I grew up in the United States (Chicago, Illinois) and have been living in the U.K. since 2013. I earned my B.A. hons. in Theology, magna cum laude, from Loyola University of Chicago (1994) and completed a M.A. in Theology at the University of Notre Dame with a concentration in biblical languages (1997). After a year abroad at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem (Fulbright, 1997-1998), I returned to complete my PhD in Theology at the University of Notre Dame in the area Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity (2003) where I worked with Professor James C. VanderKam. My dissertation applied redaction criticism to the Qumran prayer collection known as the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns) and was published as a series of journal articles. I am currently an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT (USA) where I am on leave until 2016.
My recent monograph published with Berlin’s de Gruyter Press (2012) is entitled Reading with an 'I' to the Heavens: Looking at the Qumran Hodayot through the Lens of Visionary Traditions. This is the third volume in Ekstasis: Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. This book examines the Qumran hodayot in light of ancient visionary traditions, new developments in cognitive psychology, performance theory, post-structuralist understandings of the embodied subject, and critical spatiality. While previous studies have examined well the references and allusions to scriptural references, this work fills a scholarly gap in understanding the relationship of these texts to non-biblical traditions. This book departs from traditional studies of the hodayot which approached these texts from a strictly literary or historical perspective, and understands the subject of the “I” in cols. 10-17 as a constructed persona and not as the Teacher of Righteousness.
The thesis of this book is that the ritualized reading and re-reading of the hodayot written in first person voice has the potential to create within the ancient reader the subjectivity of the speaker of these texts. References to the body, aspects of spatiality, and the strategic arousal of emotions in the group of texts known as the Teacher Hymns and the second group of Community Hymns can be understood to function with a practice of performative reading to engender a religious experience of ascent and spatial mobility. Attention to embodied experiences as they are described in the hodayot can help us to understand the range of spatial allusions found in the hodayot, which, when read in series as a scroll apparatus dictates, moves gradually from other worldly places of punishment, to places of paradise, and culminates in the crescendo of the Self-Glorification Hymn.
While performative emotions are scripted sensations, their experiential impact can have the same physical intensity as first-hand experiences. The visualization of imagined spaces of punishment can strategically arouse emotions of fear within a reader and reinvigorate memories of other visionary traditions that share the same affective valence. The role of emotion in cognitive processes that reconsolidate these other worldly spaces can help us to conceptualize the exegetical production of texts as a phenomenal bodily experience. Such performative displays can also serve a political purpose by enhancing the power and prestige of the one who reenacts the text properly, thus giving insight into how status is negotiated in a highly stratified community context.
The two year project that I am working on now examines how the strategic arousal of affect can help us to understand how the memory of the Teacher of Righteousness is reinvigorated and intensified for the community through a strategic arousal of affect generated by the texts that make reference to him.