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Matthew J. Smith

Pronouns: He/him/his


Assistant Professor of Religious Studies


World Languages and Cultures

Contact Info

(989) 463-7972

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Matthew J. Smith is a transdisciplinary scholar of religion, race, and U.S. empire with overlapping specialties in the study of gender/sexuality, decolonial movements and methodologies, and the environmental humanities. He serves as the director of the Religious Studies program at Alma, teaching a wide range of course offerings on the study of religion as it is lived in people’s everyday lives.

Dr. Smith holds a Ph.D in Religious Studies from Northwestern University where he was trained in the study of American religions and served as a Mellon Fellow in the Comparative Study of Race and Diaspora. Dr. Smith also holds a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Bachelor of Arts from Anderson University. His research has been generously supported by the Buffett Center for Global Studies, the Louisville Institute, IU’s Center for Religion & the Human, and the Henry Luce Foundation.

Smith’s first book project, “The Plastic Age: On the Racial Science of Protestant Missions,” interrogates the relationship between global U.S. Protestant missionary efforts in late 19/early 20th century and the era’s burgeoning racial sciences. Looking at a number of case studies: Women’s Home Missions in the U.S., Black missions to Liberia, and Anglophone missions to the “Muslim world,” Smith examines how Protestants formed global missionary networks that produced and disseminated racial and religious knowledge of global peoples. Thanks to new developments in science and technology, extractive corporate ventures, and growing imperial infrastructures, missionaries believed the age was ripe for missionary shaping. In the end, Smith offers a framework: the “biopolitics of conversion” to illustrate the centrality of religious discourses of human plasticity to the modern scientific production of race — and likewise, the importance of racial science for the era’s missionary ventures.

Many of Dr. Smith’s writings can be also found online at The Immanent FrameAmerican Religion and the Oxford Encyclopedia of Religion.

My Expertise

Religious Studies, Critical Race/Ethnic Studies, American Studies, Gender/Sexuality Studies, Decolonial Theory and Methods, Environmental Humanities