School of Religion

Two Bader Postdoctoral Fellows will join the School of Religion in 2015.

Thanks to funds provided by Queen's benefactor, Alfred Bader, the School of Religion will welcome two new Bader Postdoctoral Fellows for a two-year appointment each starting in July, 2015.  Christopher Byrne comes to Queen's from McGill University and specializes in Chinese Religions.  Sharday Mosurinjohn completed her PhD at Queen's and will work in the area of Contemporary Religious Movements. 

Both "Bader Postdocs" will teach two courses each year. Chris is teaching RELS 229 Confucianism in the Fall term and RELS 224 Taoism in the Winter term.  Sharday will teach RELS 452 The Contemporary Religious Situation in the Fall and RELS 202 Traditions in Religious Studies: Magic, Witchcraft and the Supernatural in Winter.

Chris and Sharday have summarized their research interests and teaching philosophies:

Christopher Byrne

The focus of my research is the religious and cultural significance of poetry written by Chinese Chan (J. Zen) Buddhist monks during the Song dynasty (960-1279), a defining moment for both Chinese literary production and the establishment of Chan as a dominant cultural force. My fascination with Chan poetry derives from the question of how to reconcile the apparent contradiction between Chan’s claim to an ineffable religious insight attained within silent meditation and the tradition’s prolific literary output. During the Song dynasty, developments in printing technology and demographic changes gave rise to a new urban and literary elite—reasons for which some historians to describe the Song as an early modern era—and it was within this climate that the Chan school began to publish a unique literature of its own, best known for bizarre and seemingly irrational dialogues between master and disciple. Along with these iconoclastic dialogues, Chan monks also wrote and published a great amount of poetry, the most esteemed art of the Chinese elite which held an exalted position within the Confucian tradition. Chan’s paradoxical relationship with language had a profound impact on Chinese poetics which in turn influenced the literatures of Korea and Japan and even poetry in the West since the twentieth century. Although quite a number of studies have examined Chan’s literary influence, less research has been done on the poetry actually written by Chan monks as part of their religious vocation. My current research project is to look at the ways in which Chan monks adapted the Chinese poetic tradition to promote the Chan monastic institution—transforming conventional poetic modes and metaphors into expressions of Buddhist doctrine, exchanging verses with laymen and women to secure patronage and support, utilizing poetry to garner funds and request material goods, and, most importantly, projecting an image of the Chan master as both literary adept and bearer of silent wisdom. My findings concerning the major changes in the practices of composing and collecting Chan poetry since the Song dynasty will soon be published in an article co-authored with Jason Protass (Stanford University), entitled “Poetry: China: Song and After,” which will appear in volume one of Brill’s forthcoming Encyclopedia of Buddhism. Besides Chan poetry, my research interests include gender and religion in Chinese women’s writings and East Asian religions and environmental ethics.

            As a teacher, I am similarly interested in exploring the inter-dynamics of religion and society through the analysis of particular cultural manifestations, an approach I have adopted within Chinese Religions and East Asian Religions courses at McGill University and which I plan to apply to the Confucianism and Daoism courses I will teach at Queen’s this academic year. Teaching Chinese religions is very rewarding since Chinese beliefs and practices are often remarkably different from traditional Western models and understandings of religion and since they provide critical perspectives on the nature of the individual, language, and rationality—things we typically value quite highly, especially in an academic community.

Sharday Mosurinjohn

Picture of Sharday MosurinjohnIf all research is “me-search,” then I have a big stake in painting boredom in a nuanced light, because my work is both a pitch about its crucial significance in twenty-first-century life and a confession that I suffer from it. My most recent and major project has been a study of boredom as a dominant mood in the information society and my argument is, maybe counterintuitively, that boredom is what you get when you have lots of input, but few shared or communal patterns, and lots of choices, but no real sense of alternatives. At its base, boredom is an experience of time slowed and emptied of meaning, so the way I’ve approached it is to study the way we use communications technologies to modulate our experience of time and fill it up with meaning – that is, with content which aspires to personal, psychological or even social significance. One chapter of my dissertation, for instance, considers the seemingly trivial practice of texting as actually a ritual of both self-making and self-transcending. Another chapter considers conceptual art and writing that takes boredom as a counter-spectacle; that is, as both a symptom of info- and entertainment culture and as a state from which it can be understood. A conference I organized on these topics in fact drew the attention of some of the news media I had been puzzling over, and I consider these moments of moving research from my office into the public conversation to be the moments I work for.

Having taught in Religious Studies as well as Philosophy and Art History, I’ve also been able to bring these diverse examples into my classrooms. This past year, for instance, I taught two upper-year contemporary art courses where we confronted the stereotype that the conceptual tradition that’s become the grounding for so much fine art today is necessarily what conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith calls boring boring – the “bad” kind of boring. We tried to tease apart irony and sincerity in these works by analyzing conceptual artist John Baldessari’s promise that “I will not make any more boring art.” In a first-year world religions course taught online we looked at how the very technologies that were allowing us to communicate with one another were part of the disenchantment of the modern world and, because of their mystery to us as non-tech-specialists, part of its re-enchantment as a mysterious place driven by forces beyond our understanding. This year, I’ll be teaching about new religious movements that reckon in a variety of ways with this networked and digitally revolutionized world.

Like my teaching, my writing takes a variety of forms, too. Recent writings have ranged from political critique around news media and religion, such as in “Popular Journalism, Religious Morality, and the Canadian Imaginary: Queers and Immigrants as Threats to the Public Sphere” published in The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, to theoretical reflections on today’s questions of time and meaning, such as in “Unraveling the Identity of the Line in Culture: Dominant Lines in the Temporal-Affective Structure of Late Modernity” published in The International Journal on the Image. Other recent projects include a review of the photographer Geoffrey James’ exhibition “Inside Kingston Penitentiary” for Canadian Art magazine, and a review of Jacques Rancière’s Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics in TOPIA. I am currently reviewing Cloud of the Impossible by Catherine Keller and preparing to present my work on texting and ritual to the working group on Religion, Communication, and Culture at the International Association for Media and Communication Research.

The flexibility of the kinds of ideas I develop is owed in great part to my interdisciplinary formation through an MA in Cultural Studies from Queen’s University and a BA (Honours) in Sociocultural Anthropology, Museology, and Scholar’s Electives from Western University. As I move forward in the School of Religion figuring out how the use of digital technology actually constitutes meaning-making, spiritual, and religious activity – rather than just reporting it – I’m deeply grateful for the generous support of the Baders in the creation of these postdoctoral positions in the humanities, and excited to embrace a new set of colleagues dedicated to the humanistic thinking that’s so vital to making sense of our world today.