The Ethical Imagination of Horror


Sectarian Review episode 3 has just been published.

Follow this link to listen and weigh in:

In this Godzilla-sized episode, Danny Anderson and Drew Van’tland are joined by Ed Simon to talk about the intersections between horror, religion, and ethics. This month’s Sectarians talk horror films, Nietzsche, H.P. Lovecraft, Flies, Babadooks, and, James Robertson’s The Testament of Gideon Mack. Also, Danny interviews Dr. Jamie McDaniel of Pittsburg State University about horror, liminality, and Disability Studies. Also listen for a couple of aural surprises!

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Sectarian Review: A Manifesto

Sectarian Review Picture Logo

Well episode 1 of Sectarian Review is in the books and you can have a listen here:

The next episode will be on the broad topic of voice. In that spirit, I wrote a manifesto to open the next show with:

Sectarian Review: A Manifesto

A voice cannot exist without ears. No word ever spoken since “God said” came from nothing. They say ashes to ashes, dust to dust; we say ashes from ashes, dust from dust.

Sectarian Review is hearing.

Sectarian Review is not knowing.

Progress strives to get things right, when getting things wrong is our perfect form. In wrongness we listen and our voices struggle to rise from forward-moving machines that finish the unfinished.

Sectarian Review is not speeches.

Sectarian Review is not a pounded desk.

We will fight against the terms “mansplaining” and “feminazi,” but will not ban them.

Sectarian Review rights no wrongs.

If you say “fixed in your privilege,” we understand the privilege in being fixed.

I don’t care what you have to say,

It makes no difference anyway.

Whatever it is.

I’m against it.

Sectarian Review is Groucho Marx.

Sectarian Review is chaos.

Sectarian Review listens to the weary wisdom of yellow wallpaper.

Sectarian Review speaks back into its madness.

Sectarian Review is a voice,

not in

but to

the wilderness.

Sectarian Review: A Call For Contributors


Mark Greif recently published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education that considered the importance of Partisan Review in American intellectual life:


What Greif identified as important about PR, its intellectual cultural contribution, many listeners of the Christian Humanist network of podcasts desire to experience in our own historical moment. This is why we listen.

As a sometimes-contributor to The Christian Humanist Podcast, ( I’ve found great satisfaction and excitement in engaging with my co-hosts and listeners in conversation about the life of the mind in all its complexity and variousness. So when Farmer, Grubbs, and Gilmour offered me the chance to begin my own podcast, I was honored, and would now like to take them up on their kind offer. I had initially intended to begin this project  last year, but unforeseen circumstances drew my time and attention and I had to hold off (long story short, I will be starting a new job as Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College this Fall). Now seems the time to begin this project.

I have no interest in hosting, as Michial puts it, The Danny Show. My own intellectual inspiration largely springs from New York Intellectuals like Lionel Trilling, who was a central figure in the Partisan Review crowd, and he worked within that larger, vibrant intellectual community. So the idea I have is to imagine Partisan Review in the CHP network. Nathan Gilmour suggested the name Sectarian Review, and this is what I’ve gone with.

The idea is to have a large pool of scholars from a variety of disciplines contribute regularly or semi-regularly and to aim for an episode once a month (at least at first). Topics are solicited, and might include subjects such as: the role of the artist in society, Disney and Culture, The Christian Imagination, political commitment in the age of Twitter, etc… In short, whatever strikes the contributors as worthy of discussion.

In the tradition of PR, I welcome contributors from across disciplines. Economists, rhetoricians, sociologists, historians, philosophers, literary scholars, mathematicians, musicologists, and gender studies, as well as professionals from law, clergy, and medicine would bring a diversity of intellectual perspectives that would, I believe, prove to be an enlightening hour of conversation. (I’m sure I left disciplines out of the above list, so please forgive me and take it as a sign of my openness to a variety of perspectives).

If you are interested in participating, please feel invited to contact me at

I look forward to developing something great with you.

Danny Anderson

Teaching Conversation with Kifi

My best teaching has always sprung from a spirit of creativity. And creative teaching means taking risks and wildly experimenting. Sometimes my little experiments succeed and become regular classroom practices, and sometimes they crash and burn. Swings and misses, strikes and gutters. That’s my motto.This past semester, I had a success that both helped my students and drove home an important aspect of teaching and learning for me.

I’ve long used discussion posts on in-house online learning platforms in my classes. I value the act of expanding the classroom space beyond the constraints of our 50 minute hour, and these posts have been one way in which to accomplish that.

I’ve also long been underwhelmed by results. I feel like students benefit from regularly writing, but I also feel as though it becomes a rote activity that sometimes doesn’t encourage the kind of dialectical process I want to see my students engage in.

This past semester, I stumbled across a social bookmarking website that perhaps offers an antidote to these monological failings.

Kifi ( came to my attention through a Facebook ad and I was initially intrigued by its uses as a bookmarking site to rival my Pocket account. I have the tendency to throw everything that interests me into my bookmarking service and then God sort it out later. Over time, this has become a burden when it comes time for retrieval. Kifi allows users to create discreet, topical libraries for their “keeps” and I welcomed this with great enthusiasm.

As I played around a little, some of the platform’s other features began to strike me as potentially valuable teaching tools, and I soon saw the potential to improve on my traditional discussion board posts. What follows is by no means an exhaustive how-to. Go to Kifi’s own website for that, please (here). I just want to talk about how the service encouraged an ongoing dialogue between readers, writers, and their ideas.

Kifi allows users to share online articles with other people through its browser extensions. In addition to this, the browser extension opens up an on-screen space in which to comment directly on the article in question, and even provides the means to quote specific passages of interest. This all has the feel of a Facebook conversation, but one targeted to users with specific, detailed interest in the article at hand. Trolling and hyperbolic posturing are therefore reduced.

