Cooper Harriss is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington. His first book, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Theology (NYU 2017), marshals archival research, close readings, and studies in religion, literature, and secularism to explore figures like Ellison, whose work defies more ordinary categories of cultural assessment. His next project, Muhammad Ali and the Irony of American Religion, represents the first book-length assessment of the boxer Muhammad Ali as a religious figure.
Elsewhere he has published on Zora Neale Hurston, Nat Turner, Bob Dylan, Kurt Vonnegut, biblical reception in American literature and folklore, the concept of irony, and the contemporary musical genre known as “Death Gospel.” His essays and reviews have appeared in African American Review, Biblical Interpretation, Callaloo, The Immanent Frame, The Journal of Africana Religions, The Journal of Religion, Literature and Theology, and Soundings (among other venues). Past and future courses and teaching interests include religion and sport, irony, American preaching, the “profane” in American culture, and religious dimensions of various literary forms and genres, including historical fiction and detective fiction.
By claiming the invisible not simply as a materialist term but a metaphysical one as well, Harriss contends that despite—or even because of—his status as a thoroughly “ secular” novelist and critic, Ellison’s writing reflects important theological trends and issues that mark his age and the cultural inheritances of his literary production.
Find out about the founding of the new journal American Religion with editors Sarah Imhoff and Cooper Harris
What are the limits of scripture as a performative concept? In this response to this season's episode with Richard Newton, M. Cooper Harriss examines Newton's hybrid understanding of scripture as a forceful and malleable process of signification.