Religion, History, Philosophy, Classics
Office - 336
Campus Mailbox: 155
I was first employed at Westminster College in 1992 as a part-time instructor and hired into a tenure-track position in philosophy and religion in 1994. I currently serve as Chair of the Department of Religion, History, Philosphy and Classics. I was appointed to the position of Vira I. Heinz Professor of Religion in 2002.
I was born in an army married quarters in Ayr in the south-west of Scotland to an English mother and a Scottish father. When my father was honorably discharged from his regiment (The Royal Scots Fusiliers) after twenty-eight years of service we went to live in Hartlepool in the north-east of England, near my mother's parents. Hartlepool is a working-class, post-industrial town of almost one hundred thousand people, whose shipyards, steelmills, and factories have gradually closed since the late fifties. Despite the unavoidable industrial blight it is surrounded by the rather beautiful countryside of County Durham.
I had a stable education, attending Jesmond Road Junior School from the ages of five to eleven and Brinkburn Grammar School for boys (almost all British High Schools were single sex then) from eleven to eighteen. In my final years at that school I began the philosophical study of religion, a topic which involves all aspects and elements of human understanding and which has ceaselessly inspired my interest ever since.
From high school I went back to Scotland, to the University of Edinburgh where I took a Bachelor's degree in Religious Studies, majoring in philosophy as a method of studying religion. I was one of three people who took the religious studies degree that year. Now the majority of undergraduates in the Faculty of Divinity take that degree. I also spent a considerable amount of time in the rather less formal study of live music, beer, science-fiction, and comic books--mainly Marvel Comics and "undergrounds." Rather disappointed with the academic inability to distinguish the study of religion clearly from the practice of religion--theology from philosophy--I left the University with no intention of pursuing an academic career. I went to live on the small island group of Orkney, north of the mainland of Scotland, where I spent six years helping my brother to build a sailing yacht. In that time I learned woodwork, sailing, navigation, and scuba diving. However, I realized that my real passion lay in navigating the uncharted waters of human religiousness and plotting my own course between the Scylla and Charybdis of philosophy and theology. I returned to the Faculty of Divinity at Edinburgh with the realization that answers are to be discovered on one's own initiative rather than simply learned from professors, and applied myself to my studies the way I should have in the first place. I received my Master's degree with first class honors (summa cum laude) and went on to do my doctorate in theory and method in the study of religion concentrating on the thought of Mircea Eliade, a leading theoretician in the field.
Between my master's and my doctoral work I came on an exchange course to study in America, at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. It was here that I was lucky enough to meet Rachela Permenter, now my wife. Rachela teaches English at Slippery Rock University, which is what initially brought us to Western Pennsylvania. Generally I prefer living in the States, although I do miss British pubs, meat pies, and the sea.
I taught part-time at Youngstown State University and at Allegheny College before finding a full-time position here at Westminster College. My work on Eliade was published in book form by the State University of New York Press in 1996 and I have continued to publish and present extensively on Eliade and other topics in the study of religion. My fourth book on Eliade appeared in April 2007, "completing the set," as it were. I have now published one monograph, an anthology of articles by English-speaking scholars, an anthology from scholars elsewhere in the world, and a Critical Reader combining key passages from Eliade with key analyses of him by other scholars. I have also co-edited a volume on religion and violence (see http://www.westminster.edu/staff/brennie/vitaebsr.html#publications).
My current interest is in the relationship of religion and the creative arts and I am researching the ethology (the study of behavior as an evolved trait) of art and religion.