Clanton’s curiosity leads to textbook on convergence of the Bible and pop culture
When first-year students take Dr. Dan Clanton’s Liberal Arts Seminar, discussion at some point turns to “The Code.”
Adhering to the code helps students be successful in the future, but it also contains a deeper lesson about the value of critical curiosity - the practice of taking simple curiosity a few steps further, explains Clanton, Associate Professor of Religious Studies.
The four traits helped him become both a professor and author.
His own critical curiosity, about the points where religion and popular culture converge, led to years of research and published works, including his newest book, “The Oxford Handbook of the Bible and American Popular Culture,” published in December of 2020.
Clanton served as primary editor and wrote one of its 30 chapters.
Published by Oxford University Press, it’s a book he hopes will inspire future curiosity and research. “It’s intended to be a snapshot of the field at this particular moment; one that stimulates discussion, reflection, and academic inquiry,” he said.
The Handbook pairs the current study of the Bible and popular culture with case studies, examples, and suggestions for future study. It covers specific topics like David and Jesus as well as broad themes such as Creation and Hell.
Each chapter was written to appeal to a reader’s curious side, delving into the Bible and its interpretation in films, comics, jazz, museums, theme parks, and other slices of modern culture.
Contributing authors from universities nationwide wrote the individual chapters. The list of prestigious institutions represented varies from Stanford University to Creighton University.
“(The Oxford Handbook) represents a major contribution to the field by some of its leading practitioners and will be a key resource for the future development of the study of both the Bible and its role in American popular culture,” Oxford University Press praised in the book’s description.
The book includes two chapters with Doane connections. Clanton wrote "Crucifixions, Cosplay, and Participatory Fan Cultures,” while Doane graduate Katherine Low (2000) authored “Queen Esther Imagined as a Disney Princess.”
The two crossed paths at the National Meeting of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature
“That was a fun connection to make,” Clanton said of Low, who is now chaplain and an associate professor of religious studies at Mary Baldwin University in Virginia.
It took five years of work to bring the handbook to fruition, starting the day Clanton and an editor of Oxford University Press met for coffee while attending a national meeting. The editor asked Clanton to edit the lengthy Handbook, part of a planned series. Clanton agreed on the condition that he be co-editor and collaborate a second time with a former colleague, Terry Ray Clark of Georgetown College. (The two co-edited the book “Understanding Religion and Popular Culture: Theories, Themes, Products and Practices,” published in 2012.) Fortunately, both the editor and Clark agreed.
Recruiting the contributing authors turned out to be Clanton’s most difficult task.
“All told we had to recruit 28 other authors to write for us. That’s a little higher on the easy scale than herding cats. Academics are incredibly busy folks.”
Once the authors were confirmed, the next step would be the most time-consuming: the long back-and-forth process of drafts and revisions, striving to tell each story in clear and engaging prose.
“The goal of it -- the thing my authors got sick of hearing -- is that we want to make it accessible. That can be hard. (In academics) we specialize and focus on very narrow topics and it can be difficult to write for an audience who knows nothing about what you are talking about.”
Each chapter purposefully included questions for readers to ponder, pointing them in the direction of possible future research. “We wanted to create a resource for interested amateurs,” Clanton said. “...I hope readers come away with an appreciation of what critical curiosity can do for them; that they ask themselves: ‘How can I delve more deeply into that (subject)?’”
In addition to his fellow editor and authors, Clanton gives Doane’s library staff credit for making the “incredibly collaborative” book possible. “This simply wouldn’t have happened without their support and an immense amount of assistance. Tammy (Roach, a library assistant in interlibrary loan) in particular, helped me find the resources I needed to make this book happen.”
With a price tag of $150, academic libraries will be the initial audience for the book, Clanton said, But because Oxford University Press offers subscriptions to online collections, many scholars and enthusiasts will be able to purchase not only the book but its individual chapters.
There will be a book review session devoted to the new Handbook at the National Meeting of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio in November.
Clanton’s research on the subgenre of religion and culture will continue in at least two additional books. He will produce the second edition of his 2012 book and is also under contract to write a new book tentatively titled “God and the Little Gray Cells: Religion in Agatha Christie’s Poirot Stories.” The book will reflect the presence of religion in the mystery novels starring the Belgian detective, from the original stories to the television series, movies and radio plays they inspired.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” Clanton said, citing it as a perfect example of why he loves his chosen field. “It can take in so many types of examples and connections for research,” he said.
Other works by Clanton include:
The Good, the Bold, and the Beautiful: The Story of Susanna and Its Renaissance Interpretations
Daring, Disreputable, and Devout: Interpreting the Hebrew Bible's Women in the Arts and Music
He also edited or co-edited The End Will Be Graphic: Apocalyptic in Comic Books and Graphic Novels and Understanding Religion and Popular Culture.