta, March 2000.

Professional Service
Chair, Student Paper Award Committee, Science Fiction Research Association, 2012-13 (committee member 2010-2012).

Member, Arts, Literature, and Religion Section Steering Committee, American Academy of Religion, 2006-2012.

Campus & Community Involvement
Chair, Religious Studies Program, Knox College.
Faculty Member, Honor Board, Knox College.
Faculty Advisor, Fusion journal of interreligious dialogue, Knox College.
Member, Reverend Pete Hosutt Scholarship Committee.


What Students Say
"Jim is a dedicated and sincere professor. His acumen for scholarship, past professional experience, and time living abroad give him multifaceted insight into the topics he is teaching. He is respectful, engaging, and challenging. Jim assigns literature from diverse disciplines and genres and fosters freethinking discussion during class sessions. He does a great job of steering course content towards his students' particular interests; you really have intellectual freedom in his classes."
-Matt Flesher, Creative Writing Major and Religious Studies Minor

"Professor Thrall is passionate about teaching-- and learning. His own curiosity about world religions inspires students in his classroom to engage in thoughtful discussions and in-depth searches on the nature of spirituality. Through field trips, group projects, and the pairing of contemporary reading with ancient texts, Professor Thrall encourages intellectual curiosity. Educational innovation and human compassion take center stage in his classes. They are some of the best I've taken at Knox."
-Kaitlyn Duling, Creative Writing Major and Religious Studies Minor

"Every voice is valued in Jim's classes. He consistently cultivates an environment of honesty and respect without any explicit instruction. His warmth and incredible ability to listen are enough to inspire his students to honor the diverse perspectives of all- in and out of the classroom."
-Evelyn Langley, Religion and Culture Major

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