My graduate student years at UC Santa Barbara started me on an interesting professional path, one that I never envisioned while working on a dissertation examining the warrior as a religious figure in America. I went directly from Santa Barbara to the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, where I spent 25 years in the department of religious studies. I never cared much, however, for disciplinary boundaries, nor for the academic jargon that each discipline seems to prize too much. I was interested in investigating and writing for a larger public about the less examined, that which did not, at first glance, seem “religious.” So, for example, in 1987-88 I was a Research Fellow in the Arms Control and Defense Policy Program at MIT, where I did the research for my book Symbolic Defense: The Cultural Significance of the Strategic Defense Initiative, which examined how supporters and opponents of the so-called “Star Wars” missile defense system mobilized powerful American myths and symbols to make their case. At this same time, I also joined Ira Chernus in co-editing A Shuddering Dawn: Religious Studies and the Nuclear Age. Throughout the 1980s, I was also at work on a larger project, which eventually became my next book, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields, which examined processes of veneration, defilement, and redefinition at five sites: Lexington and Concord, the Alamo, Gettysburg, the Little Bighorn and Pearl Harbor. This project also began, happily, an ongoing relationship with the National Park Service. I worked for NPS at the 50th anniversary ceremonies at Pearl Harbor, and delivered the commemorative address at the memorial in 1994. I have also been a long-time consultant to NPS on interpretation of controversial historic sites, and from 2003-2005, I was a half-time Visiting Scholar in NPS’s Civic Engagement and Public History program. I served for almost a decade as a member of the federal advisory commission for the memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on September 11, 2001. I co-direct a Gilder Lehrman Teacher Seminar each summer at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, "9/11 and American Memory," and I have served on an advisory group for the memorialization of those murdered on the island of Utøya, Norway, on July 22, 2011.
Emeritus Professor, Department of History
Department of History