Philip Francis

Assistant Professor

Religious Studies

Philip Francis learned to philosophize at the boatyard in Georgetown, Maine where he grew up; it was a salty mix of lobsterman pragmatists and back-to-the-lander idealists.  Conversations ranged from barnacles to Walden.  After painting the bottom of many a boat, he took his questions on the road, living and studying in Mexico and Nicaragua, in Greece and Egypt, and at an ashram in India.  He settled at Harvard Divinity School where he completed his doctoral studies in religion and society with a concentration on modern thought, gender studies, and aesthetics. He uses a combination of ethnographic method, critical theory, and historiography to explore the complex and shifting interrelationships of the body, gender, and aesthetic experience in the West.  He also writes about American religion, spirituality and the arts, aesthetics and ethics. At Manhattan College, he is teaching courses such as ‘Beauty, God, and Desire’, 'Images of God', and ‘Boat Building 101’ (he is kidding about that last one, sort of).


  • PHD, Harvard University
  • M.TH., College of the Holy Cross
  • M.DIV, St Vladimir's Seminary
  • BA, Gordon College

Courses Taught

Prof. Francis is teaching two study-away courses in the coming year.  

'The Good life: Religion and the Environment', a Thoreau-themed course located on Georgetown Island on the Coast of Maine.

'Venice: Crossroads of Religion, Art and Culture', a course on the intereligious identity of Venice, which includes participation in the commemorative events surrounding the 500th Anniversary of the Venetian Jewish Ghetto.

  • Research

    Prof. Francis' current ethnographic project is on American Evangelicalism’s changing approach to LGBTQ issues. The study focuses on the recent and dramatic rise of LGBTQ student groups at Evangelical colleges that maintain an explicit ban on “homosexual behavior”. Five years ago, such groups were virtually non-existent. Today, over 75 such groups have formed an umbrella organization and are beginning to change the conversation at these colleges. Live questions on subjectivity and sociality are engaged as the study explores the ways that these students struggle to perform an identity for which there is as yet little or no precedent: the openly LGBTQ evangelical.

  • Publications and Scholarly Activities

    Prof. Francis' forthcoming book with Oxford University Press is entitled Aesthetic Education of the Evangelical Mind: When the Arts Disrupt Religion.  It is an ethnographic study of men and women who grew up in American Evangelicalism and left it, and for whom the arts played an instrumental role in the process of leaving. At each stage of the journey, aesthetic experiences provided crucial interventions that unsettled their religious identities while becoming a vital part of the performative strategies by which they signified to themselves and others that a new identity had been assumed. Their stories thus become part of the larger story of the modern West in which configurations of the interplay between the aesthetic and the religious, the body and the mind, belief and practice are shifting underfoot.

  • Professional Experience and Memberships

    Before coming the Manhattan College, Prof. Francis was Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Carleton College in Northfield, MN.

    He is a member of the American Academy of Religion

  • Honors, Awards, and Grants

    In 2015-2016 Prof. Francis will be a Mellon Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Humanities Forum.