James Howard Hill, Jr. is Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Oklahoma where his research and teaching examines 20th and 21st century US. Lived Religious Experience, the construction of celebrity, and the politics of Black popular culture. His scholarship has been recognized and supported by The Heidelberg Center for American Studies (Heidelberg, Germany), The Henry Luce Foundation (Sacred Writes), the Forum for Theological Exploration, The Louisville Institute, Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, Northwestern’s Social Science Research Council (SSRC), as well as Northwestern University’s Mellon Cluster Fellowship for Promising Research in Comparative Race and Diaspora studies. In 2020, Hill, Jr. was awarded the Rubem Alves Award for Theopoetics in recognition of his contributions as an artist and scholar whose work reflects a commitment to imagination, art, and embodiment.
Crossroads Research Fellow Project
“All that Noise is about America:” Religion, Race, and Michael Jackson
“The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all…All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of Black life and wealth…and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair…” -James Baldwin
This multidisciplinary digital project examines how Michael Jackson is germinal to both the study of religion and the politics of popular culture. Through the curation of Jehovah’s Witness print culture; Black magazines and periodicals; Jackson’s own genre-rupturing live performances and short films; and Black religious responses to allegations of sexual misconduct made against him, this project accounts for how the religious experiences of Jehovah’s Witnesses informed the religious and non-religious practices and cultural productions of their most famous, disassociated member. Beginning with the spectacular witness of the Jackson 5 and ending with the myriad ways Jackson’s posthumous presence engenders devotion and revulsion, this project evinces how the “noise” surrounding his life, death, and afterlives reveal Michael Jackson to be nothing less than a religious problem for thought.