UW News

December 9, 2011

Podcasts on religion extend Tony Gills university research

UW News

When the UW lines up against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29, Political Science Professor Tony Gill will have divided loyalties. After all, though he works at the UW, Baylor sponsors his weekly podcast, Research on Religion.

Tony Gill

Tony Gill

Gill posts the hourlong podcasts each Monday morning, talking with  scholars as well ministers and lay people working in the field of religion. Recent offerings include historian Patrick Mason on anti-Mormonism and Mitt Romney, economist Jared Rubin on Christian and Islamic economic history and minister and rodeo announcer Daniel Stiles on cowboy churches.

“I want to interview scholars, and practitioners, as a gut check on scholarly research,” Gill said. “The other goal is academic research accessible to the general public, and not just theology but what organizations are doing and the consequences of religious practice.”

Several years ago while waiting to go on a radio program in Seattle, Gill learned from the host that the program would be heard by relatively few people — about 10,000.

But still, it knocked his socks off. “I realized that would be more that all the students I have taught and all the people who have bought my books — combined.” He also compared that number to the few people who see typical research journals.

Gill realized  podcasts a way to reach a lot of people.

Gill has created the programs since last year, supported by the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, where he is a distinguished senior fellow.

Around campus, 46-year-old Gill usually wears a Stetson and cowboy boots, sometimes a black leather pair with silver tips. Hes originally from Wisconsin and got a doctorate in political science from UCLA, but while growing up spent time with relatives in Wyoming; hence, the attraction to the West. Raised a Catholic, Gill is now a member of the Christian nondenominational Redemption Church in Duvall. At the UW, he teaches political economy, world politics and the connections between religion and politics. His books are The Political Origins of Religious Liberty (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Church and the State in Latin America (University of Chicago Press, 1998).

Gill has used knowledge gained from Research on Religion conversations in his classes, and professors around the country have assigned the podcasts to their students. Gill has also reached out to reporters and news services, letting them know about Research on Religion. So often, he said, worthwhile research remains in the ivory tower. “We academics have a duty to make our research known to the wider, tax-paying public.”

James Felak, a UW history professor Gill interviewed on Pope John Paul II and communism, said Gills interviews appeal to a broad audience of educated listeners. Religion is a major force “yet Americans know very little about religion in general, or hold all sorts of misunderstandings about religion in particular, for example Islam and Christianity,” Felak said.  He added that the podcasts also provide insight into emerging issues, for instance, Mitt Romneys Mormonism.

Through it all, Gill maintains proper allegiance to UW. “Baylor hosts the podcasts,” he said, “but when the Alamo Bowl is played, Ill be cheering for the Dawgs.”