Metal is at once durable and impressionable, natural and extracted. In this talk, I consider the affordances of metal as both holder and inciter of memory, with a focus on gold in the making and maintaining of colonial territory in the British Empire. In particular, I consider how gold is at the symbolic and material centre of the settler cosmologies of land that enabled colonialism: molded into the Crown, panned out of gold rush rivers, and undergirding the currency, gold materialized colonial sovereignty. Through a discussion of the concept of Crown land and the public memory of gold mining that persists in museums and gold-panning theme parks, (especially Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), I consider how gold continues to ground the metaphysics of colonial territory.
In this workshop, I discussed my own and my students’ ongoing work as the Story Nations Collective, done in collaboration with various people of the Rainy River First Nations. The Kiinawin Kawindomowin Story Nations project is a participatory digital collaboration. Featuring an interactive annotation tool, an audio-book, audio-visual media such as photographs and digital stories, and ongoing conversations with present-day community members, the website engages with questions of treaty relationships, ceremony, and public memory. This digital storytelling site is a contemporary counternarrative to the missionary’s historical document and a platform that allows the diary to be made more accessible and available to the public in a digital format.
Summer School at the University of Tübingen
At the University of Tübingen, several of my students and I attended the ‘Problematizing Morality: Ethnographic Approaches to the Normative Dimensions of Everyday Life’ Summer School. A disciplinarily and nationally diverse group, we learned much from each other. Professor Monique Scheer and I co-taught one masterclass, and I gave a keynote lecture entitled ‘Ceremonial Morality: What a History of Oath-Making Reveals about Practices of Living in a Good Way.’ During the same week, I was named an Ambassador for the University of Tübingen – please approach me to learn more about this.
Ceremonial Morality and Living in a Good Way
I visited the University of Tübingen, where I am an ambassador, to give a keynote lecture on ceremony, morality, and ethical practices.
“Ceremonial Morality: What a History of Oath-Making Reveals about Practices of Living in a Good Way” Keynote Lecture, University of Tübingen Summer School on “Problematizing Morality”, September 26, 2019.
Recognizing Religion and Siting the Secular
The Marty Center Series on Religions in the Americas at the University of Chicago invites leading scholars to focus on critical topics and key debates in the field.
“Recognizing Religion and Siting the Secular” Invited Lecture, Marty Centre Series on Religions in the Americas, University of Chicago, November 5, 2019.
Treaty People and the Spiritual Vulnerability of Colonial Settlement
“Treaty People and the Spiritual Vulnerability of Colonial Settlement”, University of Otago, Dunedin, Aoteoroa/New Zealand, April 20, 2018.
Does the Secular Matter?
The main question that this seminar poses is if, and how, bodies, but also other material forms, can be considered secular. If so, how do we theorise and conceptualise secular embodiment and other material forms? Which new understandings about the secular or secularity may emerge from these explorations? What are suitable approaches and methods to study secular materiality?
Master Class at “Does the Secular Matter: Rethinking Secular Materiality and the Secular Body” a NOSTER Thematic Workshop at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, April 18, 2017.
Photography, Resistance, and Re-mediation on Manidoo Ziibi
In this presentation, I considered the significance for studies of missionary colonialism of what scholars call the “photographic event,” focusing on a diary written by an Anglican missionary-journalist, Frederick Du Vernet, during his 1898 trip to visit the Ojibwe of Rainy River in Treaty 3 territory (also known in Canada as northwestern Ontario). Du Vernet recorded both Ojibwe resistance to and requests for his picture-taking. His stories reveal how the event of taking photographs marked his own longing to capture spiritual stories and presences and provoked a variety of Ojibwe responses to such forms of visual capture.
Crown Land and the Spiritual Jurisdiction of Colonial Property
In the so-called “New World,” monarchs of several nations legitimized settler claims to Indigenous territory by resting their authority on a Christian-inflected cosmology of land that asserted a monarch’s divinely-ordained right to rule, even over lands very far from their original dominion. In the British Empire, this right to rule was most powerfully “landed” in the idea of “Crown tenure,” a legal fiction—or creation story—that held that all lands belonged, in a sense both spiritual and temporal, to the monarch. At this Religion, Culture, and Politics Workshop, I examined what many scholars have pointed to as the tricky metaphysical grounding of monarchical claims to land in colonial modernity (which is, arguably, all modernity).
“Crown Land and the Spiritual Jurisdiction of Colonial Property”, Religion, Culture, and Politics Workshop, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, March 29.