Having asked my students to join the experiment with me, I quickly incorporated Kifi into our research process. Here’s how it worked:

My students’ semester-long research projects were focused on controversies within higher education (of their own choosing). This is, of course, an interest I share, so when I found an article that struck me as useful for a particular student or group of students, I would:

  • send them the article through Kifi.
  • use the “look here,” quotation feature to draw their attention to specific passages of interest
  • explain how I think the article contributed to their projects
Students were then able to respond to my comments and our conversations were recorded in the Kifi interface.

To say I was pleased with the results is an understatement. Students who participated in my experiment maintained an amazing amount of engagement with their projects, and I can only attribute this to the ongoing conversation, the dialogue, that Kifi facilitated. I should also mention that Kifi also has smartphone apps that allow for use in the classroom as well. As I develop this tool for my classes, this versatility is welcome.

I have no financial stake in this company or this product (it is a free service at this point), but I have had the opportunity to speak with some of its developers and it is clear to me that they are interested in Kifi’s potential as a classroom tool, among its other uses.

Kifi has been a great find, but there has been a deeper lesson in this for me as a teacher. I always know that conversation is a vital element of learning, but this experiment has tangibly demonstrated it for me. If we are to be worthy of all our whining about disengaged students, it is our responsibility to find ways to engage them in conversations larger than themselves. Making use of resources like this is how I attempt to do so.

I will heartily continue this experiment in the classroom, and, in addition, I welcome any reader of this blog to connect with me through Kifi and continue our own conversation. My Kifi link is

On Being a Marxist Professor

The semester has reached the point at which energy reserves are low and no amount of fracking will replenish them.

Thanksgiving is a full month away, and classrooms are filled with tired people staring at one another. When faced with such a dilemma, a teacher has only two choices. Cancel class or hurl a great ball of chaos at his students. Enter Groucho Marx.

English: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx...

English: Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx, cropped from group photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes his daemonic, chaotic energy is just the thing I need to push through the prison walls of my ivory tower. Case in point.

Today, I decided to drive my students just a bit crazy. In the midst of yet another revision of their visual analysis papers, they showed up to a classroom in which the theme song to Mission: Impossible was blaring. As soon as class started I ran around the room, frantically passing this assignment sheet out:

2014-10-22 10.07.23

Now panicky themselves, my students leaped from their seats, and shouted to each other as if my classroom was the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

They ran out of my room and returned 15 minutes later. Out of breath? Sure. But re-engaged with their own educations.

Chaos is beautiful.

The Hebraic Roots of Christianity

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Marvin Wilson of Gordon College about his new book Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage. Wilson argues that Christianity was not invented in the first century and, in fact, begins with Abraham, not Jesus himself. He claims that in undervaluing these Jewish roots, Christian thought relies too heavily on Greek-influenced dualism and leaves much of the richness of the faith unexplored. In an attempt to deepen Christianity’s own intellectual tradition then, the author offers examples of Jewish theological practices that he suggests might serve the life of the Christian mind well.

The podcast of the interview can be found at the Christian Humanist at the following link:

Pick Your Poison: Grade Inflation or Administrative Bloat

I typically avoid current controversies. I ran across the phrase “Silence like an interruption” in a Cynthia Ozick book and I’ve adopted it as protection against cultural stupidity. But an article posted by Libby Nelson on VOX today irritated me enough to break Ozick’s rule.

The article, “What Wellesley learned when it stopped giving out so many A’s,” details the findings of a study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. The authors of the study suggest that the problem of grade inflation (which is certainly an issue worth considering) can be objectively solved by administrative fiat and uses Wellesley as a case study. Appalled that in 2000, the average grade was an A-, Wellesley apparently dictated that all 100-200 level classes have an average grade of no higher than a B+.

I’m sure that this made someone feel very effective and powerful in their pursuit of institutional excellence.

The entire study fills me with personal and professional angst, but let me just touch on a couple of points.

First, the experiment seems to be based solely upon the fact that in 1960 the average grade in college was a C and now it is an A or a B. This reeks of an Andy Rooney “Back In My Day” argument and no apparent attempt has been made to look into WHY this might be the case. The administrative strategy suggests that because this happened, students are being coddled. Left unasked is the question of how much pedagogical practices might have contributed to this shift. Let me be clear: grade inflation is certainly a problem worthy of our attention, but I think it is such a problem that it requires our FULL attention. Let’s not be lazy with our inquiry here.

Second, one of the findings VOX highlights is that professors who follow orders and actually give lower grades get lower “ratings” from students. This makes so much sense that it seems obvious, but how much subsequent pressure is now on said professors to improve their teaching, which will then lead to the higher grades that got them in trouble in the first place? This seems to me like an academic version of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22:

“Dr. Yossarian, we value teaching at this institution, and that means helping students succeed. We expect you to help your students succeed, and if they do, we will assume that you are a poor teacher.”

Finally, the authors of the original study (Kristin F. Butcher, Patrick J. McEwan, and Akila Weerapana) show how black students bear the institutional brunt of this initiative. According to Nelson:

“The researchers put the best possible interpretation on this, suggesting that a more even grading policy among different departments at the college will do a better job of demonstrating which students need help. But grading is an imperfect, subjective science, and the burden appears to have fallen more on black students than on others.”

In other words, the researchers report: “gosh, that’s weird.”

The lack of clarity about this disturbing aspect of the policy opens the door to yet another administrative policy down the road. Oh boy. All in the name of returning to the glory days of 1960, where, in the words of Garrison Keillor, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”