AAR Member Spotlight

J. Derrick Lemons

J. Derrick Lemons is currently the regionally elected coordinator — and formerly president — for the AAR’s Southeast Region. At the University of Georgia, he is an associate professor of religion, the Religion Fellow for the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, and the director of the Center for Theologically Engaged Anthropology. A recipient of two major John Templeton Foundation grants, Lemons was also awarded the University of Georgia Student Government Association Outstanding Professor Award.

His recent publications include
Thy Kingdom Come: A Theologically Engaged Anthropological Study of President Trump’s Evangelical Advisors’ Everyday Millenarianism (History and Anthropology 2022), The Room Where It Happened: How Evangelical Leaders Used a Closed-Door Meeting to Change Sentiment for Donald J. Trump (The Australian Journal of Anthropology 2022); Anthropologies of Religious Change (The Australian Journal of Anthropology 2022); and An Introduction to Theologically Engaged Anthropology (Ethnos 2021). 

Learn more about the AAR Southeast Region as well as all of our other Regions.

Why did you get involved with AAR and how is your work aligned?

The AAR Southeastern region welcomed me as a young scholar to participate fully in their annual meeting. This welcome was an important step in my development as a scholar. I found in the Southeastern AAR region an exciting mix of senior, independent, graduate and undergraduate scholars who embraced me and allowed me to learn the basics of participating in a scholarly meeting. The confidence that I gained on the regional level led me to participate in AAR’s larger international annual meeting where I have interacted with a fascinating group of scholars.

What is your area of expertise or field of study?

I am a sociocultural anthropologist of religion. My research and teaching are guided by my interest in the intentional innovations of religious subcultures and the influence of theology in religion across time and space. My interests led me into projects about the missional church, religious millennials, and politically engaged evangelical pastors in America. Currently, I am writing an ethnography about Former President Trump’s evangelical advisors.

How has AAR been beneficial to you and your career?

AAR played a pivotal role in helping me to launch the field of theologically engaged anthropology. A panel that I organized at the annual meeting in San Diego in 2014, which included Robert Neville, Joel Robbins, Francis X. Clooney and Ulrich Winkler, provided a forum for social scientists and theologians to come together to inform each other’s research interests. The overwhelming interest from those who attended encouraged me to continue to pursue theologically engaged anthropology. I have also received valuable feedback on papers that I ultimately published. At the 2021 annual meeting in San Antonio, I delivered a paper about theologies that influence Former President Trumps’ evangelical advisors. During the question-and-answer portion, someone asked if I had considered how postmillennialism influenced some of his advisors. This insight greatly improved one of my recent publications.

What book is on your nightstand that you're reading or intend to read in the future?

One book that I reread and reference often is Joel Robbins' Theology and the Anthropology of Christian Life (2020). To date, this is one of the most compelling books written on the topic of theologically engaged anthropology. One article that I reread and reference is Susan Harding’s Representing Fundamentalism: The Problem of the Repugnant Cultural Other (1991). In Harding’s words, this article helps me to be more “situated, implicated, and self-reflexive” and that helps me to write more “nuanced, complicated, partial, and local” ethnographies of evangelical life.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I like to watch the University of Georgia play football, especially when my older son, Nathaniel, who is a second-year student at UGA, is featured on TV as a member of the Spike Squad. I also enjoy cheering for and supporting my wife, Paula, who runs marathons, and my 15-year-old son, Zach, who plays football, basketball, runs track and keeps me on my toes with his debate skills.

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This feature is devoted to profiling AAR members making waves in their departments, institutions, and communities—as well as AAR at large!

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