Spiritual Jurisdictions in a “Secular” Age
The question of whether “we” live in a secular age depends greatly on who is asking and where they stand. In this class, we considered the weight of the secular in Commonwealth (or stolen-wealth?) settler-colonial nations through the prism of the concept of “spiritual jurisdictions,” working with Hussein Agrama’s contention that the secular is a concept that depends on the persistent adjudication of a wavering line between the religious and the political.
“Spiritual Jurisdictions in a Secular Age”, Master Class at Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland, May 16, 2018.
The Value of Stories in an Age of Reconciliation
The work of humanities scholars is to tell stories about people in their dizzying diversity across times and places, at the same time that we clarify the grounds on which such stories are told. Put another way, we tell stories while also reflecting on the stakes of which stories are told and valued, and who does the telling. In this presentation, I reflected on the value of stories at a time when settler-colonial nations, including Australia and Canada, have undertaken processes of apology, truth, and reconciliation for colonial violence and dispossession of Indigenous peoples.
“The Value of Stories in an Age of Reconciliation” Culture & Values Lecture Series, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland, May 10, 2019.
The Medium is the Medicine
At a time when some governments have undertaken processes of apology, truth, and reconciliation for colonial violence and dispossession of Indigenous peoples, how can scholars in the humanities contribute to these imperfect gestures of repair? To hazard an answer to this question, I reflected on my process of narrating the story of an early-twentieth-century Anglican missionary in the Pacific Northwest who, after years of doing the work of Christian colonial settlement on Indigenous land, came to think that telepathy was the solution to everything from class warfare to religious divisions.
“The Medium is the Medicine: Stories and the Work of Reconciliation in Canada”, Public Lecture, Queen’s College, University of Melbourne, May 3, 2018.
Radio Mind: Stories, Sovereignty, and the Spiritual Invention of Nations
“Radio Mind: Stories, Sovereignty, and the Spiritual Invention of Nations” Victoria University of Wellington, Aoteoroa/New Zealand, April 23, 2018.
Frequencies for Listening: Telling Stories of Missionary Colonialism
An alliance of church and state which forcibly took Indigenous children from their families in order to assimilate them to Christianity, the English language, and acceptance of the sovereignty of the Dominion of Canada, residential schools were, to use the language of the TRC, a form of cultural genocide with ongoing intergenerational effects. In this lecture, I approached the complicated spiritual politics of storytelling in the wake of the TRC by reflecting on the life of an early-twentieth-century missionary in the Pacific Northwest who participated in Christian colonial settlement on Indigenous land, while also condemning residential schools.
“Frequencies for Listening: Telling Stories of Missionary Colonialism in the Wake of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools”, Religion Programme, University of Otago, Dunedin, Aoteoroa/New Zealand, April 18, 2018.
Telepathy, Empire, and Public Memory
In an era of government-sponsored processes of apology, truth, and reconciliation for colonial violence and dispossession, what is the burden of public memory? To hazard an answer to this question, I reflected on my process of narrating the story of an early-twentieth-century Anglican missionary in the Pacific Northwest who thought telepathy was the solution to everything from class warfare to religious divisions.
“Telepathy, Empire, and Public Memory” Max Planck Institute for Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Germany, February 15, 2018.
Protest on the Page: Print as an Affordance for Revolutionary Spirits
Considering two early-twentieth century instances of print culture on the northwest coast, this lecture explores the ways the printed page can serve as an affordance for cycles of public and political appeal and remembrance. Juxtaposing the anti-colonial uses of a missionary printing press by Nisga’a printers with the marginalia in an Archbishop’s library of texts on psychic research, I show the changing meanings of the revolutionary spirit in a land of contested sovereignties.
“Protest on the Page: Print as an Affordance for Revolutionary Spirits,” Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, October 25, 2017.
The Afterlives of the Royal Proclamation of 1763
In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, King George III used his “spiritual jurisdiction” to guarantee that Indigenous peoples owned their lands that they had not ceded by treaty. It continues to be cited by Indigenous peoples as a “foundational document” ensuring their territorial rights. This lecture examines the significance of the Royal Proclamation as a material artifact and a “metaphysical” legal document, to use John Borrows’ term.
“Public Memory and Indigenous Sovereignty: The Afterlives of the Royal Proclamation of 1763” Department of Religious Studies, University of Waterloo, November 2, 2016.
Religion and Medicine as Techniques of Intervention
This public lecture was part of the Wabash Grant-funded Religion and Health Symposium.
“Religion and Medicine as Techniques of Intervention in the Lives of Others” Department of Religious Studies, Missouri State University, October 27, 2016.
Christmas in the Multicultural City
Monique Scheer and I have organized a conference in Tübingen. December 10-12, 2015.