Zachary Day Lecture Focuses on Pop Culture

Annual event honors memory of former student

Monica Miller is the speaker in the inaugural Zachary Daniel Day Memorial Lecture Series.
Monica Miller is the speaker in the inaugural Zachary Daniel Day Memorial Lecture Series.

From the September 2013 Desktop News A growing interest in the field of religious studies is how popular culture interacts with conventional components of religion, such as image and myth. Dr. Monica Miller, a scholar of religion, youth subcultures, and popular culture, will visit campus this fall to explore those ideas as part of the inaugural Zachary Daniel Day Memorial Lecture.

Her lecture, “‘Picasso, Baby!’: Art and the Making of New Black Gods in Hip Hop,” will take place October 1 at 7 p.m. in Room 205 of the Gorgas Library on the UA campus. The lecture is free and open to the public and is part of “Through the Doors,” a yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of UA.

In her talk, Miller will explore what she calls “the proliferation of new black gods in America” through the lens of their construction in contemporary cultural expression. She will address the manufacturing significance of such moments as Tupac Shakur’s recent holographic resurrection and Kanye West’s technological omnipresence. She will also touch on renowned performance artist Marina Abramović, who blurred lines between artist, art and world by presenting herself in lieu of a traditional installation in 2010 as well as rapper Jay-Z’s 2013 reinterpretation of of Abramović’s work for the music video for his song “Picasso Baby.”

Miller, who holds a joint appointment in the departments of religious studies and Africana studies at Lehigh University, recently published her first book, Religion and Hip Hop, which examines how scholars have approached the topic of religion when studying Hip Hop culture. She is also working on a large-scale survey project, Youth Culture and the Remaking of Religion in Portland, Oregon, which is supported by the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, Lewis & Clark College Department of Religious Studies, and the Institute for Humanist Studies.

The lecture series honors the late Zachary Daniel Day, a 2008 alumnus of the College, who died unexpectedly in 2011. He was a 2007 Silverstein Scholar in the Department of Religious Studies and was also a part of the Parker-Adams living-learning community in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“While Zach’s untimely passing still shocks us, we were incredibly humbled to learn that his family wanted to contribute to the department in which he studied,” said Dr. Russell McCutcheon, chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

Charles L. Day, Day’s father, and Dr. Nancy R. Campbell, Day’s stepmother, gave $15,000 to establish a support fund to honor the memory of their son and endow the lecture series.

“This annual lecture series is devoted to the wide field of religion in popular culture, a theme that is a tribute to Zach’s interests and one that we hope will spark our current students’ imaginations,” McCutcheon said.