In memoriam

Thomas J. Coleman III, 1984-2021

Earlier this week, we were extremely saddened and shocked to learn of the untimely death of our friend Tommy Coleman on 19 December. Tommy was one of our most vibrant and dedicated contributors, and a long-serving member of the RSP editorial team (2013–2019), and he leaves behind a legacy of generosity, collegiality, and good humour that it sometimes so lacking in academia — and the wider world. He will be sorely missed by his many friends and colleagues across the globe, and most tragically, his parents, daughter, and wider family in the United States. This shock comes right on the heels of Tommy’s recent graduation with a well-deserved PhD from Coventry University. There are no words that can hope to encompass the life and career of this charming man, particularly at this raw moment.

Tommy joined the RSP team in 2013, just a year after our public launch, through a recommendation by Chris Silver. He threw himself 

Tommy (pictured right) and Chris at a 2019 conference in Rome, Italy

into interviewing, and it quickly became apparent that Tommy had immense drive, passion, and talent, and would produce interviews out of the blue with the most interesting of scholars, adding an important psychological perspective into our output. His enthusiasm quickly led us to invite Tommy into the editorial fold, where he became RSP’s first social media manager, a role which he filled with irreverence and insight. As the RSP expanded, we invited Tommy to become Managing Editor — helping us to run everything on a day-to-day basis, from replying to emails, to updating the website and posting new podcasts. In this demanding and untested role, Tommy once again excelled — and somehow kept recording interviews! 

It is no exaggeration to say that without his hard work and diligence the RSP would not be the enterprise it is today. Tommy helped us secure funding. He constantly evangelised for the podcast wherever he went. And on those few occasions where we were able to meet in person — Oxford 2014, Edinburgh 2017, and Rome 2019 — he was as charming, funny, generous, and insightful as our virtual interactions had led us to believe. And we haven’t even begun to reflect on his dedication to his family, his involvement in the communities with which he was connected, and his compassionate and truly inspirational humanity towards the homeless and others in need. 

There’s so much more that could be said. And we can now only dream of the many decades of kindness, scholarship, and good humour that the world has now been deprived of. Even so, Tommy has left behind a truly impressive legacy of publications and other outputs that will continue to have impact for years to come. Please check out his Google Scholar page and personal website for yourselves. And you can browse his full back catalogue of contributions to the RSP from his profile page, and we’ll be sharing some of our favourite Tommy episodes as a meagre tribute to this podcasting phenomenon.

From a personal perspective, from all of us at the RSP, there are simply no words. Although he would have hated the supernatural overtones, we close with Horatio’s speech at the death of Hamlet…

Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Chris and David

The Coleman Compilation

The executive editors have created a playlist featuring some of our favorite episodes Tommy recorded for the RSP. We hope that you will revisit these great episodes to remember what a wonderful scholar, colleague, and friend Tommy was and continue the legacy of his work.

Prayer, Pretense, and Personification: How God becomes real

Luhrmann details the rise of evangelicals in the 60’s and 70’s, and how anthropological work can be informed by evolutionary psychology. This serves as a framework to understand the unique training processes that teach an individual that their mind is not only open to their own thoughts, but God’s as well.

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Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict

Big Gods: 1. Watched people are nice people, 2. Religion is more in the situation than in the person, 3. Hell is stronger than heaven, 4. Trust people who trust in God, 5. Religious actions speak louder than words, 6. Unworshipped Gods are impotent Gods, 7. Big Gods for Big Groups, 8. Religious groups cooperate in order to compete.

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Religion as Anthropomorphism

In Stewart Guthrie’s interview with Thomas J. Coleman III for The Religious Studies Project, Guthrie begins by outlining what it means to ‘explain religion’. He defines anthropomorphism as “the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman events” and gives an example of this as applied to auditory and visual phenomena throughout the interview.

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‘Religion’ as ‘sui generis’

In this interview with Thomas Coleman, McCutcheon discusses what he terms as the “socio-political strategy” behind the label of “sui generis” as it is applied to religion. The interview begins by exploring some of the terms used to support sui generis claims to religion (e.g. un-mediated, irreducible etc.)…

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