Eric Chalfant Picture

Eric Chalfant

Adjunct Assistant Professor

Film and Media

Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts

People Directory Affiliation Category

I am a term adjunct in the Department of Film and Media at Queen’s University, teaching Film 336: Film and Politics: Religion on Screen. I have previously taught at Elon University and Portland Community College. I received my PhD from Duke University in 2016, my MA from Wake Forest University in 2011, and my BA from Whitman College in 2008.

My research lies at the intersection of media studies and religious studies. Theoretically, my work draws heavily on critical media studies and several shades of material media analysis, including affect studies, sound culture studies, interface studies, and algorithmic and network culture.

My current book-length project uses media archaeology to unearth the history of North American atheist and Freethinker uses of print, broadcast, and digital media. I argue that changing media forms provided new sets of affects with which North American atheists were able to articulate new subject-positions. In 19th-century print media, an affectivity of openness (generated by the openness of a mediascape comprised of decentralized media-producers as well as the open spatial geography of the printed page) meant that Freethinkers felt little need to form exclusivist subject-positions. With the increasing use of visual media in the form of political cartoons, Freethought became more militant, not coincidentally as the printed page became more crowded with visual information and new technologies of image-printing provided metaphors for the non-rational imprinting of secular culture. My next section focuses on 20th-century broadcast media – particularly on the radio broadcasts of Madalyn Murray O’Hair. I argue that the radio produced an affectivity of invisibility (generated by the ethereal nature of radio transmission, the lack of visual content in radio production, and the invisibility of the listening audience) which contributed to O’Hair’s concern with enhancing the visibility of the atheist community. Finally, I turn to digital media today, which I characterize by the affectivity of speed (generated by algorithmic culture, data aggregation, and the prevalence of memetic visual imagery). Focusing on the digital atheist community on, I see digital media providing a return to the visual culture of 19th-century political cartoons, but now in the affective register of networked speed. Thus, digital culture takes over some of the affects of its predecessors, replacing O’Hair’s emphasis on “Coming Out” with a desire to “Come In” to the intimate sphere of a digital counterpublic.

My next book-length project will build on my publications exploring the overlapping fields of media, religion, and affect studies. My recent article, “Everything is Noise: Don Delillo’s White Noise and the Affectivity of Media, Religion, and Divination,” (Journal of Religion, Media, and Digital Culture) provides the theoretical foundation for this project by articulating religious divination through the language of information theory. I define divination as the interpretation of meaningful information out of random noise, as in classic practices of cleromancy, and then compare this understanding to theories of mediation as the rarefaction of informational signal out of background noise. The book project uses noise as a theoretical lens for understanding the relationship between media and divination, both historically and in contemporary practice. My article, “Forgetting Souls: Lyotard, Adorno, and the Trope of the Jew,” (Critical Research on Religion) likewise examines how media discourses around Judaism and Jewishness have been mobilized both toward anti-Semitism and toward critical articulations of modernity.  My 2016 article, “Taylor-Made:  Immanent Transcendence in A Secular Age,” (Implicit Religion) explores how digital media can offer resources for non- and anti-religious individuals and communities to articulate pluralist ontologies that disrupt narrow conceptions of secular modernity. These works elaborate on the intersection of affect studies, media studies, and anthropology of divination as a way to theorize the current political moment in which people are simultaneously anti-authoritarian, anti-objective, and yet maintain an almost religious conviction in networked information retrieved through media.