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My 2015 Writing in Review

Thomas Whitley

Today Marginalia Review of Books published a selected anthology of the commentary, radio, forums, series, reviews, essays, blogs, and films the MRB community produced in 2015. I’m honored to have a few of my pieces are highlighted. The anthology caused me to think back on the writing I did in 2015.

Online I had pieces appear in the American Society of Church History’s History of Christianity blog (see here and here, for instance), the University of Alabama’s Studying Religion in Culture blog, the Ancient Jew Review on Carpocrates (the subject of my dissertation), Religious Studies News on ISIS’ destruction of antiquities in Mosul (this piece was co-written with my colleague at Florida State Sam Houston), and Marginalia Review of Books. And I’ve written a few pieces for this space as well.

Offline I finished my dissertation (and there was much rejoicing), which I’ll be defending in just a few weeks. I also wrote two pieces that will be appearing as book chapters in 2016, one on fabricating difference in a book edited by Steven Ramey and another on the role of the scholar and the relevance of critical theory in a book edited by Aaron Hughes. Both of these writing opportunities came as a result of my online writing; the latter was first presented as a response to an excellent paper by Merinda Simmons at the annual meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Religion in Atlanta this past November. I also finished the revisions on and had accepted an article on the rhetoric of poison in Epiphanius’ Panarion.

I occasionally make goals and at the start of 2015 I made a goal of writing every day. By “writing” I meant activities related to writing. This could be composing, editing, revising, etc. I don’t think I met this goal, but I do think I wrote more in 2015 than I’ve written in any other year (in terms of number of pieces, number of words, time spent on writing, etc.). In many ways, 2015 has been the year in which I feel like I have really found my own voice as a writer. Probably more than anything else, the freedom that the top of the masthead at Marginalia gave me with the MRBlog allowed this to happen. I experimented and saw some things flop and other things soar. I explained concepts more clearly and succinctly. My dissertation is better as a direct result of the voice that I was able to find writing so much for public audience.

And this last point I think is especially important. Writing for a broader public has been fun and it has helped my writing. It forced me dispense of jargon and better grasp the concepts I hoped to explain. Some academics still look down their noses at writing for a non-academic audience; that’s their loss. Apart from the fact that I have had a venue in which to write about topics that are not directly relevant to my current academic research, I’ve had the good fortune of writing pieces that people read. The same cannot be said of my academic work. I was humbled at the number of people whom I’d never met who approached me at the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Atlanta this past November just to tell me that they liked what I was writing for Marginalia. That people read my work is not something I take for granted.

So 2015 was a good writing year for me. It may well not lead to an academic job (yes, I am on the dreaded academic job market this cycle), but I have grown as a writer and renewed my passion for it. I’m not sure that 2016 can compare, but here’s to finding out.

P.S. My podcast Thinking Religion, with Sam Harrelson, has really taken off this year too and I think we're really hitting our stride over there (even if we are expanding our discussions beyond just "religion"). And we have a new tech venture on the horizon that we're really excited about too. Stay tuned and don't be a stranger.