John Lardas Modern

John Lardas Modern is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College. An Editor-at-Large for The Immanent Frame, he is co-curator (with Kathryn Lofton) of Frequencies. Modern is the author of Secularism in Antebellum America (University of Chicago Press) and The Bop Apocalypse: The Religious Visions of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs (University of Illinois Press). He is currently working on a long-term project that explores relays between minds, machines, and prayer. Read Nathan Schneider's interview with John Modern here.

Posts by John Lardas Modern:

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

eBay and the historical imagination

eBay StuffSome seek God in algorithms. Others seek a kind of divinity in the pastness of the past. The former seek to model a metaphysics of calculability. The latter tend to complicate that metaphysics by questioning the very definition of presence.

This was the thought I had while falling slowly asleep in front of the eBay screen. The historian, perhaps to his detriment, has these kinds of thoughts. He senses the flittering screen of the present more acutely than most—the way the past comes in and out of focus, the way it is there and not there, the way it is not even an it save for fleeting moments catalyzed in the materiality of the archive. Wherever that may be, eBay is there.

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Sunday, February 22nd, 2015


Some readers may have recently returned to Frequencies only to find that its spiritual focus had radically shifted. Due to hijinks (perhaps predictable) relating to transitory labor, scholarly ignorance, and the virtualization of just about everything, the original site has experienced foreclosure. Its contents will soon be reconstituted in new http territory. Which is to say […]

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Vinyl prayers

Prayer may be an act of gratitude after the fact. It may be a weapon, a request to heal the body or boost the brain, an epistemic cry, a meditation, a mediation, a quip, a plea, a means of passive resistance, a wonderful gift from God. Or any manner of combination.

Whatever prayer is or has been, it often seems to be bound up in the play of transgression and transcendence. Within the move across, there are the moves against and the moves beyond. Against and beyond simultaneously, continuously, even as a prayer is conceived and uttered, even after it is ignored or answered.

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Monday, March 4th, 2013

Confused parchments, infinite socialities

Ambivalence, avoidance, hedging, delay—these are but some of my responses to Michael Warner’s richly rendered provocation and response to my book Secularism in Antebellum America.

Indeed, was antebellum America secular?

To answer his title question definitively, yes or no, is to commit oneself to a vision of the present in which religion recedes into oblivion, or flowers, or does battle with its secular other. Definitive answers, moreover, serve a politics of normativity for they help determine the ideas, objects, and persons to be jettisoned, not to mention what views of the world become authoritative, which moral feelings count, and which ones become unaccounted for and forgotten.

Warner engages crucial work on secularity even as he considers the dissolution of the entrenched differential of the religious and the secular. Consequently, Warner’s essay is also incitement for a renewed interrogation of the history of the difference between the religious and the secular and how that difference makes a difference in the lives of individuals—no less for historical actors than for the scholars who study them.

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Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Frequencies 91/100 – 100/100

Today marks the hundredth entry in Frequencies.

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Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Every moment an Aha! Moment!

Kathryn Lofton’s Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon is a work, first and foremost, of cultural anthropology. The back cover confirms this fact. Yes, the book is about the incorporations of Oprah. But more significantly, it is an ethnography of “American astonishment,” of what it feels like to live before screens that enlighten and advertise and encompass (the virtual counterpart of living within the effervescent glare of studio lights and perpetual applause). Lofton captures, as few writers can, the everyday magic of our viral time—what, in the ritual grammar of Oprah, are referred to as “Aha! Moments.”

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Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The sun shone fiercely through the window at Starbucks (Part II)

Soon after reading Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I turned to Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals. It is a work of elegant inquiry and provocative precision—not only because Bender refuses to locate her subjects in a progressive history of flowering individualism, that old saw about the evolution of liberal cosmopolitanism, but because, in adopting an approach that reminded me of Brown’s reading of Marx, Bender’s portrait of new-age-Cambridge refuses Taylor’s narrative frame. Rather, Bender’s cast of characters offers critical perspective on what might be called the nova effect of arguments in the grain of Taylor. I am struck by the inadvertent but eerie parodic quality of scenes depicting homeopathic healers, yoga practitioners, past-life regressioners, shamanic drummers and bankers, energy intuitives, and lecturers in esoteric astrology. Indeed, these characters, at least on my reading, become strange reflections of Taylor’s existential élan and sober tone of explanation. They become, in other words, down-market versions of Taylor’s magisterial aspirations.

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Thursday, September 9th, 2010

The sun shone fiercely through the window at Starbucks (Part I)

Let us recognize, from the outset, the delicious perversity of inviting comments upon comments about the comments about Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, itself a commentary, magisterial in scope, about the inability of Anglo-Europeans to end a certain cycle of commentary about themselves, their religion, and their humanity. Nevertheless, of the many thoughtful responses and salvos found in Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, I was most struck by Wendy Brown’s pointed and potentially devastating piece on the shortcomings of Taylor’s “odd historical materialism.”

Taylor’s sense of the material world is not unrelated to his not always implicit commitment to (or perhaps nostalgia for) the ideals of a self that flourishes, unfolds, and, at the end of the day, can be sufficiently liberated from history so as to be able to take the measure of itself—in concert, of course, with others, as they liberate themselves sufficiently from those very same forces.

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Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Hours of unrelieved, humorless argument

Wars of Religion 2.0

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Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Always put one in the brain

Let me assure you. Ongoing neurological studies will not dramatically change religious belief or practice. As Robert Bellah notes in a recent comment, brain research does not have a direct effect on what people believe. Or as Christopher White thoughtfully writes in this forum, there is no wholesale transformation of religion on the horizon. I agree with both. But rather than maintain a defensive posture at this juncture in history, I believe that a more aggressive stance may be called for. […]

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Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Deciphered by means of a perfected computer

Seen with a genealogical eye, Youth Without Youth speaks to the sheer danger of the sacred as the robust object of mystical longing. But whereas Eliade’s reactionary technophobia limited his appreciation for how the “countless machines mass-produced in industrial societies” were, themselves, constitutive of his experience of the sacred, Youth Without Youth suggests that technology has everything to do with our ability to imagine—whether in the service of embracing or rejecting—the sacred.

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Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The missing all

secular_age.jpgAlthough technology may not possess a logic of its own, one would be hard pressed to deny its formative role in whatever we are talking about, right now, on this blog. To what degree are the blurry contours and devastating effects of secularism bound up with technology? What role has technology played in fueling the nova effect of secularism and how has it both motivated contemporary practices of naming secularism, of typologizing its seemingly endless permutations, and simultaneously rendered it impossible for such practices to deliver on their promises?

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